The Jets will host the Falcons this week in a pivotal game for both teams’ playoff hopes. The overachieving Jets will have their longshot playoff dreams all but crushed with a third straight loss to hit 3-5. The Falcons’ 3-0 start has snowballed into three straight losses and a mountain of question marks. Obviously, the quicker they can end the skid, the better. Atlanta still has all six of its division games to play and actually remains undefeated within their conference, so they can’t get too far behind before they take on their primary competitors.
1. What have been the primary factors in the Falcons' three game losing streak?
In my eyes, it has been the defense's inability to stop opposing ground games and get off the field, thanks to a combination of poor tackling, poor angles, and ill-timed penalties, and the fortunes of the offense. The defense has still generally done a nice job of limiting the scoring opportunities for opposing teams, but those long drives are killers.
Of course, they might not be if the offense was functioning at a higher level, and it is simply not. The seven point effort against the Patriots was utterly embarrassing, and it springs from a lack of high-level execution from a talented unit and some play calling woes for rookie offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. This team just isn't putting players in motion as often and calling unpredictable plays, which has led to more stalled drives, missed opportunities on third downs and goal line plays, and thus less scoring. Taken together, these issues have utterly swamped the Falcons, and short of Sarkisian upping his game fast and the team cutting out a lot of dumb plays, they'll persist.
2. Is there a feeling that this might not be the same team that once held a 25-point Super Bowl lead, or are they simply going through a rough patch?
I think it's a rough patch, but it's a rough patch that doesn't necessarily have an end in sight. I don't think it's fair to ask a new offensive coordinator to suddenly figure out the path back to a historic season's production, and I don't think the little errors are magically going to go away because the Falcons are working hard on them. And that's what so much of this season has boiled down to: A talented team being unable to re-capture the magic and avoid the kind of crippling mistakes they simply didn't make a year ago.
So the team is mostly the team on both sides of the ball--and probably even better on defense--but they're mired in the kind of sustained slump that could start to impact confidence and chemistry in a major way if it continues.
3. In what areas have the Falcons progressed the most over last season?
I think defensively they've really been trending in the right direction, even though some of those long drives are a major concern. The pass rush looks more productive, the secondary continues to play at a very high level, and they're a few turnovers away from being very good at that side of the ball. Given that they've gotten a handful of interceptions that have been overturned thanks to penalties, I really think they're almost there.
On the offense, the ground game has actually been even more effective through six games than it was a year ago, even if the Falcons have drifted away from it too early over the last couple of weeks.
4. Dan Quinn was a leading candidate for the Jets head coaching job back in 2015 before taking the opening in Atlanta. Some fans have questioned whether Quinn would have been a better choice than Todd Bowles. What have you thought of Quinn's work in Atlanta, and what are his strengths and weaknesses?
By and large, he's an excellent coach. He's got an eye for talent and has re-stocked this roster with quality, young players in a very short timeframe, which paved the way for the Super Bowl run. DQ's a great motivator, too, and he does a nice job of empowering his staff to do good work, which has generally translated to at least solid results.
The weaknesses for Quinn have to do with that trust and his in-game management. There have been times when he has been slow (or simply hasn't) overruled calls he later said he didn't like, and he's managed the clock poorly like many coaches do. His lack of involvement in the offense, at least to those of us outside the building, can feel like a bit of a liability when things go sour
I'd say there are more pluses than minuses here, but the one note of worry that I'd sound at the moment is that when things start to go sour, it doesn't always seem like Quinn has an adjustment or an answer ready. We'll see if the Falcons play better against you guys with their backs against the wall, though.
5. Who is one unheralded Falcon that opposing fans need to worry about? Conversely, is there a more recognized player that might be a bit overrated or has struggled recently?
De'Vondre Campbell still isn't a household name, but he should be. He's a one man wrecking crew at linebacker on his best days, capable of rushing the passer, covering tight ends, and destroying running backs. Campbell is only going to get better as time goes on, and you should absolutely be wary of him.
On the other side of the ball, Matt Ryan has not had his best season. Some of that comes down to play calling, but there have also been times where he hasn't looked comfortable and has overthrown receivers in the end zone or on deep passes, which has limited the upside of the offense considerably. He's not in danger of winning the MVP award again at this current pace.