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NFL Team Previews: Atlanta Falcons

There are going to be three new guys starting on the Falcons offensive line (most likely)..

2018 Review: 7-9 (2nd in AFC South)

The Falcons 2018 season can be described with one word: injuries. The Falcons had a Super Bowl appearance in 2016, in 2017 they almost (should have) beat Philadelphia in the Divisional Round, and there were obviously high hopes for them in 2018.

This team started out remarkably slow, they were 1-4 with losses to the Eagles, Saints, Bengals, and Steelers. They climbed their way back to 4-4 after a Week 9 win, but then they lost five games in a row and ended the season on a three game winning streak to get to 7-9.

It wasn’t because Matt Ryan had a bad season. Ryan started all 16 games and threw for 4,924 yards with 35 TDs and 7 INTs. For comparison, in 2016 Matt Ryan threw for only 20 more yards and 3 more TDs and won the MVP. Receiving wise, Julio Jones had 1,677 yards and 8 TDs, Mohamed Sanu had 838 yards with 4 TDs, and rookie Calvin Ridley had 821 yards with 10 TDs.

The Falcons offense was good enough to get back to the playoffs, they were 10th in the league in scoring at 25.9 PPG, they threw for 290.8 yards per game which was good for 4th, but their rushing game was abysmal with only 98.3 yards per game which was good for 27th in the league.

The running game is an epitome of what went wrong for the Falcons. Their offensive line was pretty fucking awful. According to Football Outsiders the Falcons OL was ranked 24th in the league. They had the 31st Stuffed Ranked, which means their RBs were tackled at or behind the offensive line ALOT. The other part the running game struggles highlights is injuries. Devonta Freeman only played in two games all year. He played Week 1, missed the next three, played in Week 5 and then was on IR the rest of the year.

Instead of listing all these guys that got hurt, I’m just going to take a screenshot from Pro-Football Reference that has a nice little chart.

So the Falcons lost Devonta Freeman, Ricardo Allen (S), Keanu Neal (S) to season ending injuries very early on in the season. They also lost Deion Jones, their starting LB for a very big portion of the season. Allen, Neal, and Jones you could argue are the Falcons best and most important defensive players.

There are a number of other guys who were injured on both sides of the ball, but the Falcons defense which was instrumental in getting them to the Super Bowl and playoffs the previous two years was decimated. They gave up 26.4 PPG (25th), 124.9 yards rushing per game (25th), and 259.6 yards passing per game (27th). Atlanta’s defense only forced 19 turnovers compared to their offense who gave up 18, and the Falcons only had 37.0 sacks good for 22nd in the league.

As far as individual’s go, Vic Beasley only had 5.0 sacks in 16 games. In 2016 Beasley had 15.5 sacks but since then he hasn’t lived up to those numbers. Takkarist McKinley who was their first round pick in 2017 has had 6.0 sacks in year one, then 7.0 sacks in year two. He’s played good enough for them but the Falcons need both their pass rushers to be better so they can get back to the playoffs in 2019.

Key Off Season Acquisitions

OC Dirk Koetter

Much to probably many Falcons fans enjoyment, Steve Sarkisian is gone as the OC for the Falcons and they brought in former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter to run the offense.

This is a solid hiring for Falcons because Koetter was actually the OC for the Falcons from 2012 – 2014. Under Koetter during those years the Falcons finished 7th, 20th, and 12th in points, and finished 8th, 14th, and 8th, in total yards. Matt Ryan and the boys had a lot of success with Koetter and more importantly, Matt Ryan already knows this offense so there shouldn’t be as much of learning curve.

G James Carpenter (4 years, $21 million)

Here we go again. The Falcons had a bad offensive line last year. They needed help. Carpenter has started every game for the Jets since he’s been there in 2015 besides 6 games last year. He will most likely the starter at one of the guard spots.

G Jamon Brown (3 years, $18.75 million)

Another depth pickup here. Brown started 8 games last year for the Giants after being waived from the Rams. Brown will have a chance to start, but he’ll have to beat out first round pick Chris Lindstrom.

2019 NFL Draft

Falcons new offensive linemen, Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary via ajc.com

Round 1 Pick #14: OG Chris Lindstrom

Lindstrom played Center at Boston College but with Alex Mack already in ATL, Lindstrom will get his chance to start at G over Jamon Brown. Lindstrom could be the future starter at Center for the Falcons since this will be Mack’s 10th year, but for now Lindstrom is going to a guard.

Round 2 Pick #31: OT Kaleb McGary

McGary is going to start opposite at RT opposite Jake Matthews. Again, he’s here for an upgrade to what the Falcons had last year.

