Q: What’s gone wrong with the Falcons’ offense?
A: Atlanta averaged 32.4 games as they started 5-0, but since then the team has scored 16.8 points a game in the last four contests as they’ve gone 1-3. Statistically, they still have one of the best quarterbacks, running backs and receivers in the league. But something is missing. The offensive line, which played so well during the winning streak, has been more ordinary recently. Center Mike Person has not been healthy, so that might be a factor. Matt Ryan does not seem to be in synch with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, as his flexibility as a play-caller seems more limited than before. A lot of this is going to be up to Ryan to fix, regardless of what the coaching staff wants him to do. Ryan will get the blame if this season falls apart.
Q: So what can Ryan do to fix it?
A: Shanahan seems to have fallen in deep love with Julio Jones, which is understandable. But it’s obviously limited Ryan in what he can do. That helps to explain the fact that Roddy White is missing in action through the first nine games. White has only 17 catches so far. Ryan needs to reconnect with White, so that he will have another option on the field. Leonard Hankerson, who does well in replacing Harry Douglas, has been beat up recently. So White needs to be in the offense more. And, Ryan just needs to be sharper. He’s off, which might be attributed to learning and adjusting to this new offense. Ryan does need to continue to target tight end Jacob Tamme, who has become a serious threat for the offense. We can’t see a drop off from running back Devonta Freeman, who is on pace for almost 1300 yards.
Q: Can Freeman keep up that pace?
A: His performance in the game in San Francisco is troubling, as he had just 12 yards on 12 carries. This is the most work he’s gotten since college, so Freeman’s workload should be monitored so he won’t get tired toward the end of the season. Expect the Falcons to incorporate rookie Tevin Coleman back into the offense more to try and split the workload a bit and to save Freeman for December. Coleman was the starter at the beginning of the season, but an injury knocked him out and gave Freeman the chance. It will be a struggle for Freeman to maintain this pace, but it’ll be up to the Falcons to help him stay fresh. Coleman will be a key to that.
Q: Can the Falcons defense help win games if the offense struggles?
A: Atlanta is 13th in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 21.1 points per game. This is a five-point improvement from last season, as Atlanta was 27th in scoring defense giving up 26.1 points per game. Strangely enough, the Falcons allowed 22.4 points per game to start the season 5-0, and since then going 1-3 the team has allowed 19.5 points a game – showing how the offense has struggled. Atlanta will face Indianapolis and Minnesota at home coming out of the bye week. Those two teams have good young quarterbacks that can do damage. But the stout Atlanta run defense will also have to face Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson, two very good running backs. Atlanta must improve its pass defense, ranked 20th in the NFL, to shut down some solid offensive teams they’ll face down the stretch.
Q: Can Atlanta find a pass rush?
A: Maybe in the draft next spring, but it doesn’t look like this unit is going to produce much in that department. The Falcons have just 10 sacks in nine games, next-to-last in the NFL behind the Giants. Vic Beasley, O’Brien Schofield and Adrian Clayborn lead the team with two each. The Falcons have been so good against the run (fifth-best in the NFL) that you almost hate to complain about the pass defense. But it must improve for the Falcons to do anything special this season. We’ll see if Quinn does anything differently with his personnel after the break. What will this crew do when they face Cam Newton? That will be the ultimate test later in the season. This must improve, but it might take another offseason to make it happen.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.