I understand the Atlanta Falcons are 11-2, have already won the NFC South, and are still in the driver’s seat for the top playoff seed.
I understand they’re a good, albeit flawed, team. But for this rant, I’m throwing perspective out the window.
As it stands, there are several areas of this team I’m worried about.
Let’s start with the leader of the team.
The quarterback was playing at MVP level for the better part of the season. However, the five-interception game in Week 11 versus the Arizona Cardinals seems to have shell-shocked Ryan. Since Week 11, Ryan has thrown just four touchdowns to seven interceptions. Add in a lost fumble against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 12, and Ryan has eight turnovers – a 2:1 ratio on the wrong side.
In the Week 13 home game versus the New Orleans Saints, Ryan completed 54.5 percent of his passes for 165 yards – both season-lows – against one of the worst defenses in the league. For comparison’s sake, he threw for a career-high 411 yards while completing 65.4 of his passes versus the same team in Week 10.
It’s like we’re now watching a completely different quarterback.
Let’s face it: Michael Turner is done. He’s 30, and for a running back, that’s ancient. He lacks the burst that made him so special his first few years in Atlanta. He also doesn’t dole out the punishment he used to. Now, he just tiptoes to the line of scrimmage before falling for a one-yard gain.
This season, Turner has been held under 50 rushing yards seven times. Of those seven times, he rushed for less times, including an abysmal 15 yards on 13 carries versus the awful Saints defense in Week 10. Yesterday, Turner finished with 14 yards on seven carries.
Call it for what it is: When Turner is in the game, the offense is handicapped. You’re tipping your hand. Turner can’t make it to the outside, so all you have do is bottle up the middle. If it’s a passing play when Turner is on the field, you don’t have to worry about him as a pass-catching threat.
Jacquizz Rodgers needs to be getting the bulk of the carries for the rest of the season, and the Falcons desperately need to find a running back in the offseason.
Interior of the offensive line
These three guys – left guard Justin Blalock, center Todd McClure, and rookie right guard Peter Konz – have been giving up pressure at an alarming rate over the past several weeks. And although Ryan and Turner haven’t been playing well regardless, the interior of the offensive line’s play has certainly factored in.
It’s strange since Blalock and McClure are usually solid. It’s expected for Konz to struggle since he’s a rookie, but the fact remains.
If you want to make a pocket passer uncomfortable, you send pressure up the middle and force the quarterback to move laterally. Ryan is a lot less effective when he has to throw on the run, so whatever issues the middle of the line is having have to be cleared up immediately if this team wants to have postseason success.
Pass rush (or lack thereof)
Similar to how it’s been for the past four years, the Falcons don’t have a legitimate pass rusher outside of John Abraham. When the opposing offense is dedicated to nullifying Abraham, the Falcons’ pass rush is utterly non-existent.
Against the Panthers on Sunday, Cam Newton had all kinds of time to make the throws down the field or scramble for a career-high 116 yards. Having no pass rush with the postseason around the corner could spell doom for Atlanta.
It bugs me how flat the offense looked in the first half – and really, calling the team “flat” is an understatement. Atlanta had a week and a half to prepare for the Carolina Panthers. A week and a half, and you come out and play your worst game of the season?
Mike Smith is a fantastic head coach, but it’s inexcusable for the team to play like they did after having a mini-bye week. To Smith’s credit, he’s great at making sure the team doesn’t have back-to-back losses. Atlanta hasn’t lost in back-to-back games since 2009.
Luckily for the Falcons, this game didn’t happen at a worse time. It could have been during the divisional round, making it another one-and-done playoff appearance. As it stands now, the team has three weeks to iron things out, and it starts with a huge match-up against the New York Giants – the team that uppercut you out the playoffs en route to their second Super Bowl victory in four years.
It’s time to RISE UP, Atlanta.
That’s my rant, and I’m sticking to it.