What’s wrong with the Atlanta Falcons

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 05: Julio Jones (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 05: Julio Jones (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

Atlanta Falcons are 4-4 on the season. Perhaps many expected the Falcons to have a better record at this point in the year. Is there something wrong with this team? If so, what is it?

Atlanta Falcons fans, numbers do not lie. Since 1998, every year following one of the most successful seasons in franchise history, Atlanta has produced a dismal record and (in three instances) have failed to make the playoffs.

After Atlanta’s 1998 season Super Bowl appearance and loss to the Denver Broncos, the Falcons finished the following 1999 season with a 5-11 record.

They failed to make the playoffs that year.

Following up a successful 2004 campaign and an appearance in the NFC Championship game, the Falcons produced an 8-8 record the following season.

They failed to make the playoffs that year.

The 2012 season resulted in Atlanta making it to the NFC Championship game. However, the very next year, the Falcons posted a 4-12 record.

They failed to make the playoffs that year.

Fast forward to the 2016 season. The Falcons achieved an 11-5 record and played in Super Bowl LI.

Now, halfway through the following season, Atlanta is currently sitting at 4-4 on the year and currently out of playoff contention.

The numbers speak for themselves. Since 1998, the Falcons have failed to produce at a high level following one of the most successful years in franchise history.

Should Falcons fans give up hope on this season? Is the franchise repeating history? Will they miss the playoffs this year?

Are things as bad as some may think? Maybe not.

Last year, Atlanta produced one of the top ten offenses in NFL history. This season, all but two of the eleven starters from that offense returned this year.

Despite the Falcons offense losing their starting fullback and guard from a season ago, Atlanta is currently sixth in total offense throughout the entire NFL.

This time last year (Week 10 – 2016), Atlanta ranked first in yards per play. One season later (Week 10 – 2017), and the Falcons are tied for first place in the same category.

The Falcons may have lost four games thus far, but their offense is not a complete bust by any means. In fact, they have one of the league’s top ranked offenses in 2017.

So what could have caused the Falcons to have a 4-4 record less than a year after appearing in the Super Bowl?

Who is at fault? Who is to blame for Atlanta’s lackluster 2017 performance and their four losses thus far on the year?

Are these losses the fault of one particular player? Multiple players? Is a coach or coordinator responsible for placing a four in the loss column?

What about penalties? Could Atlanta’s four losses be contributed to the team committing too many penalties?

Combined, the four teams that have beat the Falcons this season committed a total of 26 penalties against them.

Atlanta committed a combined total of 24 penalties against these four opponents.

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Although the Falcons committed two fewer penalties against the teams that have defeated them this season, a closer look reveals an issue regarding penalties on Atlanta’s defensive side of the ball.

Per The Football Database, Atlanta ranks in the top five this season for most committed penalties in the areas of unnecessary roughness, roughing the passer, and defensive holding.

It is interesting that a defensive minded head coach, in Atlanta’s Dan Quinn, would have a defense that commits so many penalties.

For comparison, in 2014, the Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks defense, led by then coordinator Dan Quinn, did not rank higher than sixth in two out of the three previously noted penalty categories.

Are defensive penalties the cause for Atlanta’s four losses this season?

Going back to Week 6, it can be argued that a penalty caused Atlanta to lose the game.

A roughing the passer call against the Falcons defense negated an interception, which led to a Miami Dolphins score. Atlanta eventually lost the game by three points.

What would have been the final outcome had the Falcons not committed that roughing the passer penalty?

The question is purely hypothetical. But what is not hypothetical is the fact that penalties can be minimized.

This is not a talent issue, where a team needs to conduct a mid-season trade, or await free agency and the draft season to increase the quality of their roster.

Penalties are an issue that can be addressed and resolved now. Not at the end of the season. Not in next year’s training camp. Now.

What will this year’s Falcons team look like moving forward if the defense commits fewer penalties?

What about dropped passes? Are dropped passes the reason for Atlanta losing four games thus far?

The Falcons have dropped numerous passes this season. According to one source, the Falcons are ranked third for most dropped passes in the NFL this year.

Some of these dropped passes have led to interceptions. One dropped pass in particular cost Atlanta a touchdown and arguably the game against the Carolina Panthers in Week 9.

But are dropped passes the reason for Atlanta’s four losses this season?

The same starting receivers that helped to provide Atlanta with an all-time top ten ranked offense last season, are still on the Falcons roster this year. This group of receivers have proved they are capable of catching passes.

What will this year’s Falcons team look like moving forward if the offense commits fewer drops?

The truth cannot be sugar-coated. Atlanta is facing great odds and a history which has proven dreadful results.

Defensive penalties, dropped passes, and a notorious history of following up successful seasons with dismal records has pit the Falcons against an almost insurmountable challenge.

If a Falcons fan chooses to give up on Atlanta making the playoffs this season, that is understandable.

But if the Falcons can minimize defensive penalties and commit fewer dropped passes, they are in a good position to begin a playoff run.

History is against Atlanta. The Falcons have beat themselves a few times this season as a result of penalties and poor execution.

Is this all the result of a Super Bowl hangover? After all, Atlanta tends not to do so well following a successful season.

Yes. Yes there is a hangover.

But where there is a hangover, there is a cure. The Falcons are facing an uphill, but they also have a chance to prove history wrong.

Next: Atlanta Falcons: 3 Players whose stock dropped in Week 9 loss

They could very well make the playoffs this season. But they will need to find a cure, and fast. A good start would be to win on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. Winning cures all.