Atlanta Falcons: 2014 Final Report Card With Grades
How do you put grades on a team that had a losing record but still managed to fight for a playoff spot, only to see the head coach shown the door at the end of 2014?
It’s a hard learning curve to try to breakdown and analyze when it comes to the Atlanta Falcons, a team that did win two more games than last season, but could only manage six wins, overall, and could not escape huge deficits to Green Bay or Pittsburgh down the stretch.
This is a team in transition – not just on the sideline, but changes have been made on the executive level. There are questions over which coach fits the profile, and whether the team can afford to wait three weeks to land Dan Quinn from Seattle. Can the defensive side of the ball improve over a disastrous 2014 and what happens to a running game that was pitiful while Matt Ryan and his cast of weapons were nothing short of awesome this past year?
The Falcons not only need to find a head coach, solve the defensive issues and build belief in winning again. The recipe is easy, but the formulation may be more difficult than you may think. The 2015 season needs to be about another three game improvement or more. The team’s owner Arthur Blank is promoting a new stadium in the works and changes to making the organization better. The Falcons as a franchise must respond to that demand by Blank.
Here is a look at the Falcons season, with grades for offense, defense, special teams and coaching.
In terms of what the Falcons accomplished this season and what was expected, I think it is safe to say management is happy with progression.
Matt Ryan threw for just under 4,700 yards with 28 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions. He was as proficient as he could be – having solid support from his receivers. Julio Jones took a step forward to become a Top-5 pass catcher in the NFL.
Roddy White proved to be the cagy veteran he is, complimenting Jones and still showing he can catch the long ball and move the chains. He had another solid season and is now the team’s all-time pass catcher.
The team benefitted from another great season by Harry Douglas and even Devin Hester got into the act, showing he could be a threat in three and four-receiver sets.
The running game is an issue as Steven Jackson cannot seem to stay healthy. He ran for over 700 yards and led the team in rushing. The 2015 season may be a crossroads for him, as his playing time should lessen.
The reason for that is simple – the backups can flat out play football. Antone Smith until he was injured and rookie Devonta Freeman spelled Jackson and looked good. Even Jacquizz Rodgers contributed in a limited role.
As for the offensive line, injuries hit the unit again and caused for concern most of the first half of the season. Jake Matthews played solidly in his first season at left tackle. The unit, under Mike Tice, came into its own in the second half of the year. GRADE – B+
When I look at this defensive unit, all I can say is “Oy Vey!” The headaches this unit caused for Smith and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan are too many to speak of, but there were some bright spots with this franchise.
Paul Worrilow came out of nowhere to lead the team with 143 tackles and received a Pro Bowl invite. He was a monster on the defense from the linebacker position. The fact he had 45 more tackles than anyone else on the team speaks volumes about how important he was to this unit.
Kroy Biermann was a nice surprise after he came back from injury last season. It looks like, should he stay because he is a free agent, Biermann could be a solid pass rusher and outside linebacker for this team.
The Falcons are still lacking a solid pass rush and need someone to lead by example. Biermann had 4.5 sacks which led the team. Look for the team to address this in free agency or look for a pass rusher like Dante Fowler or Shane Ray in the Draft.
The secondary is still an issue as they Falcons face some of the best receivers in the league within the NFC South on six occasions during the season.
The team had 16 interceptions on the year. No one had more than four this past year. Dwight Lowery lost a step. Kemal Ishmael had his best season. William Moore was solid when he was not injured. Desmond Trufant continues to be a player who gets better and had vowed that 2015 will be a better season for himself and the Falcons defense.
Another defensive back in the Draft or free agency may be warranted. GRADE – D
Matt Bryant was a solid kicker again for the Falcons. He had 31 field goals and 93 points on the season. Matt Bosher was solid again, posting a 45.7 average on 67 kicks.
The one thing the Falcons boast that many do not is Devin Hester. He was phenomenal this year, scoring touchdowns and putting Matt Ryan in position to score for the team. His reward was a trip to the Pro Bowl. Look for the Falcons to rely on him even more in 2015. GRADE – B
I wanted to leave this off the report card, but I couldn’t. Mike Smith lost the team somewhere in the middle of the season as the Falcons lost five games in a row. The Falcons defense struggled most of the season and no matter how nice Smith is and how he handles his players and coaches, it may have been the attitude that did him in.
Although the team lost 10 games, it competed for a division title all season long, which speaks to the weakness of the NFC South division.
When all was said and down, this team fell apart the past two seasons after being in the NFC Championship game in 2012. A change was needed. GRADE - D
Look For better things from the Falcons in 2015. The thought it Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will be the new coach, which should change the issues with the defense as a whole.
The team needs to fund consistency at running back and on the defensive line. I think they try to get DeMarco Murray, Ndamukong Suh and Devin McCourty in free agency. Those are huge late Christmas presents to get, but should that happen, the Falcons will be a team to beat next year.
GRADE - D