We haven’t had a good old-fashioned discussion thread in a while, and what finer time for one than the bye week Sunday when the Falcons aren’t playing later today?
Assume, for a moment, that you’re given the ability to fix three of Atlanta’s most pressing problems and that you can make significant headway on doing so between now and the Saints game next Sunday. What are you choosing?
Personally, I’m cleaning up:
- The piss-poor tackling. On defense and special teams alike, the team has doomed themselves in recent weeks by simply whiffing on tackles they should be able to make. The coverage lapses are frustrating, but they’re exacerbated by this team’s ability to consistently bring down quarterbacks, returners, receivers, and so forth in the open field. While the team is just missed of the road in terms of the actual number of missed tackles, they have several starters who have a missed tackle rate of 15% or higher, which is a big problem for a defense that isn’t making enough big plays to offset these errors. Simply doing the fundamental things well would help the Falcons draw down drives and prevent catastrophic third downs, the way they did early in this season and the very end of the 2022 season, which would in turn help the offense keep pace.
- The turnover-worthy plays. I don’t think the answer to Atlanta’s turnover problem is turtling, as the the Falcons seemed to do against Arizona with their extremely conservative gameplan for poor Taylor Heinicke. Assuming you could get the starting quarterback to cut down on the risky throws and clean up their fumbling habits, especially if that player is Desmond Ridder, this team looks a lot better by the magic of subtracting terrible plays. Remember, three would-be scoring drives ended on turnovers in Tampa Bay, the Titans got their decisive score off a Ridder fumble, and Heinicke’s interception and nearly intercepted throws against the Vikings killed promising drives in yet another close game. Fear of turnovers contributed to the problems against the Cardinals, so simply getting those cleaned up and getting the team to be less fearful of disaster feels like it would go a long way.
- The red zone play calling and execution. Atlanta’s actually made about half of their red zone trips for the 2023 season (15 out of 33) in the past four weeks, owing to the offense putting together a few productive drives in between all the trash ones and the defense setting them up in nice field position with some solid turnovers. They’ve scored touchdowns on under half of those trips (7 out of 15), a pretty dismal mark that’s below their already frustrating 53% mark for the season. I’d iron out the turnovers (see above), force Smith to cut the Jonnu Smith jet sweeps and Jonnu Smith passes and other down-burning, slow-developing plays, and prioritize using Allgeier as a hammer, getting Bijan outside, and trying to feed Drake London, Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, and noted red zone weapon Scotty Miller as frequently as possible. I’m making all of this sound simpler than it is, but just cutting out the go-nowhere plays and prioritizing playmakers feels like a better formula than what the Falcons have been delivering in recent weeks.
Will cleaning up these three things make the Falcons a really good team? No, because there are issues beyond these that have plagued the team, from poor run blocking to poor pass rush to penalties. But ensuring more of the offense’s drives end in good outcomes like touchdowns or even field goals instead of turnovers or punts while asking the defense and special teams groups to surrender fewer big, costly plays owed to avoidable mistakes will have the Falcons playing like a decent team again. Decent would carry them a lot further than whatever it is we’ve had to endure over the past several weeks in Atlanta.
Let’s see your choices, and let’s hope the Falcons find a way to fix at least a couple of the items we collectively come up with.