Column: The curious case of the Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, left, and linebacker Vic Beasley sit on the bench during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

As a Patriots fan, I’m supposed to have all the confidence in the world. Tom Brady is my quarterback and Bill Belichick is my head coach, and it’s worked out pretty well so far.

But if we’re being honest I was nervous about Sunday night’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. How much 28-3 talk can a team take before they’re fed up? Sure Atlanta’s been struggling this year, but so has New England. Part of me was expecting the Falcons offense to come alive and put 40-plus points on New England.

The exact opposite happened. Atlanta managed to find the end zone late in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots dominated the Sunday night primetime game for a 23-7 win.

Last year’s NFC champion now sits at 3-3 with a struggling offense that’s 14th in total yards (2235) and 16th in points per game (21.3). Just so we’re all on the same page, this offense has last year’s MVP Matt Ryan at quarterback, Julio Jones at wide receiver and Devonta Freeman at running back. To reiterate, they’re 16th in the league in points per game.

The regression from last year is staggering. Atlanta had the NFL’s top scoring offense from last year and this year they’re averaging 12.4 points less. That’s on pace for one of the highest year-to-year drop-offs since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Number one on that list? The Atlanta Falcons themselves back in 1973-74 season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

So what’s changed? Last year’s offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, left for a head coaching job in San Francisco. The Falcons hired former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian to replace him on the sidelines. While many have been quick to put the blame on Sarkisian for the offensive woes, Julio Jones defended him after Sunday’s loss.

When asked if Jones had a good connection with the first-year offensive coordinator, he responded, “"Yeah, everybody [does]," Jones said. "No doubt. Yeah, he's good."

I would like to disagree. It’s not like they’ve gotten better as the season has gone on. They’ve actually gotten worse. Since their week two win against the Packers, Atlanta has regressed every game, going from 34 to 30 to 23 to 20 to 7.  There’s way too much talent on that roster for that to happen. It was obvious that the play calling was horrible in their game against New England. For example, on a fairly important fourth-and-goal play in the fourth quarter, the Falcons ran a jet sweep for wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. He was stuffed for a five-yard loss.

Those aren’t play calls that win you another NFC Championship, or any game for that matter.


Connor Donahue is the digital editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at connor.f.donahue@uconn.edu. He tweets @conn_donahue.