From Week 3 to Week 9, a span of six games, Matt Ryan tossed 13 touchdowns against three interceptions, and the Falcons went 4-2. Nothing about that stretch was perfect, mind you, but the offense was good enough to win games and did so, led by a pretty useful passing attack.
The past two weeks have seen Ryan toss four picks and zero touchdowns as all offensive production has ground to a halt, leading to two of the most embarrassing performances you’ll see back-to-back from these Falcons. Just like that 4-2 stretch can’t all be put on Ryan’s shoulders—Cordarrelle Patterson’s yards after the catch ability fueled at least one win in there—this 0-2 stretch can’t all be laid at his feet. These failures are a combination of Ryan struggling, awful pass protection, weak production from receivers and a customarily useless ground game, but regardless of how you slice up the blame roast, these struggles have left the Falcons searching for answers.
This week’s biggest question is whether the Falcons offense will rebound, and to what extent it will do so. Let’s take a moment to consider that question.
Let’s start with the opponent. Things get a little easier against the Jaguars, though not massively so. Jacksonville offers at worst a competent defense with a solid pass rush, and if they aren’t particularly adept at taking the ball away, they generally do enough things well to bat away Atlanta’s efforts if they’re as weak as they have been the past two weeks. Josh Allen is a particularly thorny problem given the state of the Falcons offensive line in 2021, and the Jaguars have allowed under 200 passing yards each of the past two weeks. The Falcons can’t waltz in and just expect things to start firing because they’re not facing the Cowboys or Patriots.
In other words, the Jacksonville defense won’t matter if the Falcons can’t do the basic things well. At some point, Atlanta either needs to be able to run the football with some level of competence or dial back their attempts to do so significantly, as Aaron Freeman wrote earlier this week. I was a fan of the Mike Davis signing and still think Atlanta has enough talent in their running back group to be better than this, but until they start picking their spots more effectively, blocking better and getting more out of their stable of backs, we’re going to have to keep writing this one off as a lost cause.
The passing game has more promise, but also badly needs help to get back on track. Through the first six games of the season, Ryan was sacked just 9 times, but he’s been sacked 11 times in the past four games and has been under duress constantly. That’s put additional pressure not just on Ryan but also on his receiving options to get open and make things happen, and that simply hasn’t happened in recent weeks. With a little time off in between games and Cordarrelle Patterson on his way back, I do think this team is capable of righting the ship a bit, especially if they focus on finding ways to put their receivers in a better position to succeed instead of just hoping they can beat man and/or Kyle Pitts can hand-fight three defenders at once to get open.
I expect better from the Falcons, but expecting them to flirt with 30 points after the past two weeks is probably asking far too much. If they can clear 20 and eke out a win, they’ll hopefully get themselves on track to play better down the stretch, but it’s unfortunately a question I don’t think we can answer with any real confidence after the last two weeks. Cross your fingers.