Atlanta Falcons: Red Zone Failure and Lack of Sacks Did the Falcons In
By Adnan Ikic
As we gear up for another NFL off-season, Is is in this point of the year where teams who are no longer in the superbowl hunt look back on their season’s and ask themselves: what went wrong?
For some teams, a grocery list of deficiencies emerge, while for others just a bit of very bad luck or crucial mistakes in crucial moments gets cited.
Then we have the Atlanta Falcons, a team that started 5-0, and proceeded to miss the playoffs despite having one of the easiest schedules in the league.
The Atlanta Falcons were by no means a bad team this season. In fact I will make the argument that they would have been one of the NFL’s elite teams if not for two glaring deficiencies: an inability to sack the opposing quarterback, and red zone failures.
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Looking at the statistics, Atlanta was one of the great NFL teams on offense between the 20s. The Falcons controlled the clock like none other, possessing the ball for an average of 32 minutes and 11 seconds per game. That’s tops in the league.
The Falcons were also second in the NFL in third down conversion percentage, at 47.14%, trailing only the New Orleans Saints (47.71%).
Generally when a team is excellent at converting third downs and the best at controlling the clock, they are a force to be reckoned with.
To make a golf reference, Atlanta managed to efficiently get the ball onto the green, but they could never effectively get the job done from there. The green represents the red zone, while the hole is of course a touchdown.
The Falcons were 18th in the NFL in red zone efficiency this season, scoring a touchdown on 54.72% of their trips into the red area. The Carolina Panthers, who were 15-1 this season, led the league in red zone efficiency, scoring a TD on 69.70% of their trips.
Of the teams that fared worse than the Falcons when it came to converting red zone opportunities into six points, only the Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings made the playoffs: but these are both teams which were carried by their defense.
What’s even worse is all the times that the Falcons got into the red area and came away with zero points on that drive. Atlanta scored 4.68 points per red zone trip, which was good for 12th worst in the league. The Broncos were the only playoff team to score less points per red zone trip, but they had the league’s top rated defense to make up for it.
Of the teams that ranked in the top nine in points per red zone attempt, six made the playoffs, while a seventh (the New York Jets) won 10 games, and just barely missed out on making it to the post-season as well.
Quarterback Matt Ryan seemed to have been Atlanta’s biggest problem within the red zone. He had a passer rating of just 83.6 in the red area, good for 9th worst in the league. Even worse, he had a league high four red zone interceptions, and another three fumbles inside the opponent’s 20, totaling the most red zone turnovers in the league.
Next year will hopefully be much better for the Boston College product, as he had to overcome the hurdle of learning a new offense this season. If Ryan cleans up his mistakes, Atlanta will go back to being a respectable to good red zone team.
What maybe hampered Atlanta even more than red zone ineptitude was an inability to take down the opposing quarterback, evident by the team’s low sack totals.
The Atlanta Falcons had the fewest amount of sacks in the NFL with 19. Rookie Vic Beasley Jr. led the team in sacks, with 4 (good for 92nd in the league). JJ Watt by himself had just 1.5 less sacks than the entire Atlanta Falcons team this season.
The blueprint to winning in the NFL is successfully being able to sack and pressure the opposing team’s quarterback. Due to the nature of the league, now that the game is centered around passing more than ever before, the importance of the sack can not be understated.
“The nine teams with the most sacks in the NFL this season were: Denver (52), New England (49), Pittsburgh (48), Kansas City (47), Houston (45), Carolina (44), Green Bay (43), Minnesota (43), and Cincinnati (42). What do these nine teams have in common? They all made the playoffs, every single one.”
The nine teams with the most sacks in the NFL this season were: Denver (52), New England (49), Pittsburgh (48), Kansas City (47), Houston (45), Carolina (44), Green Bay (43), Minnesota (43), and Cincinnati (42). What do these nine teams have in common? They all made the playoffs, every single one.
As mentioned earlier, the Denver Broncos were even worse than the Falcons in the red zone this season. However, because of their defense’s ability to get to the quarterback, they not only overcame that red zone adversity to make the playoffs, but they also ended up with the top seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The bottom 11 teams in total sacks this season all missed the playoffs. Only Arizona, Seattle, and Washington were middle of the pack or worse in this category; but Washington got in as a 9 win team due to their inferior division, while Seattle and Arizona both had high powered offenses to work with.
Atlanta’s red zone problems should be limited next season, as key players such as Matt Ryan will have a better grasp of the offense. However, the sack problems won’t just go away.
It is imperative to the Falcons that Vic Beasley take that crucial step going into his second season, of going from 4 sack rookie to dominant pass rushing second year man. It’s a step that players such as Justin Houston and Khalil Mack both recently took.
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Beyond that, the brain trust in the front office must bring in capable pass rushers this off-season if Atlanta wants to have a chance to be in that super bowl hunt next year.
Sacks are of vital importance in football, and that’s just the way it is. But don’t take my word for it, the statistics speak for themselves.