Through the first three games of the 2011 season, the Falcons offense has been a disappointment. Things that the Falcons did very well in 2010, they have not done very well in 2011. Last year, the Falcons were 3rd in the league when it came to converting third downs. This year, they are currently tied for 13th. A year ago they were 2nd in the league in time of possession, this year they are 27th. They were the least penalized team in the league in 2010, and now they are the 9th most penalized team. The Falcons were last in the league in generating explosive pass plays, and now have made a minimal improvement to 27th ranked in that regards.
The Falcons seem to have only had success scoring points when they are operating in their no huddle attack. That has caused many fans to levy blame upon offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey for the team’s struggles when he’s calling plays. And rightfully so, but it should not be forgotten that one of the reasons why the no huddle is so effective for the Falcons and other NFL teams is because it forces defenses to play vanilla against you. It’s much easier to execute an offense when you don’t have to worry about exotic blitzes, very basic coverages, and the defense playing on its heels and out of breath.
Of course Matt Ryan seems at his best in the no huddle. Any quarterback worth his salt should be.
But what has gone wrong in Atlanta? Are we witnessing a sluggish start for the Falcons, or is this essentially what we’re going to see the rest of the way?
Part of the problems the offense has faced is up front. Matt Ryan has already been sacked 13 times this year. He’s on pace to be sacked 69 times this year, three times as many times as he was a year ago. Sam Baker got handled in the first two outings against Trent Cole and Julius Peppers, but showed almost no improvement on Sunday against a rookie in Adrian Clayborn. Garrett Reynolds has not been a downgrade to Harvey Dahl at right guard, and Dahl’s departure seemingly has made Tyson Clabo much closer to an average right tackle than the Pro Bowler he was a year ago.
The Falcons are struggling to move the ball on the ground. While Michael Turner ranks in the top ten among running backs in both yards and yards per carry, his success rate is near the bottom and that is a much more telling stat of the Falcons inconsistency with moving the ball on the ground. The Falcons are among the worst in the league in terms of how many times they’ve been stopped for a loss.
The old adage that it all starts up front seems to be the brunt of the issue. The Falcons offensive line a year ago was by no means dominant, but it was more than capable of getting the job done in both arenas. And without that consistency, it seems to trickle down to the rest of the offense. Turner is struggling to get yards on first and second down to make third and manageable situations for Ryan. And Ryan is getting less time to convert those opportunities when he does get them. Too many penalties and turnovers are hurting the team as well, and they have generated enough explosive plays via the air to make up for all the stalled and shortened drives that are being created.
The Falcons have to get things fixed if they intend to reach their postseason goals. If this offensive line cannot start to play at a higher level, then what we’ve seen through three games we may see through sixteen in 2011.