For Atlanta Falcons fans, the last three trips to the playoffs have not been kind. In 2008, they lost to the eventual NFC Champions Arizona Cardinals 30-24, in 2010 to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers 45-21, and this year were thoroughly dominated by the New York Giants 24-2, and became the only team in NFL playoff history to score only two points.
In the 2010 NFL draft, Thomas Dimitroff made the biggest move of the draft, trading the Falcons’ 2011 first, second and fourth round picks as well as their 2012 first and fourth round picks to move up the draft board and select WR Julio Jones. Dimitroff felt the Falcons needed another playmaker on offense to match the firepower of the Saints and Packers, however, there were many sports pundits who openly questioned the move to give up so much.
Taking a look atAtlanta’s offense performance against 8-8 teams or better during the 2010 season and comparing it to 2011, it’s easy to identify some significant areas where the Falcons experienced a decline. In both seasons, the Falcons played 8 teams that were 8-8 or better. In 2010, the first thing that jumps out is that in 2010 all these games except one (31-17 loss to the Eagles) were one score games and the Falcons went 6-2 in these games.
In 2011, the Falcons went 3-5 in these games and three of those five losses were at least two score games. In 2010, the Falcons had a +5 turnover margin vs a -5 margin in 2011, and they were scoring almost two points more in 2010 (21.4) than in 2011 (19.5). Their 3rd Down Conversion rate dropped from 44.4% to 40.2%, and their Red Zone efficiency plummeted from a stellar 66.7% to 48%. So the question is, despite bringing in Jones to complement their other playmakers, why did the Falcons’ offensive efficiency degrade from 2010 to 2011?
There are multiple factors that can influence such a decline. One of the biggest declines in the Falcons’ performance was in penalties. They went from committing 3.5 per game in 2010 to 7.6 in 2011 (vs 8-8 or better teams). Their average penalty yards went up from 33.4 to 60.8 per game. This collapse in discipline likely killed more than one drive and certainly contributed to the decline in red zone and 3rd down efficiencies. Another factor could have been the departure of Harvey Dahl.
While Matt Ryan’s and Michael Turner’s yardage numbers were similar in both years, it is surprising that the Falcons would choose not to maintain the continuity along their offensive line, given that they felt they were one player (Jones) away from the Super Bowl. Another puzzling move was their lack of movement in the free agent market at cornerback, which was deep with Nnmadi Asomugha, Jonathan Josepth, and Carlos Rogers (Falcons ranked 20th vs the pass this year). Looking forward to 2012, there are a lot of good things to be excited for on the Falcons.
They have young talented playmakers and while Matt Ryan may never reach the ranks of the elite QBs, he can take a talented team to the Super Bowl. Dimitroff resigning Tony Gonzalez was a must, because getting wide receiver production from tight ends is rapidly becoming a staple of NFL offenses. The Falcons should consider targeting tight end in the draft, or pick up John Carlson who may be a free agent bargain coming off injury for depth. With Mike Mularky’s departure to Jacksonville, the Falcons need to have Todd Haley on their radar to interview. While Dimitroff has ties to Scott Pioli, with who it is rumored Haley did not get along with. Haley’s coaching experience in Arizona with Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin should translate into immediate benefits for Ryan, Roddy White, and Julio Jones. If they sign their own key free agents (Curtis Lofton, Brent Grimes, Thomas DeCoud, John Abraham) and utilize the draft to bolster their defense, the Falcons should be back in the playoffs in 2012, and then anything can happen.