Matt Ryan is the leader of the Atlanta Falcons and the face of the franchise. Since his rookie year, he has averaged 4,265 yards a season. His two down years, were his first two seasons. His best year was his Super Bowl year, with 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He averaged a 117.1 QBR that year.
Super Bowl Hangover
Ryan hasn’t been the same since. He has been a .500 quarterback since the Super Bowl debacle. In two of the last three years, Ryan has thrown double digit interceptions. Now don’t be misled; he has hall of fame numbers for a 12 year career: 51,186 yards, 321 touchdowns and 147 interceptions, with a 94.6 QBR. The 4-time pro-bowler, and the former MVP is at a crossroads in his career. Should the bird rise from the ashes of mediocrity to torch the NFL like a phoenix, Ryan might have to get a bit crazy. He has only missed 3 games in his career so far, and recent draft moves have fortified the offensive line, hoping the years of double-digit interceptions will cease.
NFC South Battleground
The war in the NFC South will be fierce this year. Drew Brees is ready to write his swan song. Tom Brady brings his resume and winning ways to a ultra-armed Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a much-improved defense. Teddy Bridgewater and P.J. Walker rebuild a Carolina franchise that has suffered from changes and departures.
Matt Rhule is the fresh face in Carolina, Sean Payton is the cream of the division coaching wise, and Bruce Arians has already made his presence felt in the dirty South division. Ryan could not only set the division on fire, but save his coaches job. Dan Quinn is on the hot seat; since arriving on the scene, Quinn only has 2 winning seasons. Even with the winning playoff record (3-2), the ghosts of 28-3 still haunts the franchise to this day. A slow start would not benefit the temperature around him, considering the climate for underachieving NFL coaches, and a commissioner’s call for change and diversity.
Not On The Offense
The offense isn’t necessarily the problem. Julio Jones remains at the top of the wide receiver hierarchy. Entering his 10th season, his yards per catch is an astounding 15.2, and he is responsible for 574 first downs. If there were an Achilles Heel to this speciman, it would be his lack of touchdowns. 57 is not a proper number to equate how great this receiver is. He is accompanied by Calvin Ridley. Another Alabama wideout who was a standout, Ridley is a touchdown magnet. 2 years, 17 touchdowns and 13 yards a catch; a true #2. Exit Austin Hooper and enter Hayden Hurst- the former Baltimore Raven from South Carolina. He was underutilized in Baltimore, and his numbers are not gawdy. He can become the security blanket that Ryan needs to keep the pass rushers of the NFC South at Bay.
Todd Gurley returns to the state of Georgia with a healthy reputation and a lot of medical questions. If healthy, he is a top back in this league, but questions of arthritis and durability must be quenched for the Atlanta faithful. In 5 years Gurley has amassed 5404 yards, and 58 touchdowns; also responsible for 291 first downs.
An Offensive Defense
The defense is more than likely the chink in this team’s armor. The secondary is suspicious to say the least. Vic Beasely has left for Tennessee, Desmond Trufant has replaced an open spot in Matt Patricia’s defense, and rookies have been thrown into an ever rebuilding defense struggling to stay healthy with Keanu Neal and Grady Jarrett. Deion Jones has been consistent, but this defense allowed 1,775 yards rushing last year. Something has to change. Ironically, the Falcons were outgained on the ground by 414 yards; that’s not winning football. A.J. Terrell and Tyler Hall have been burdened with the task of slowing down the best wide receivers in the league, with Micheal Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson.
The schedule doesn’t help this young team’s cause. The brains of Russell Wilson, the potent power of the Dallas Cowboys, a spotlight showdown with discount double-check and Devante Adams could expose the holes in this Falcons defense. The AFC West will be battling for 3 playoff spots, and the NFC North might be better than pundits and critics believe.
A 5-11 record won’t save Dan Quinn’s job. Another down season for this defense won’t insure Falcon loyalty or pride in the community. With the eyes of the country focused on the strongest division in Football, Ryan needs to be the catalyst to restore the fire in this franchise. A losing record could mitigate change, and dissolve the flames of expectations of the Atlanta Falcons.