When a punt return team is being talked about all the time amongst fans, that is usually a really good thing or a really bad thing. Last year, the Falcons' punt return prowess actually didn't get talked about enough but now that has changed in the worst way possible this year.
The Falcons have gone from averaging 16.2 yards per punt return to averaging just 5.3 yards per return. That is a massive decline in production that has taken the Falcons from 1st to 32nd in the league.
Falcons have had the most dramatic decline in success when returning punts
The 2022 Atlanta Falcons were able to do one thing better than anyone—return punts. They were a full three yards ahead of any team when it came to yards per punt return. They averaged 16.2 yards per return compared to the Lions, who had the second-best average with 13.2 yards per return.
Now, the Falcons are averaging just 5.3 yards per return which is a half of a yard less than the Cowboys who are 31st in the league. That is extremely alarming.
Frankly, it is hard to remember more than two punts that were returned for five or more yards this year, it has been that terrible. They have struggled with decision-making inside the twenty and they just haven't been able to find any holes when returning punts.
The biggest difference between last year and this year is Avery Williams. Williams is a fantastic return man and when he went down with a season-ending injury so early in the offseason activities, we knew it would be a big loss. But I don't think anyone predicted they would be this terrible.
There is more to it than just losing Williams though. Watching Mike Hughes, Scotty Miller, Dee Alford, Bijan Robinson, and possibly Arthur Smith next *joke*, returning punts, there hasn't been much space. It has also felt like every punter the Falcons have faced has turned into Ray Guy.
Nevertheless, there is absolutely no excuse to be this horrendous as returning punts. Every yard lost, or not gained on these punts is one more yard that the offense has to drive, which makes it that much easier for the opposition's defense to get a stop.
I honestly don't know if there is a fix for it this year since it feels like the Falcons have tried everyone and their mom at punt returner. They have also tried a lot of different combinations of players as blockers. Nothing has worked and there is honestly no excuse for them to be this terrible.