Race for 2019 NFL Draft No. 1 pick: Why are the Falcons one of the NFL's worst teams?
History suggests things won't get better anytime soon in Atlanta but help could be on the way ... this offseason
The Falcons are 1-4 and are tied with five other teams for the worst record in football. The last time they started this slowly: 2013, when they limped to one win in their first five games and ended up at 4-12. On the surface, at least in terms of advanced stats, that squad looks a lot like the 2018 version. According to Football Outsiders, the '13 Falcons ranked 25th in overall efficiency, 14th on offense, 29th on defense and 17th on special teams.
Through five weeks of the 2018 season, the Falcons rank 27th overall, 11th in offense, 31st in defense and 21st in special teams. It's not news that the defense has been a disaster; the unit is currently without four starters, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen -- and Neal and Allen are done for the season. Those that remain have been unable to get off the field. The most recent evidence came last week against the Steelers where James Conner ran for 110 yards, had another 75 yards receiving while Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdowns and wasn't sacked once.
And that brings us to the offense. On paper, they're loaded. The reality is slightly more complicated; guard Andy Levitre is out of the season with torn triceps but injuries haven't been the reason they've struggled. The offensive line has been a mess, ranking 25th in pass blocking and 30th in run blocking. Against the Steelers, the Falcons managed just 3.3 yards per carry and Matt Ryan was not only sacked six times, he was hit on a whopping 13 occasions. It's impossible to win football games under those circumstances.
And it's not clear there's an easy solution beyond just "be better at your job."
"It's just really attention to detail from everybody," right guard Brandon Fusco said this week, via ESPN.com. "Not just the offensive line with protection, but running backs, tight ends, even Matt just understanding hot [routes]. We all need to be better. We watched the film, and it just wasn't us. We have to clean up things. You have to block your guy longer. Again, we just have to better. That's pretty much it."
As it stands the Falcons on expected to win six games and since last week have seen their playoff chances drop nine percentage points to 7.9, according to FO.
If you're looking for a silver lining, this is the best we can do: Help is on the way ... six months from now; In our latest 2019 NFL Mock Draft, we have the Falcons taking Clemson pass rusher Clelin Ferrell.
(Note: In the table below, the teams are sorted from "most likely to have the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft" to "least likely" using two different methods. The "Current record weighted by 2017 record" column does what the name suggests: Teams are first sorted by their '18 records, then by their '17 records. The other column is sorted by the "SportsLine's preseason projected draft order." Finally, here's if you'd like to see who we have each team taking.)
Current record weighted by 2017 record
SportsLine preseason projected draft order
New York Giants (1-4)
San Francisco (1-4)
New York Jets (2-3)
Green Bay (2-2-1)
Los Angeles Chargers (3-2)
New England (3-2)
Chicago (to Oakland) (3-1)*
New Orleans (to Green Bay) (3-1)**
Kansas City (4-0)
Los Angeles Rams (4-0)
Tampa Bay at Atlanta
The over-under in this game could open at 100 and that might be too low. There should be no shortage of offense and no visible signs of defense for two of the NFC's worst teams. That sounds weird to say; before the season just about everybody pegged the Falcons to make a deep playoff run and the Bucs started 2-0 with red-hot Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. But Tampa Bay was embarrassed at home by the Steelers and steamrolled by the Bears a week later in a game that saw Mitchell Trubisky throw six (SIX!) touchdowns. The Bucs added Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul in the offseason, and while the pass rush has gone from nonexistent to well below replacement-level, the Falcons have been decimated by injuries; four defensive starters won't play and a fifth, pass rusher Takk McKinley could be out too. Still, as long as Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are upright, Atlanta will have no trouble lighting up the scoreboard.
Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants
Neither team has played well this season though it's fair to say few teams have performed as poorly as the Giants through the first five weeks. After dominating for much of 2017, the Eagles' offensive line has been a surprising liability thus far, which hasn't helped Carson Wentz ease his way back into the lineup after recovering from ACL surgery. In fact, the offense has sputtered to below replacement-level and the team announced this week that Jay Ajayi is done for the season after tearing his ACL. That said, Philadelphia is still better than the assemblage of players unironically referring to themselves as Giants. Hours before last Sunday's loss to the Panthers, Odell Beckham Jr. said publicly what everyone was thinking: Eli Manning at 37 may not be the answer at quarterback and the team might want to start making contingency plans. Unfortunately, the Giants didn't draft a quarterback with the No. 2 pick last spring but all signs point to them having another selection near the top of the 2019 draft where they almost have to take a quarterback. But with no immediate relief in site, New York drops its fifth game of the season while Philly gets to .500.
Indianapolis at N.Y. Jets
The Colts have lost three straight but unlike a year ago, there are glimpses that things are slowly getting better. Andrew Luck can, in fact, make all the throws, and the defense, which features rookie second-rounder Darius Leonard, is a top-10 unit, according to Football Outsiders. The Jets thumped the Broncos last week and while there's no way they rush for 323 yards again anytime soon, Sam Darnold appears to have found a reliable deep threat in Robby Anderson. Neither Indy nor New York is a playoff team in 2018 but they're two organizations headed in the right direction for 2019.
Seattle at Oakland (in London)
We'd like to apologize to the Seahawks; before the season we pegged them as the NFC West's worst team, partly because they blew up the Legion of Boom, and partly because they refused to address the offensive line. But not only has this team been competitive, they're 2-3, almost beat the Rams last week, and currently sit alone in second place in the division. The Raiders, meanwhile, are exactly who we thought they were. They eked out an overtime win against the Browns in Week 4 but are 0-4 in their other games. Yes, Derek Carr is completing 71 percent of his passes but he's also good for 2-3 "Wait, what?!" moments a game. And oh, the Raiders desperately need a pass rusher, which we all knew would be the case as soon as they shipped Khalil Mack to the Bears.
San Francisco at Green Bay
Man, this game looked a lot more attractive six weeks ago. With Jimmy Garoppolo out for the year, it's C.J. Beathard leading the offense. San Francisco has lost three straight and it'll almost certainly be four after traveling to Green Bay. Yes, Aaron Rodgers looks out of sorts, at least by Aaron Rodgers' standards but we're hard-pressed to envision a situation where the 49ers find a way to win in Lambeau Field.
Arizona at Minnesota
If first-year coach Steve Wilks has a plan, it's not obvious to us. He continues to misuse David Johnson, refuses to play former first-round pick Deone Bucannon, and he waited until the final two minutes of a close Week 3 game against the Bears to give rookie quarterback Josh Rosen his first regular-season action. Taken together, the Cardinals are 1-4, the lone win coming Sunday against a 49ers team ravaged by injuries. The Vikings, meanwhile, appear to be finding their form. After tying the Packers (in a game they should've lost) and then getting trounced at home by the Bills, Minnesota bounced back with a road victory over the Eagles. Kirk Cousinslooked worth every penny of his $85 million guaranteed deal, completing all manner of contested throws for 301 yards and a 109.6 passer rating. Unless the Cards can replicate what the Bills did in Week 3, they'll likely head back to Arizona with loss No. 5.
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