The Atlanta Falcons missed it by that much
The Atlanta Falcons experienced a season of mixed emotions, starting out red-hot and simmering down mid-season only to finish with a lukewarm effort. After a 5-0 start, the Falcons finished the season 3-8, losing five of those eight games by four points or less.
So what’s the issue? Well there are a few small things that need work. The Falcons have terrible play in the red zone, and the run game isn’t as great or consistent as it could be. The defense is average, and the falcons lack depth at wide receiver. Most of these things are small by themselves, but combined, really hurt a team. Even so, all of these things don’t hurt as bad as the dagger, the salt in the wound; Turnovers.
Turnovers can take a playoff team completely out of the running, which is exactly what happened to the Falcons this year. The Falcons finished for the fifth most turnovers this season at 30, which included 17 interceptions and 13 fumbles.
The Falcons are a top ten offense, and with a defense in the middle range, there isn’t much explanation of what really hurt the team in close games. Many of Matt Ryan’s interceptions come in the red zone, killing drives and giving up opportunities for points. 13 fumbles given up also hurts, considering ball protection is something taught to most high school players and is mandatory in the National Football League.
In five of the eight losses suffered by the Falcons this season, the Falcons lost the turnover battle, sometimes by a large margin. If we look at a few examples, you’ll see what I mean.
In Atlanta’s 23-20 loss against the Buccaneers in week 8, the Atlanta Falcons had four turnovers, while Tampa had zero. Four turnovers won’t win you many games, but when you look at the score and see that the game was only decided by three points, it becomes clear that the turnovers cost them the game. You take away one of those turnovers and the ball game completely shifts.
Atlanta also lost by three to Indianapolis, with the turnover battle being 4-3 with Atlanta having yet another four turnover game. Again, the Falcons were in the game, but four turnovers won’t win you many games, if any.
When the Falcons played the division rival Saints for the first time, the Falcons lost the turnover battle 3-0, which would cost them the game 31-21. The second time around, the game would be only decided by three once again, where the Falcons lost the turnover battle 2-1.
In Atlanta’s poor effort against Minnesota, the losing 3-1 turnover ratio is a key component of why Atlanta only put up ten points on the day.
The turnovers are happening by a select group of players. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for six fumbles, (three each) and Matt Ryan lost four fumbles on top of his 17 interceptions. Wide receiver Julio Jones also fumbled three times, but considering his 136 receptions this season, it would appear to be a fair trade.
These examples are not just black and white, there are games where the Falcons lose the turnover battle and still win the game, but when the scores are as close as they were, with the turnover margin as high as it was, it becomes very clear that the main focus for the offense in 2016 is to protect the ball better.