Friday, October 23, 2020

Atlanta Falcons Season Preview

The Atlanta Falcons have never quite managed to regain the spirit which guided them to a Super Bowl appearance in 2017. The 2018 season was another disappointment for the team, filled with several high points yet even more crushing lows. The Falcons enjoyed a choppy opening to the season, enduring heartbreaking losses such as an overtime affair against the New Orleans Saints and defeat by one point against the Cincinnati Bengals. By week five they were languishing on a lowly 1-4 record, however a subsequent win streak spanning the following three weeks brought a .500 record to Atlanta by week ten.

The Falcons were unable to capitalise on this, however, as they proceeded to lose the following five games, thus ending their hopes of playoff eligibility. Throughout this losing streak, Atlanta would fail to score over twenty points in every single game, thus fully demonstrating the incompetent offensive efforts befalling the team during this disappointing period. Nevertheless, a final three-game winning streak would round out the season and leave the Falcons on a serviceable but uninspired 7-9 record, good enough to secure second place in the NFC South however just not enough to secure them a playoff space.

The 2018 Atlanta Falcons were yet another team plagued by injury, to which many people would attribute their pedestrian season. Several key players would be hampered by their injury troubles throughout the season, including lightning-rod safety Keanu Neal. The Falcons’ run-game was especially hurt by their injury troubles, with both starting rusher Devonta Freeman and backup Ito Smith being placed on the injured reserve by the end of the season. This left Tevin Coleman to lead the charge with minimal help. Coleman was serviceable throughout the season, however, it cannot be denied that the loss of a player such as Devonta Freeman must have been a detriment to the team.

Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones
Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones

Injury furthermore plagued star wideout Julio Jones, one of the only bright spots in the team throughout this season. The loss of Jones, however, did allow for the emergence of rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who broke out spectacularly in the Falcons’ week three loss to the New Orleans Saints, catching three touchdowns for over 140 yards. Ridley marks one of the only bright spots of the season, seemingly reflecting that the future at wide receiver is bright for the Atlanta Falcons.

The Falcons made several coaching changes in an attempt to change their failing fortunes. Let’s take a look at them and how they may look to influence the team in a positive manner.

Atlanta Falcons Staff Additions

Dirk Koetter: Falcons offensive co-ordinator Steve Sarkisian took much of the blame for the stalling offensive efforts of the team throughout the 2018 season. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter was chosen as his replacement going into the 2019 NFL season, re-taking the position he held prior to his tenure with the Buccs. Koetter brings a wealth of experience to the Falcons, who may be wasting the prime of quarterback Matt Ryan, and will hope to capitalise on his talent before it is too late.

Mike Mularkey: The former tight-end and head coach of teams including the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans joins the Falcons as tight-ends coach going into the 2019 season. The NFL experience of Mularkey both as a player and coach will no doubt be of incredible importance to the Falcons, and will most likely aid the development of the young and promising Austin Hooper.

Dave Brock: Brock takes the position of running-backs coach in Georgia this season. Having gained an enviable amount of experience as an offensive co-ordinator in the past years, Brock will play a large part in the reintroduction of Devonta Freeman into his starting role.

Bob Sutton: Sutton joins in an advisory role for the Falcons this season, having spent the past few years as the defensive co-ordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs. This marks a somewhat unexpected transaction given Sutton’s poor track record- his defensive set-ups in Kansas City were never especially formidable- however his experience should bring certain benefits to the team.

The Falcons also made several key player additions in this past offseason. Here’s a look at them.

Player Additions

J.J. Wilcox: Despite starting only one game over the past two seasons, Wilcox should provide valuable depth at safety for the Falcons. The loss of Keanu Neal with no proper replacement hampered the team heavily last season, and such signings should prevent similar situations.

John Wetzel: Wetzel enlists from the Arizona Cardinals, and again should be a valuable depth option for the Falcons offensive line. At this integral stage of his career, Matt Ryan needs to be protected- Wetzel should contribute to this effort.

Chris Odom: One of the only survivors of the short-lived AAF, Odom joins on a two year deal having played for the Falcons in previous seasons prior to his stint with the Salt Lake Stallions.

Adrian Clayborn: Clayborn re-signs with the Falcons following a period as part of the New England Patriots. He was often a formidable force for the Falcons in his previous tenure with the franchise, and should look to capitalise on his newfound experience.

James Carpenter: Another signing for the offensive line, Carpenter marks a solid veteran option at the guard position and again should allow quarterback Matt Ryan to flourish.

Jamon Brown: Brown should line up as the opposite guard to Carpenter, and again marks the philosophy of quarterback protection clearly displayed in Atlanta this season.

NFL Draft

1.14: Chris Lindstrom, G- Boston College
1.31: Kaleb McGary, OT- Washington
4.111: Kendall Sheffield, CB- Ohio State
4.135: John Cominsky, DE- Charleston
5.152: Qadree Ollison, RB- Pittsburgh
5.172: Jordan Miller, CB- Washington
6.203: Marcus Green, WR- Louisiana-Monroe

The Falcons’ 2019 NFL Draft went fairly smoothly, as the franchise addressed several key areas of need. Chris Lindstrom was highly rated by many draft specialists prior to his selection, and should be a stalwart on the Falcons offensive line for several years. This, coupled with the aforementioned free-agent signings on the offensive line, should ensure the safety of Matt Ryan in the coming season. The Falcons then traded back up into the first round to select Washington’s Kaleb McGary, another important signing for the same reason as Lindstrom.

My personal favourite pick made by the Falcons in this draft was Ohio State’s electric cornerback Kendall Sheffield, who should utilise his pace in both defensive operations and on special teams. Sheffield was a former track star in high school, and boasts an enviable level of athleticism.

Undrafted Free Agents

Jayson Stanley, CB- Georgia
Parker Baldwin, FS- San Diego State
Shawn Bane, WR- Northwest Missouri
Yurik Bethune, LB- Alabama A&M
Lanard Bonner, T- Arkansas State
Rashard Causey, CB- Central Florida
Tre’ Crawford, LB- Alabama-Birmingham
Devon Johnson, T- Ferris State
Kahlil Lewis, WR- Cincinnati
Durrant Miles, LB- Boise State
Chandler Miller, C- Tulsa
Del’Shawn Phillips, LB- Illinois
Jaelin Robinson, T- Temple
Kyle Vasey, LS- Penn State
CJ Worton, WR- Florida International
Olamide Zaccheaus, WR- Virginia

An impressively large undrafted free agent class for the Atlanta Falcons, featuring some impressive pickups. Georgia’s Jayson Stanley will have already won over the hearts of Falcons fans given his college, and may have a legitimate chance of making the roster- especially given the fact that head coach Dan Quinn has been known to offer opportunities to undrafted players in the past. Centre Chandler Miller will be a valuable depth option behind the veteran Alex Mack; expect him to make a decent effort in making the final 53-man roster.

Notable Camp Standouts

John Cominsky, DE
Julio Jones, WR
Devonta Freeman, RB
Qadree Ollison, RB
Mohamed Sanu, WR

The Atlanta Falcons’ offense has been impressing so far in training camp. The formerly injured Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman have both been impressing, as have their probable backups Mohamed Sanu and Qadree Ollison. The latter in particular may be given a large opportunity to flourish in the absence of former-backup Tevin Coleman. On the defensive side of the ball, rookie defensive end John Cominsky has been turning heads with his impressive performances. There is no doubt that this player will be able to contribute to the team immediately.

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