The Falcons are a sad football team. Before, some joy could be found in their shootout losses. Now the Falcons are no fun, which is why so many of their fans didn’t bother to show up Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
No surprise that the Falcons lost to the Ravens, a good football team. More shocking is that the Falcons gained just 131 yards, their fewest in nearly 20 years. They needed 42 yards in garbage time just to get that.
An offense playing at home with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones on the field should never struggle like this. It wasn’t just an off day, because this offense hasn’t had a good day in a long time. Injuries also can’t fully explain it.
Something deeper has gone wrong with this Falcons offense. It was historically good in 2016. It was pretty good last season, Steve Sarkisian’s first as coordinator, and looked great early in his second year.
Now the offense is just plain bad. That’s why the Falcons season continues to sink even as the defense improves. The Falcons have lost four straight games for the first time since Dan Quinn’s first season as coach, with playoff elimination a formality.
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It seemed that Super Bowl run in 2016 was the start of something big. Now the Falcons are going backward.
“It’s difficult for our organization, but I’ll take a long view,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said. “This is a difficult period for coach (Quinn). I think back over the years we’ve had together, and the incredible job that he’s done, the players and coaches. We’re in a difficult time right down. They’ll figure out the answers.”
Any answers will come much too late to save this season. The offensive slide makes me wonder about next year, too. The Falcons have been good on offense just once in the past five weeks, and Sunday’s performance was worst of them all.
Ryan passed for 131 yards, the fewest in his career for a full game, with 42 yards on that meaningless final drive. The Falcons had 30 rushing yards on 13 attempts (not counting a kneel-down and scramble by Ryan). Four of the 13 rushes by running backs went for negative yards.
Granted, the Ravens have an elite defense. Before this game they ranked No. 1 in both yards per play and points per game allowed. The Panthers, Saints, and Steelers are better offensively than the Falcons and they couldn’t do much against Baltimore.
But they fared better than the Falcons, who did next to nothing until it didn’t matter. That’s a trend for the Falcons. They’ve failed to break 20 points in four consecutive games.
The Falcons still have most of the key players from that superlative 2016 offense. They scored a lot of points early in this season, hit a three-week lull, then seemed to figure some things out at Washington. That game turned out be a blip.
Somehow, the Falcons have a bad offense.
“It’s a lot of little things,” Jones said. “But everything is on us. If the offense is not flowing properly, it’s on us. It’s nobody else. We just haven’t found our rhythm.”
The biggest issue for the Falcons is they still can’t run the ball. They are built for outside zone runs but struggle to do it with backups at both guard positions. Newcomer Zane Beadles joined the lineup at right guard against the Ravens and the rushing game looked even worse.
Power runs also aren’t a good option. See what happened when Quinn decided to go for it on fourth-and-one near midfield Sunday. Center Alex Mack and guards Beadles and Wes Schweitzer all got pushed into the backfield and running back Ito Smith went down for a loss.
The next time the Falcons needed a yard to keep a drive going, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu lined up behind center. He took the snap and overthrew Jones deep. Clearly, the Falcons have no faith in their ability to run for tough yards.
Maybe the running game would be more effective with guards Brandon Fusco and Andy Levitre in the lineup. It wasn’t when both played in the season opener, but it can take time to build cohesiveness. A better running game would help the play-action passing, which used to be an effective staple for the Falcons.
But it’s hard to believe Fusco and Levitre mean so much to the offense that it falls apart without them. Their annual salaries rank 20th and 33th, respectively, for their position. We aren’t talking about All-Pros here.
The Falcons had slipped offensively before Sunday, but I couldn’t have imagined they could ever be this bad. Less than two years after this offense was so good, the Falcons need to rethink where it’s going. They have most of the same faces, but they need honest self-evaluations of their coaches and players.
Blank said he has faith that Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff will do that. He’d better hope they figure out because his team’s inept offense has made his shiny dome a palace of sadness for the Falcons.