After the Atlanta Falcons started out with two somewhat reasonable performances during the first two games, things went wrong in a hurry in what is traditionally the most important part of preseason: Game 3.
After showing improvement in their first year under Dan Quinn, the Atlanta Falcons defense is younger in 2016. There are several rookies and second year players getting more playing time than last year and this is yet to lead to improved results. In fact so far, this preseason has looked like a backwards step for the group.
Vic Beasley Jr has struggled to make an impact on any game this season and looks like a shadow of the player the Falcons hoped for as their lack of pass rush continues to be an issue. Keanu Neal’s injury will likely keep him out for 3-4 weeks and its becoming increasingly difficult to see where the much-needed improvement is going to come from.
Injuries are starting to pile up on this side of the ball and that’s a problem because the biggest issue this young defense has is a lack of depth. Quinn still seems to be identifying players who he believes can thrive in his scheme but he has been focused on adding them through the draft, not free agency and so the amount of veterans on this side of the ball is somewhat worrying if the injury bug strikes.
The Atlanta Falcons really need to see their defense improve this season because, well, it looks like the offense could be in a bit more trouble than expected.
The signing of Alex Mack was expected to free up the Falcons starting guards Chris Chester and Andy Levitre, meaning an improved performance from last year. Unfortunately, this preseason has seen even more pressure coming up the middle and both have regressed rather than shown progression.
While, the Dolphins boast Ndamukong Suh, there’s simply no way that Atlanta can experience any sustained success on offense if they continue to get manhandled in the way they did on Thursday.
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The line wasn’t the only issue. The Dolphins secondary comfortably shut down and beat up the Falcons air attack and Matt Ryan threw very few non-contested balls. With the exception of Julio Jones, none of the Falcons receivers truly felt threatening at any point in the game and the tight ends had a very rough night which included a fumble.
It was also a rare and disappointing night for the running game, which remains so crucial to the overall success of the teams offense. A lot of this was due to continual interior pressure by the Dolphins, which often left the running backs with nowhere to go but down.
What has happened to Matt Ryan?
Ryan probably needs to be separated from the rest of the offense because his issues might be more concerning. After putting together six straight high level season, he is starting to look more and more lost in Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme.
It should be stated that interior pressure and a lack open receivers have a habit of making any quarterback look bad (ask Tom Brady about those Giants super bowls) but Ryan is struggling in a way we haven’t seen in Atlanta. Fans are starting to blame Shanahan for ‘breaking’ their Pro Bowl QB, but his track record has suggested that he’s done more to fix Quarterbacks elsewhere than break them.
Current backup Matt Schaub played well under Shanahan in Houston and looked much more comfortable than Ryan last night. If Matty Ice and his coordinator can’t get on the same page and start executing the scheme soon, they stand no chance of covering up some of Atlanta’s other deficiencies.
On a team that still has so many holes on both sides of the ball, the Falcons season really does rest in the hands of its quarterback. Fans will no doubt keep their fingers crossed and hope for a quick turnaround before the season gets away from them.
While preseason never really matters and teams often hold back until the real games start, the past few weeks have been concerning for Atlanta. Most successful teams will hold their starters out of the 4th game and instead use it to focus on players currently on the roster bubble but the Falcons will not be one of them.
Dan Quinn announced today the Matt Ryan and several others will start next week as the team continues to look to build some momentum. That’s never a good place to be and while it’s certainly possible that they could end up doing just that, it suggests that it’s more likely that Atlanta spends January watching the playoffs than playing in them.