After opening the 2018 season with an 18-12 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, during which the Falcons offense continued its struggles of 2017 (lack of production in the red zone, questionable play calling, not being able to score in the clutch against the Eagles), Falcons fans quite rightly turned up the heat on offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
But hey! The Falcons bounce back from the week one loss by scoring 31, 37 and 36 points in consecutive weeks. It appears that the offensive juggernaut of the Kyle Shanahan days is back and the Falcons sit pretty at the top of the NFC South. Well, sadly, not quite, but it is right to reconsider if Sarkisian is still on the hot seat.
Fans the last three weeks have seen the offense put up fantastic numbers, not turn the ball over once and look a much more complete unit. Credit must go to Sarkisian for putting different players in position to succeed and adapting his play calling to exploit the opposing defense.
In week two he stuck with the run as Tevin Coleman became the first running back to rush for 100 yards against Carolina in 21 games. In week three against the Saints, Calvin Ridley was the focal point scoring three touchdowns. In week four both Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu had over 100 yards receiving, Ridley caught another two scores and even Logan Paulsen grabbed a touchdown, his first since 2014. Granted the Saints and the Bengals aren’t exactly the cream of NFL defenses currently ranking 24th and 29th in yards per game respectively, but you can only beat what is put in front of you.
If they can continue at this pace the Falcons offense has the chance to replicate its success of 2016 where they averaged 33.8 points per game. Continuing the theme of random tight ends catching touchdowns, that year Matt Ryan also threw scores to an NFL record 13 different receivers including to former tight end D. J. Tialavea who is now out of the league, last seen as an offensive tackle with the Bears.
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The bottom line is that the past three weeks the offense has played at a very high level. Teams scoring 36+ points at home and not turning the ball over usually win. According to Matthew Tabeek of AtlantaFalcons.com, since 1940 teams doing this are 402-4. Two of the losses are the Falcons the past two weeks….go figure!
Owner Arthur Blank has noticed the offensive improvement stating the below to ESPN earlier this week:
"“We’ll continue to score a lot of points which is a great credit to Sark and Matt and all of his teammates. To score 73 points in a couple of games is pretty incredible against NFL defenses. And they’re playing with confidence. And I think the (offensive) coaches are coaching with confidence now.”"
Should Sarkisian and the offense keep this up, defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel and head coach Dan Quinn’s seats might be the ones getting a little hotter. Coach Manuel has rightly been lauded as a young, up and coming defensive mind and a potential Head Coaching candidate but the defense has been found wanting the past few weeks in key moments.
Arthur Blank has also noticed this telling ESPN:
"“We have plenty of talent on defense to play well. It’s trying to put people in the positions where they can maximize their strengths and not expose any lack of experience that they may have. And that’s what the coaches are in the process of doing.”"
Yes, there has been difficult injuries to three key players but the D only needs to improve slightly to help the Falcons win with the offence clicking and putting up 30+ points each game. If they don’t and the Falcons keep losing games with Sark and the offense scoring plenty of points, Quinn and Manuel should expect to take the same level of heat that Sark took in 2017.