How did we get here?
It was December 29, 2019, and the final game of the 2019 regular season for our Atlanta Falcons. It was a thrilling overtime win in Tampa Bay and the team’s fourth win in a row. Despite the losing record; confidence in the locker room and the fanbase were sky-high for the 2020 season.
A vast majority of the fanbase expected big changes in the front office and coaching staff, despite the strong surge in the second half of the year. Like most everyone on Earth, Atlantans had an optimistic outlook on 2020.
Fast forward to the present date, and the story, unfortunately, remains the same. Of course, 2020 didn’t end up as anybody wanted as the entire planet suffered our generations’ pandemic. Pandemic aside, 2020 did not go the way Falcons fans expected and hoped for their football team. The Falcons did not make the changes that were expected and needed to the front office or the coaching staff, and the overall outcome of the season reflected that.
Our team went 4-12 despite scoring 15 more points than in 2019 and only allowing 15 more points on defense, overall. So, what was the major difference? Naturally, fans are quick to blame the lack of offensive production considering the team had recently posted 540 points in 2016; a total of 144 more points than what was scored in 2020 with arguably less talent on that side of the ball. It makes sense that such a drop-off would be to blame. After all, it was the offense that had the up and down years under Quinn, not the defense. However, looking at the numbers, the defense was consistent with one thing, and that was allowing points. Under Quinn, the defense ranged from allowing 399-423 points per year. Although consistent, I believe that those defensive numbers tell the tale of our sorrows.
As exciting as it is, 540 points in a season is just not that common. Only 26 times in NFL history has a team finished with more than 500 points and only 4 of those teams hoisted the Lombardi at season’s end. The league is indeed shifting to an offensive-minded league, but the fact remains the same: the other team can’t win if they don’t score. That in itself would be why the league is becoming a more offensive-minded league; you can’t win if you can’t score.
What does any of this mean?
You may be asking, what is the point here? The offensive production has dropped more than that of the defense, and we can see with our own eyes on Sunday how the offense sometimes looks flat-out lethargic. That may be true, but our offensive production did not drop off due to any one player on the roster, but rather because of play-calling and not putting the proper players in the proper positions to make plays.
Anyone who has watched football for more than 5 minutes knew what this team was going to do offensively on almost every snap this season. Other times everyone knew what plays probably should have been called, but weren’t. The lack of imagination under Dirk Koetter and the absence of a consistent running game hurt us too, without a doubt. However, allowing 414 points defensively was the nail in the coffin for the season. Of course, there were the few games that the defense stepped up and the offensive production, or lack thereof, cost us the game.
Outside of the anomaly that was the Raiders matchup, where the defense only allowed 6 points; the Falcons defense allowed no less than 17 points every single week. The defense simply did not shut down opposing offenses consistently. Maybe for a half, but not for an entire 60 minutes.
My friends, there lies the problem. The offense is being asked to score at least 3 touchdowns to simply be in contention for a win, and realistically needed much more to achieve that goal. Opposing offenses scored 24 points or more a total of 8 times against this defense in 2020. The offense scored at least 24 points in 6 of those same games, winning only once.
The offense has done its part, even though there is much room for improvement. Particularly when it comes to the rushing attack. Yes, some games can be attributed to the lack of offensive production as they inexplicably scored 17 points or less on 4 occasions in 2020. All of those games could have been won or sent to overtime with a single touchdown. It was frustrating to watch, to say the least.
The future is bright!
Moving forward I like the outlook for this team. The offense has shown in most games that they are up to the challenge of scoring at least 24 points per game, which is the typical minimum goal for any successful team. The defense just needs to find a way to go from allowing 25.87 points per game to at least 21.76 points per game. That would equate to 370 total points allowed in a 17 game regular season, which the NFL adopts in 2021. For comparison purposes, the Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers allowed 355 points this season in 16 regular-season games.
It may seem daunting, but if the defense improves to these standards, the Falcons would be a serious playoff contender, even with the same offensive production that was rolled out in 2020. With the offense already expected to improve under new Head Coach Arthur Smith, the defense needs to be the immediate focus for this front office and new coaching staff.