Falcons downed by Eagles in NFL playoffs

The Atlanta Falcons’ run at back to back Super Bowl appearances came up short two weekends ago against the Philadelphia Eagles. The 15-10 loss in the divisional round ended the Falcons season. The Falcons phenomenal season last year was followed by a successful but somewhat disappointing 2017-2018 season.

New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian shoulders a lot of the blame from the fans. Much of the fall off came in the second half, where last year the Falcons ranked second in the NFL with 15.1 points per second half, compared to this year where they ranked 24th with 9.3 points.

Another stat that is a season changer is lack of red zone production from the Dirty Birds. Last season, the Falcons scored on 64.6 percent of their red zone opportunities, good for eighth in the NFL. This season, Atlanta only scored on 49.18 percent of their red zone opportunities, dropping to 23rd in the NFL. If the Falcons want to make a deep playoff run next year, they are going to have to revert back to 2016’s offense and work on this year’s flaws.

Falcons fans were very optimistic going into the divisional round playoff game against the Eagles. The Eagles were without MVP candidate Carson Wentz, who went down with a season-ending ACL tear in Week 14 of the season. Wentz actually injured his knee but went on the finish the drive, before being escorted to the locker room for X-rays. Backup quarterback Nick Foles now held the reigns of the NFL’s best team, but Eagles fans were not quite as optimistic. Falcons fans’ confidence suddenly soared with a seemingly easy path to at least the NFC Championship.

“Our defense is looking good right now, and if our offense starts to fire on all cylinders, I think we will be able to make a very long run,” said sophomore David Dickey, an avid Falcons fan, when asked about the team’s chances in the playoffs.

Junior Collier Ballard had similar expectations for the Dirty Birds’ playoff run.

“Well, we went to the Super Bowl last year and I have tremendous faith that they can be the seventh wild card team in NFL history to do it this year,” said Ballard.

Junior Walker Clark, a Patriots fan, had a more negative opinion on the Falcons chances.

“I do think they will beat the Rams, but I am not so sure they will make it past the Eagles even without Carson Wentz,” said Clark. “I certainly don’t think they will be able to make it back to the Super Bowl again this year.”

Clark blamed new offensive coordinator Sarkisian, who replaced Kyle Shanahan and took over one of the NFL’s top offenses from a year ago.

“I think Shanahan carried the Falcons last year,” said Clark. “I love them, but their offense is nowhere near where it was last year and I don’t think they are on the same level as the New England Patriots.”

The Falcons offensive struggles showed against the Eagles. Atlanta only amassed an abysmal 281 total yards against Philadelphia. While the Eagles have a very good defense, the Falcons have too much raw talent and skill on the offensive side of the ball to only put up ten points and less than 300 yards of total offense. To put that low number into perspective, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had over 300 passing yards in four different games this year alone. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady currently leads the league with seven 300 yard passing games this season, including the playoffs.

Falcons superstar wide receiver Julio Jones also had a somewhat disappointing 2017-2018 campaign. The seventh-year University of Alabama product hauled in 88 catches for 1,444 yards on the season, averaging just over 90 yards per game. Jones had similar stats during his 2016-2017 season—83 receptions for 1,409 yards—but he did this in two less games.

Jones averaged almost 101 yards per game and caught six touchdowns during the Falcons Super Bowl season. The stat that was way down from his previous seasons in the NFL were his touchdowns: he only caught three touchdown passes on the season. Part of this low number was the fact that Sarkisian seemed to shy away from number 11’s big 6 foot 3 inch 220-pound frame in the red zone. His lack of targets within the 20-yard line could be a very legitimate reason as to why the Falcons red zone production was so underwhelming.

Overall, the dirty birds had a fairly successful season. Any season in which an NFL participates in the playoffs and wins a game is successful. However, the tremendously high expectation to go to back-to-back Super Bowls made this year seem like somewhat of a disappointment. Head coach Dan Quinn and star players like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman will be sure to work as hard as they can to get back in the position they were in a year ago.