Falcons third in NFC South after 7-10 season

Quarterback Desmond Ridder hands the ball off to running back Bijan Robinson in a Week 18 loss against the New Orleans Saints. Robinson collected 131 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. // Photo courtesy of Shana Lockwood

January brings about mixed feelings for fan bases around the league. Some are enjoying the thrill of advancing in the playoffs, some are disappointed in how their season ended, and some are simply proud of the way their team played this season. 

The Atlanta Falcons fall into the second of those three. Fans came into this season with plenty of hope. There was lots of young talent on the offensive side with the trio of wide receiver Drake London, tight end Kyle Pitts and running back Bijan Robinson looking to be one of the most exciting offenses in the league. 

On the defensive side, the secondary was strengthened through acquiring Pro Bowl safety Jessie Bates III. Atlanta was the only team in the NFC South to have a returning starting quarterback in second-year
quarterback Desmond Ridder.

Unfortunately, the season did not pan out as hoped for. The Falcons ended the season with a 7-10 record and a third place finish in their division. One of the many themes for this team this past season was “inconsistency.” Throughout several games this season against upper echelon teams, they looked strong and competitive. Five of their seven wins came against teams with winning records, including three teams that made the playoffs.

Against top competition, Ridder occasionally threw the ball downfield for big gains in critical spots. On the other hand, the Falcons put forth disappointing games against teams in rebuilding phases or experiencing stretches of poor play. One of the most questionable losses Atlanta had this season was in a Week 15 matchup against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers struggled for much of the season and ended the year with a 2-15 record. Ridder and the Falcons’ offense were unable to get anything going on offense. 

This was also another trend from the season: Ridder’s inability to produce at a high level on offense. While he did have some impressive throws, he only accounted for 12 passing touchdowns through the air while also throwing for 12 interceptions and losing seven fumbles. 

Additionally, Atlanta’s touchdown percentage in the red zone ranked 29th out of 32 teams. 

The lower red zone touchdown percentage can largely be attributed to the offensive play calling. Despite the offensive struggles, there is still reason to be optimistic about the Falcons’ offense.London produced 905 receiving yards and Robinson was responsible for 1463 scrimmage yards: 976 rushing and 487 receiving yards.

The defensive side had plenty of positives to take away from this season. In terms of yards allowed per game, they placed in the top 10. They also limited the big play and found themselves ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed per play. The offseason acquisition of Bates proved to be a successful one as he accounted for six interceptions, one touchdown and three forced fumbles. 

The struggles on offense, late game-management and the inability to maximize the young core and three consecutive 7-10 seasons led Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank to move on from Arthur Smith as head coach. The Falcons’ head coaching vacancy appears to be very eye-catching: offense and defense are filled with young talent. The defense largely trended in the right direction throughout the season. This team has great potential on offense – the right quarterback and offensive play caller could really unlock this offense. 

In the 2024 NFL Draft, the Falcons own the eighth overall pick. The pick could be used to either trade for a proven quarterback or draft a quarterback of the future. This year’s draft is filled with plenty of high-quality quarterback talent. Once the head coaching vacancy is filled, the new coach should have the ability to choose the quarterback of their choice. Additionally, the Falcons have over 37 million dollars in cap space that can be used to sign big name free agents to big contracts

Many of the pieces for the Falcons’ success are on the roster, but  they need the right coach and quarterback. Falcons fans should expect their team to be in contention for the 2024 playoffs.