Atlanta Falcons’ Offense: Progress Through Growing Pains?


The Atlanta Falcons’ offense has put up numbers, while being simultaneously frustrating. Is this a bad system fit or are they enduring needed growing pains?

When your football team loses four of its last five games and has only a one-game lead on the final Wild Card spots, it’s hard to remain upbeat. For as great of a start the 2015 Atlanta Falcons had, they’ve come crashing down to Earth ever since losing to the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football Week 6.

It has been over a month since the Atlanta Falcons last one an NFL (Week 7 in Nashville vs. Tennessee, 10-7). Each phase of the Atlanta Falcons has had some issues all year. The special teams lacks explosiveness when possessing the football. While P Matt Bosher continues to excel, the team misses KR Devin Hester‘s home-run ability and K Matt Bryant has missed four field goals already in 2015.

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Defensively, the pass rush is still arguably the worst in football. Nobody on the Atlanta Falcons has more than two quarterback sacks or 23 quarterback pressures. It looked better in Week 11 against at home against the Indianapolis Colts, but the unit has a long way to go.

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Last and certainly not least, the Atlanta Falcons’ offense has been subject to great scrutiny in the last month or so. While on paper Atlanta has the league’s 8th best offense in terms of points and 4th best in terms of yards, that isn’t translating into Falcons’ victories since mid-October. Offensive turnovers are ruining this football team, with four apiece in the Falcons’ last two home games, both losses.

Sam Monson of wrote a great piece about if the Atlanta Falcons can get themselves right. He highlights some of the higher grade players on the team including QB Matt Ryan (5th), WR Julio Jones (2nd), RB Devonta Freeman (4th), and CB Desmond Trufant (6th). The offensive line has done well for most of 2015 in PFF grades.

What Monson believes is that the Atlanta Falcons are relying too much on Matt Ryan “playing mistake-free football–and on WR Julio Jones bailing them out with big plays.” He pointed out that several weapons on the Falcons’ offense aren’t carrying their weight, including WR Roddy White (102nd), WR Leonard Hankerson (111th), and RB Tevin Coleman (67th).

Essentially Atlanta is losing by the slimmest of margins (7 combined points in the last 3 games) and it has to do with the offense making costly mistakes at inopportune times. What that sounds like to me is that this Atlanta Falcons’ offense is going through serious growing pains in its first year under OC Kyle Shanahan.

As much as I loved the Dirk Koetter passing game of the previous three seasons (2012-14), we all had to understand that for the Atlanta Falcons to contend for a Super Bowl in the Matt Ryan Era, the club would have to establish a more balanced offensive attack. In 2014, Koetter shunned tight ends and the running game was nearly non-existent.

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  • Though Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme has made the offensive line’s play exponentially better and the running game thrives when Devonta Freeman is in the backfield, the passing attack is too one-dimensional: Matt Ryan throws the football to Julio Jones.

    It isn’t a horrible thing to have one ideal target. Atlanta has made the playoffs on three separate occasions with three different quarterbacks with only one premier receiving target: 1998 Chris Chandler to Terrance Mathis, 2004 Michael Vick to Alge Crumpler, 2008 Matt Ryan to Roddy White. Atlanta still controls its own playoff destiny as the team currently occupying the 2nd NFC Wild Card spot.

    Though they are totally different offenses, what Matt Ryan is going throw reminds me of what New York Giants QB Eli Manning went through when the Giants organization brought in Ben McAdoo from Green Bay to become his new Offensive Coordinator. Manning had to relearn everything under McAdoo in their first year together, including how to drop back in the pocket. Ryan’s learning curve with Shanahan doesn’t feel as drastic, but it’s a bit more West Coast than Matt Ryan thrived under Dirk Koetter.

    Next: Atlanta Falcons: NFC Power Rankings, Week 12

    In all honesty, I could sense at the start of the season that while the defense was only going to improve under HC Dan Quinn and DC Richard Smith, the offense would sputter a bit under OC Kyle Shanahan. Matt Ryan wasn’t in his prime that last time he had anything close to a balanced offense.

    What 2015 is proving to us is that some of the weapons of the offensive side of the ball aren’t fitting into Shanahan’s scheme. Since the offensive line and the running game have looked better than they have in year, I expect some of the major moves coming this offseason for the Atlanta Falcons are at wide receiver. It’s a season of growing pains, we just didn’t expect the offensive weaponry to stand as the team’s biggest problem entering Week 12. Rise Up!