What's wrong with the Atlanta Falcons?
- By Chris Wesseling
- Around the League Writer
- Published: Sept. 24, 2013 at 08:42 p.m.
- Updated: Sept. 24, 2013 at 09:29 p.m.
Gregg Rosenthal already has delved into the reasons behind the 1-2 San Francisco 49ers' slow start.
Like the 49ers, the 1-2 Atlanta Falcons were billed as Super Bowl contenders throughout the offseason. Unlike the 49ers, the Falcons could be undefeated had a few late-game plays gone in their favor.
So what's gone wrong with the Falcons so far?
Availability of best players
The Falcons couldn't keep up with the New Orleans Saints' offense in the season opener because Roddy White was nursing a high ankle sprain and Tony Gonzalez still was rounding into football shape after taking an offseason hiatus through the end of August.
White hasn't been able to push off his ankle, leaving Harry Douglas exposed as the second option in the passing game. We noted on Sunday's "Around The League Podcast" that Gonzalez isn't moving as well as last season. That problem is exacerbated by White's inability to draw extra attention and the need for Gonzalez to chip in as a blocker to help a overwhelmed offensive line.
Steven Jackson has played just five quarters. Kroy Biermann and Sean Weatherspoon -- two of the team's most valuable defensive players -- are out for the season and the next eight weeks, respectively.
Overhauled offensive line
It's not the Julio Jones blockbuster trade that killed the Falcons' depth up front. This team is starting a second-round draft pick at center and a third-rounder at right tackle. A former first-rounder collecting $41.1 million is protecting Matt Ryan's blindside.
The problem isn't one of neglect. It's simply that those three players are allowing too much pressure on Ryan. Among all NFL starting tackles, Atlanta's Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes have the two lowest Pro Football Focus grades through three weeks.
The Falcons are 6 of 12 in red-zone efficiency through three games. They are 17th in the league this year compared to 10th a season ago.
This was the issue that killed the Falcons on both offense and defense in a Week 3 loss in which they outplayed the Miami Dolphins. Ryan was just 2 of 5 in the red zone. It would help if White was at peak strength and the offensive tackles were blocking more effectively, freeing Gonzalez up as the primary end zone security blanket rather than extending Douglas beyond his means.
Burned by the blitz
The lack of a consistent push up front means defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is forced to dial up blitzes to manufacture a pass rush. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was 13 of 14 against Nolan's blitz, according to Pro Football Focus. Drew Brees was similarly near perfection against the blitz in Week 1.
It doesn't help that the Falcons now have a pair of undrafted free agent rookies (Joplo Bartu, Paul Worrilow) seeing extensive action at linebacker, joining a pair of early-round draft picks (Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford) in the secondary.
Can't solve second-half woes
The Falcons have been outscored 48-24 in the second halves of their three games. Jackson was supposed to fix this problem, allowing Atlanta to lean on a powerful rushing attack after losing trust in a burned-out Michael Turner the past two seasons.
Instead, this team continues to bleed commanding leads in the same fashion as last year's playoff games versus the Seahawks and 49ers.