The Atlanta Falcons were easily the best punt return team in the NFL last season. While they never returned a punt for a touchdown, they led the NFL in punt return average by a full three yards.
Now in 2023, without Avery Williams, they have been abysmal. In fact, they have been the worst punt return team in the entire NFL. The Avery Williams injury to open offseason programs was huge and it is showing up on the field.
Avery Williams-less Atlanta Falcons have been terrible at returning punts
The Atlanta Falcons offense is seriously struggling right now, we all know that. They have not performed to the level that they should, but it doesn't help when you are constantly pinned down at your end of the field because of bad returns from your special teams.
While there have been other changes on the punt return team, the big issue is that they don't have Avery Williams back there.
Williams tore his ACL in early-June and his absence has been evident.
Mike Hughes has taken a majority of the reps as the punt returner and he has not been good. This has resulted in a dramatic drop off in punt return yards from last year to this year.
While they are different sample sizes, the Falcons have watched their yards per punt return drop 11.2 yards, which has also made them go from first to worst.
That is a whole first down—and more—that the Falcons have lost. Not only does that make it less likely that the offense will get in a position to score points but it also guarantees that the opposing offense will get the ball with a shorter field.
The unfortunate part is that there is no fix sitting right there. The Falcons would have to trade for someone or just shuffle things around until they find something that works.
They have Dee Alford who returned a punt for a touchdown during the preseason, but he is vital to the success of the defense. Not to mention, returning a punt for a touchdown in the preseason doesn't necessarily mean you are a great returner.
No matter what it takes, the Falcons have to get this issue figured out because it is part of the puzzle as to why the offense is struggling so badly.