The Falcons 2019 Draft Class

Key Off Season Departures

RB Tevin Coleman (via free agency to the San Francisco 49ers)

Coleman was going to be out the door the first chance he got. He’s been playing behind Freeman his whole career in Atlanta and Coleman wants to prove he can be a #1 guy. This is a big loss for the Falcons because when both are healthy, the Falcons used them both very well together.

CB Robert Alford (via free agency to the Arizona Cardinals)

Alford started 15 games for the Falcons last year, and he left to go to Arizona. The Falcons probably didn’t want to pay what Alford got with AZ, plus he’s 30 years old. But this creates a depth problem and a brand new starter opposite Trufant.

2019 Preview

In all these previews were assume each team is staying healthy, I hope that’s obvious but it’s important to say for the Falcons because this team should be in the playoffs if they don’t get hit with the injury bug like they did in 2018.

There would be only one thing holding them back. That is the offensive line and the running game. There are going to be three new guys starting on the Falcons offensive line (most likely), and they lost Tevin Coleman who was one of the best backup RBs in the league. We’ll go back to injuries here, Devonta Freeman is a better back than Coleman, but Freeman needs to stay healthy. If the OL even improves just a little bit, say from the #24 ranked like to like #18, especially their run ranking, and Freeman can stay healthy then this offense is going to be one of the tops in the league. They go three deep at WR, and have Pro Bowl TEs and RBs. There’s no reason Matt Ryan can’t throw for around 5,000 yards again and a ton of TDs.

The defense is similar to the offense. They have all the pieces in place for the most part. They need to get more pressure up front but you’d like to think guys like Beasley and McKinely have the talent to do it. Where this team is lacking in 2019 is at corner. The only guys you can trust going into the season is Desmond Trufant. With Alford gone that second spot is up for grabs. More than likely second year guy Isaiah Oliver is going to start but he’s an unknown. The position could also go to Kendall Sheffield who they drafted in the third round out of Ohio State.

The Falcons have all the pieces to dethrone the Saints in the NFC South. Staying healthy this year will determine if this team is in the playoff hunt or not. Let’s take a look at their 2019 schedule, which is a unique one.

Schedule

The NFC South plays the NFC West and the AFC South. The Falcons got second in their divisions so they also draw the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles.

Okay, we have quite the schedule here. First of all, the Falcons play ZERO divisional games the first 9 weeks of the season. They play all their divisional games in the second half of the season. Including playing the Saints and Panthers twice in a five week stretch, along with Tampa Bay. Very weird scheduling there.

Secondly, they ONLY PLAY THREE GAMES OUTDOOR. THREE FUCKING GAMES. They don’t play their first game outdoors till week 11 at Carolina. Their other two outdoor games? At Tampa Bay and at San Francisco. Obviously all 8 of their home games are in a dome. But the first four games they play away are all dome teams also: Minnesota, Indianapolis, Houston, and Arizona. Then they play New Orleans in a dome, of course. So what a fucking schedule for this team. They are most likely going to play zero games in bad weather or a temperature below 50 degrees.

They get two prime time games, Sunday Night Week 2 against Philadelphia, and then the Thanksgiving Night game against New Orleans. Again they get a late afternoon game against San Francisco and if both teams are in the playoff hunt, that would become Americas Game of the Week on FOX.

What a schedule.

Fantasy Player You Want

The Falcons are oozing with fantasy guys you want. I’m gonna go with Calvin Ridley. It wouldn’t surprise me if Ridley had something like 1,200 yards, 10 TDs, and 80+ receptions. I think he’s really going to take over that #2 role and Sanu is going to drop back a bit and not have almost 900 yards receiving again.

Fantasy Player to Avoid

Going Austin Hooper here. He was a pro bowl player last year, he had 600+ yards and 4 TDs last year. Some may look for more from him, but I don’t see if it the Falcons get back to running the ball like they want to.

Ceiling

The Falcons are a team that’s getting slept on. There only two years removed from a Super Bowl run, and one year from a playoff run where if Julio Jones catches a pass in the back of the end-zone then they beat the Eagles. So I can see this team winning the NFC South and winning up to 12 games.

Floor

They won seven games last year, and it’s hard to see them winning less than that. BUT, they are playing a tough AFC South division, and the NFC West should have three solid teams, although by the team they play the Niners & Jacksonville, those teams could be checked out. But I’ll go with at least 6 wins for the Falcons.

Calvin Ridley (18), Matt Ryan (2), and Julio Jones (11) via bloggingdirty.com
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