Falcons coach Dan Quinn felt he had enough talent on the roster to make the playoffs this season.
He points to blown opportunities at Tampa Bay and San Francisco as the main reasons why the Falcons will be watching the wild-card round from their couches this weekend.
In addition to those losses, the string of 30 turnovers — 21 of them directly tied to quarterback Matt Ryan — over the course of the season contributed significantly to the Falcons’ 8-8 record after their 5-0 start.
“Just the fact that we were 7-2 (when we were) either (even or) on the plus (side in turnover margin) and 1-6 when we’re in the minus, that gives me the belief that we have the talent. But our mindset is not there yet,” Quinn said.
His assistant coaches have been ordered to evaluate how their players performed this week. They will come up with an official list, but here are five things the Falcons must fix this offseason:
1. Turnovers. Quinn pointed out that the Falcons had 30 giveaways, which was fifth-most in the league. The Falcons had eight red zone turnovers and 14 inside their own 40-yard line. Only Tennessee (33), Dallas (33), Denver (31) and Philadelphia (31) had more turnovers.
Overall, the Falcons had 23 takeaways for a minus-7 ratio, which was 27th out of 32 NFL teams.
“The turnovers are the biggest factor,” Quinn said.
Ryan was the main offender. He tossed 16 interceptions and was credited with five lost fumbles. He had 12 fumbles overall and recovered four of them. In 2014, he had just five fumbles and lost two.
Center Mike Person was credited with four fumbles due to poor snaps and James Stone with one. Running backs Devonta Freeman (two) and Tevin Coleman (three) combined for five fumbles.
The 14 turnovers inside their 40-yard line were most troubling for Quinn.
“I’d have to think quite a bit of those, whether if they were all touchdowns (is) unlikely, but you’d like to for sure think half of them might have been,” Quinn said. “That part, I think, was the biggest factor in our season.”
2. Pass rush. The Falcons had a franchise-low 19 sacks on 561 pass attempts. (Sacks were first kept as an official stat in 1982.) But sacks don’t tell the entire story.
Rookie Vic Beasley was the top pass rusher with four sacks, 20 quarterback hurries and five quarterback hits.
Adrian Clayborn was second with three sacks, nine hurries and 15 quarterback hits. O’Brien Schofield was third with two sacks, nine hurries and 13 quarterback hits, followed by Jonathan Babineaux who had 1 1/2 sacks, nine hurries and nine hits. Kroy Biermann had 2 1/2 sacks five hurries and six hits.
“Man, there is some stuff to work on defensively, first and foremost on third down,” Quinn said.
A potent pass rush can help improve the turnover ratio.
“Forcing fumbles and recovering fumbles comes from hitting the quarterback a bunch,” Quinn said. “We didn’t get that part done.”
3. Trenches. The offensive and defensive lines will again be priorities this offseason.
The offensive line gave up 32 sacks (eighth-most in the league) and 89 quarterback hits (tied for 17th). The line paved the way for 1,611 rushing yards, but the 3.8 average yards per carry was substandard (25th).
“It’s going to be a huge emphasis, the line of scrimmage on both sides” Quinn said. “I have such belief in that. That’s how we are going to play really well. Offensive line, defensive line, it will kind of be at the front of our thinking all the time.”
Quinn said the team will look to the draft, free agency and developing players already on the roster to improve both units.
4. Red zone efficiency. The knock on Kyle Shanahan’s outside-zone offenses before he came to town was that they can move the ball between the 20s, but have troubles in the red zone. That played out in 2015 for the Falcons.
For the sixth time over eight seasons as a coordinator, Shanahan’s offense finished in the bottom-half of the league in red zone efficiency.
The Falcons ranked 17th (54.72 percent) in converting touchdowns in the red zone.
In five of his previous seven years as a coordinator, Shanahan’s units finished in the lower half of the league in red zone percentage with rankings of 26th, 12th, 19th, 29th, fourth, tied for 20th and 24th.
“We had a lot of yards, but we didn’t get a lot of points,” Quinn said. “We ended up being top 10 in yards.”
Ryan also believes the Falcons must take a hard look at red zone issues.
“It’s not as simple as we need a different play here or a different protection or whatever it is,” said Ryan on his radio show. “It’s not as simple as one thing. We have to take a look at the season as a whole and what we did.
“Find ourselves a little bit, I think too, from a red zone standpoint of what we are going to be. What we are going to do and hang our hat on those things. Find a couple of staples that are going to be us and let’s make those work.”
5. Penalties. Left guard Andy Levitre and cornerback Robert Alford must clean up their games. Levitre led the team with 11 penalties, followed by Alford with nine.
Levitre had five holding penalties, four false starts, one illegal block above the waist and one unnecessary roughness. He was credited with stalling eight drives.
Most egregiously, Levitre was too aggressive at the end of a crucial play against the Saints and drew an unnecessary roughness penalty. Instead of trying a 45-yard field goal for the lead with under three minutes to play, the Falcons were forced to punt. The Saints went on to win 20-17.
Right tackle Ryan Schraeder had only six penalties, but was credited with stalling four drives.
Alford had four pass interference calls and two holding penalties.
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