2018 was not the season the Atlanta Falcons envisioned for themselves.
Coming into last season, the team was predicted by a number of national analysts and talking heads as a genuine Super Bowl contender, with the chance to become the first team in NFL history to achieve that feat in their own stadium.
But since then, the Falcons went into a virtual free fall, all because of injuries.
Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Andy Levitre, Brandon Fusco, Derrick Shelby, Josh Harris, and Devonta Freeman were all added to the team’s injured reserve list, opening up enormous holes especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Now, the team waits for those stars to return to the field back and fully healthy.
The 2019 season should be a lot more intriguing than the 2018 season. Here are some reasons why Falcons fans should have genuine hope for the future.
The Falcons first round draft pick has been a sensation for much of the season, even leading the NFL in touchdown receptions briefly earlier this year when the Falcons were getting wins. He has scored just once in the last month and twice in their last five games, but finished with 10 touchdowns, tying a Falcons rookie record, has clearly proven himself as worthy of that draft selection and figures to be a pivotal cog in their offensive machine going forward.
DAN QUINN TAKING THE DC JOB
After the Falcons ended their season, they wiped the slate clean, firing all three of their primary coordinators to give the team a fresh perspective in every phase of the game. Among their replacements was Dan Quinn himself, who announced that he would occupy the defensive coordinator job going forward. That should be good news for the Falcons, who are waiting for a young and promising group to take the next step.
Who better to lead them than the man who helped engineer the Legion of Boom in recent years? Quinn won a Super Bowl and appeared in another as the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator. Now, he looks to bring that prestige to Atlanta.
The Falcons lost starting middle linebacker and tackles leader Deion Jones in the first game of the season to a foot injury. He returned against Baltimore and resumed his exceptional play. It was good to see that Jones did not lose a step in his comeback, good news for the team has they seek to re-establish their dominance in the middle of the field. His absence was costly for Atlanta, who ranked near the top of the NFL in missed tackles, and had suffered in particular against receiving backs.
The Falcons brought in Italian born place kicker Giorgio Tavecchio after the sudden kicking leg injury to Matt Bryant. During his time as the starter, Tavecchio was perfect, going five for five on field goal attempts and making all eight of his point after tries. Now that the Falcons have cut ties with Bryant entirely, Tavecchio is the man going forward. Luckily, he has some experience with the team, and has a resume to build on.
The quarterback signed what was briefly the biggest contract in NFL history, the first ever deal worth $150 million and featuring the first $100 million guarantee. Whenever he has had the chance, Ryan has proved worthy of the investment: he threw for nearly 5,000 yards, tossed a career low in interceptions, and completed almost 70 percent of his passes. Now, the team wants to re-build their run game around him and keep Ryan from having to save them every week. After a decade in football, Ryan is still in top gear.
For a time early on this season, Takkarist McKinley shared a lead in the NFL in total quarterback sacks in a tie with Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack. Unfortunately, McKinley did not record a sack in seven straight games as the Falcons steadily lost ground rushing the pass. But in future, the defensive end and former first round draft pick will be integral to getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
It seems that whenever Matt Ryan needed a third down conversion, he turned to Mohamed Sanu. And for good reason. This season, Sanu had 66 catches on 94 targets, and did not drop a single pass, emerging as one of eight NFL receivers with at least 50 catches and one or no dropped passes this season. On third down, Sanu caught 19 of 26 passes.
THAT DEFENSE WE SAW LATE IN 2018
The performance of the Falcons’ defensive front late in the year against the Cardinals was something to behold. The line consistently got pressure against the quarterback and the linebackers were free to make plays in the middle of the field. And thanks to that combination, the Falcons didn’t have to worry about the gaping holes in their secondary.
In all, they recorded seven sacks and Deion Jones returned a pick six 41 yards, the first of 40 unanswered points in that game.
This was the defense we were supposed to see all season before the injuries took over. If they can keep some of this momentum going into the offseason, they can return next season fully healthy and build off that promise.
RETURN OF THE SAFETIES
It’s difficult to put into words how costly the absence of Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen was for Atlanta, who were largely unable to stop anybody of any talent from getting the big play past them. Neal’s hard hits and Allen’s adept coverage are two assets the Falcons cannot put a price on. Now, they hope that both return healthy this coming summer. Neal tore his ACL and Allen his Achilles, both injuries that have required a long and detailed recovery process.
This one goes without saying. Julio Jones remains arguably the gold standard of the wide receiver position, leading the NFL in receiving yards in total and per game. The Falcons used him more prominently than last season, and he scored eight touchdowns, compared to three in 2017. But they could still manage to increase his involvement on third down and in the red zone. The bad news? Jones had just 10 catches in the red zone this season. The good news? Five of those 10 catches were touchdowns.
Source: 247Sports | James Parks | March 25, 2019