Atlanta Falcons First Takes: Observations from Week Seven

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 22: Julio Jones
FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 22: Julio Jones /

The Atlanta Falcons let us down once again with their week seven showing versus the Patriots. Can they be fixed or should we expect more performances like this going forward?

Ugh. Where should we begin with the Atlanta Falcons’ latest loss?

For the first time this season, the Falcons did not have a shot at all in this contest. The New England Patriots decimated Atlanta on offense, defense, and special teams in route to a 23-7 victory. So much for exacting a bit of Super Bowl revenge, huh?

The most troubling part of what transpired on Sunday night was the fact the offense managed only seven points on the league’s worst defense. With that kind of performance, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s seat in the coach’s booth grows warmer by the day.

However, to put the week seven loss or the Falcons’ current three game slide entirely on his shoulders is unjust. Yes, Sarkisian may end up as the scapegoat for the 2017 season, but that will not erase the other issues this team has.

The good news is a lot of Atlanta’s problems are fixable, so that brings me to this week’s overarching Falcons First Take – how the Falcons can be fixed.

How the Falcons can be fixed

For starters, the Falcons roster is not made up of junk parts off the scrap heap. They are one of the more talented rosters in all of football, which makes this tailspin Atlanta is currently on all the more frustrating.

According to the Pro Football Focus grading system, 10 of their 22 starters currently grade out as above average players in the league (80 or higher grade). That list includes Alex Mack, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Grady Jarrett, Matt Ryan, Keanu Neal, Desmond Trufant, Andy Levitre, De’Vondre Campbell, and Brian Poole.

So, if the problem isn’t talent-related, it inevitably falls on the coaching staff then, which leads us to the elephant in the room.

Steve Sarkisian has not lived up to expectations as the new offensive coordinator. But ask yourself this – how could he?

Sarkisian stepped into the shoes of the best offensive coordinator in the game, fresh off the heels of a record-setting season. Expecting similar results from a first-time NFL play caller was foolish.

But what’s lost in all of the bad, namely going 91 consecutive minutes without scoring, is the fact that Sark has done some good things as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator.

Per Football Outsiders, the Falcons lead the league in yards/drive, plays/drive, and time-of-possession/drive. Clearly moving the ball is not the issue for this offense; finishing drives with points is. Right now, Atlanta is 27th in points per red zone appearance.

And frankly, not all of that has been on the play caller. Steve Sarkisian did not allow a field goal to get blocked or have another one go off the upright as was the case in the Patriots game.

He also isn’t the person responsible for the tipped interceptions that took points off the board in the Lions and Dolphins games. That lies with the players.

Did Sark make a terrible play call from the one yard line versus the Patriots? Absolutely.

But Kyle Shanahan also outsmarted himself against that very same opponent in the Super Bowl. People make mistakes.

Whether we like it or not, the Falcons are committed to Sarkisian for at least the remainder of the year. The precedent for firing an offensive coordinator is typically a minimum of one season.

Therefore, in the mean time, the defense needs to carry its share of the load. And one way it could do that is to get off the field faster than its current rate.

Football Outsiders has the defense ranked dead last in plays/drive and time-of-possessive/drive. Basically, teams have effectively shortened the games on the Falcons and forced the offense to be perfect with their drives.

For a team that has also had mental lapses and untimely penalties this season, that is not the recipe for success. In the words of special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, “the Falcons are not good enough to be playing like a–holes right now.”

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However, with a few corrections, the fast track to their old winning ways is simple. Convert a few more tries in the red zone. Get off the field at a faster clip. Cut back on the mental errors.

At this point, it’s just a matter of if and when that happens.