August 14, 2020

2020 NFL Preview: Atlanta Falcons

As we roll into the 2020 season, the big question the media, critics and Falcon fans are asking…which Atlanta Falcons are we getting this season? In 2019, the first-half and the second-half were exact opposites.

The first 8 games, the Falcons were the joke of the NFL and playing like the worst team in the NFL with a 1-7 record. Then there were the other 8 games. The Falcons were 6-2 in that stretch and played more like that first-half 2016 Super Bowl Falcons team.

With time running out on an aging Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and patients with HC Dan Quinn (45-37), it’s time for the Falcons to put up or shut up (and rebuild).

Offense

Quarterback

Matt Ryan had a Matt Ryan type of season. I mean, a lot of passes, so…. a lot of yards, a lot of touchdowns, but also a lot of incomplete passes and a lot of interceptions. Ryan was 408 for 616 (66.2%) for 4,406 yards, 26 TDs and 14 INTs. I know, I know….he has a 66.2% completion rate, BUT…on 616 passes, that means there were 208 incomplete passes. 208 miss opportunities. 208 times the ball hit the ground. Then let’s throw in the 14 INTs, starting not to be so impressive and more Matt Ryanish.

Running Backs

In the off-season, the Falcons decided it was time to move on from Devonta Freeman. Not only did they move on, as long as he stays healthy, they upgraded. The Falcons signed former MVP candidate, Todd Gurley II. Even with his health issues, Gurley had more yards and TDs than Freeman, which led the Falcons to make this gamble. Gurley had 223 rushes for 857 yards and 12 TDs in 2019 and only need him to duplicate that for this to be a win, the 2018 version would be the cherry on the top.

Receivers

One of Ryan’s favorite targets, Austin Hooper (975 catches for 787 yards and 6 TDs), left for Cleveland, leaving Atlanta needing someone to help take double coverage off Julio Jones (99 catches for 1,394 yards and 6 TDs) and open the field up for Calvin Ridley (63 catches for 866 yards and 7 TDs). The Falcons believe they found that in Hayden Hurst. Hurst was acquired in a trade with the Ravens.

Defense

Much like the offense, their were two halves to this defense. The first 8 games, the Falcon defense allowed 31.3 points per game. The second 8 games, this same defense ONLY allowed 18.6 points per game.

Defensive Linemen

This defense, especially in the trenches, have been nothing to brag about. DT Grady Jarrett had a Pro Bowl season. With the Falcons always failing to develop first-round investments or finding Garrett a suitable long-term partner on the inside, it was looking like we were seeing another career rot away in Atlanta. This off-season, the Falcons decided they were going to do something different, they were going to make their defense better. They brought in one of the best edge rushers available in free agency, Dante Fowler Jr. (career high, 11.5 sacks in 2019).

Linebackers

A speedy Deion Jones is expected to take advantage of all this talent up front now and shut down the run. Fourth-round pick Mykal Walker looks to already be in the staring rotation. The Falcons added eight-year NFL veteran LaRoy Reynolds and former XFLer Edmond Robinson for depth.

Secondary

The big, with 4.4 speed, CB A.J. Terrell is expected to step in and fill some big shoes. The first-round (16th overall pick) Clemson Tiger was drafted to take over this secondary and make it a “no fly zone”. He will join Kendall Sheffield, who played nickel last year, but looks to have the talent to also play outside.

Special Teams

K Younghoe Koo has finally gotten the Falcons’ kicking game to where it needs to be, reliable and steady. Koo went 23 for 26 last year. P Ryan Allen will have some competition from rookie Sterling Hofrichter, but should be the starter come week one.

Final Thoughts

The Atlanta Falcons have all the pieces, reasons and ambition to win the NFC South, NFC and even the Super Bowl. BUTTTTTTTT, do they have a complete 16 game season in them or will this be the same Falcon team that we know all so well…first 8 games and a second 8 games?