If I Were GM: Atlanta Falcons Part 1

State of the Franchise:

Two years ago they blew a 28-3 lead in the Superbowl. Kyle Shanahan left for San Francisco. In comes Steve Sarkisian, who lets just say is not as good of a coach as Shanahan. Lets look at 2016 Atlanta offense and compare it to this years offense.

2016 Falcons 2017 Falcons
Points Per Game 34.1 21.6
Red Zone Attempts Per Game 4.2 3.4
Red Zone TD Percentage  64.56% 49.18%
Yards Per Game 416.4 357.8
Yards Per Play 6.7 5.8
Third Down Conversion % 43.6% 43.11%
Rushing Yards Per Game 117.5 114.3
Rushing Play Percentage 42.27% 43.86%
Yards Per Rushing Attempt 4.5 4.2
Yards Per Passing Attempt 8.9 7.4

The offense overall regressed under Sarkisian. This is a playoff team that I believe can still make a deep run, but they to hope that the offense to rebound and not regress further. Most of the numbers from 2017 are not bad, most are in the top half of the league. The issue is that they really dropped in points per game (34.1 to 21.6). Yards per play and yards per attempt is slightly down, but the redzone TD percentage explains almost all of the variance in the difference in points per game.  The team really regressed in the red zone and will need to improve if they want to get back to the Superbowl. Lets compare red zone numbers between 2016 and 2017.

2016 Red Zone Targets

Name Completions Targets Comp % Target %
Freeman, Devonta 12 17 70.59 17.35
Sanu, Mohamed 10 15 66.67 15.31
Coleman, Tevin 8 12 66.67 12.24
Jones, Julio 5 11 45.45 11.22
Tamme, Jacob 7 10 70 10.2
Hardy, Justin 5 10 50 10.2
Gabriel, Taylor 6 6 100 6.12
Hooper, Austin 3 6 50 6.12
Robinson, Aldrick 2 3 66.67 3.06
Williams, Nick 2 2 100 2.04
Perkins, Josh 1 2 50 2.04
Ward, Terron 1 1 100 1.02
Tialavea, D.J. 1 1 100 1.02
DiMarco, Patrick 1 1 100 1.02
Toilolo, Levine 0 1 0 1.02

2017 Red Zone Targets

Name Completions Targets Comp % Target %
Jones, Julio 5 18 27.78 25
Sanu, Mohamed 7 11 63.64 15.28
Hooper, Austin 7 9 77.78 12.5
Freeman, Devonta 5 8 62.5 11.11
Hardy, Justin 4 8 50 11.11
Gabriel, Taylor 2 7 28.57 9.72
Coleman, Tevin 4 4 100 5.56
Toilolo, Levine 2 2 100 2.78
Hall, Marvin 0 2 0 2.78
Coleman, Derrick 0 1 0 1.39
Sambrailo, Ty 0 1 0 1.39
Roberts, Andre 0 1 0 1.39

2016 Red Zone Rushing Attempts

Name Rushes TDs Touch  %
Freeman, Devonta 33 7 48.53
Coleman, Tevin 23 6 33.82
Ward, Terron 5 0 7.35
Gabriel, Taylor 2 0 2.94

2017 Red Zone Rushing Attempts

Name Rushes TDs Touch %
Freeman, Devonta 53 9 64.63
Coleman, Tevin 22 6 26.83
Ward, Terron 5 0 6.1
Gabriel, Taylor 1 1 1.22
Ryan, Matt 1 0 1.22

Less targets for the running backs in the passing game in 2017. Less Tevin Coleman getting carries in the red zone. Julio Jones who even though is your best player, is not your best red zone target yet he saw a huge increase in targets. This is a direct reflection of the changes in personnel and play calling by new OC Steve Sarkisian. This is a team that still has playoff aspirations and I hope they don’t miss their goals because of a coach that is misusing his personnel. I’m not saying the window is closing, but its definitely not getting any bigger. Matt Ryan is in the last year of his deal, and will need to be paid accordingly, all good teams will get poached in free agency and this one is no exception. The team doesn’t have a lot of cap space. It would be a shame Art Blank doesn’t get to raise the Lombardi Trophy because of a coach that clearly is not the right fit for this team. Sarkisian’s offensive style and play calling changes that the charts above show were a clear cause in the teams failure to convert in the red zone. Hopefully this problem gets resolved and they start using their running backs more in the red zone because the state of the franchise depends on it.

Team Needs:

  1. DT: The Falcons got a steal when no one wanted to give Dontari Poe a long term deal. More than likely they won’t be so lucky this time. He likely is gone and will need to be replaced. RG: 2016 6th round pick Wes Schweitzer played all 16 games for the Falcons this season. He struggled and needs to be upgraded as the rest of the line is very solid.
  2.  RG: 2016 6th round pick Wes Schweitzer played all 16 games for the Falcons this season. He struggled and needs to be upgraded as the rest of the line is very solid.
  3. Offensive Weapon/Red Zone Target: Well if you can’t replace the coach, you can add a target and hope that gives another weapon for Matt Ryan
  4. Run Down LB: Vik Beasley is moving to DE full time next year, which is a smart move. I think the split time hurt his development and his pass rush abilities might improve. That said a LB to replace him could be necessary at least someone to complete with last year’s third round pick Duke Riley.
  5. DB Depth: The starters are set, but they could use a later round pick to bring in another young CB.
  6. K: Matt Bryant is a free agent. Solid kicker.
  7. FB: Derrick Coleman is a free agent. Should be let go and upgraded.

Cap Space: Around 13 Million, takes into account money allocated for draft picks

Cap Casualties:

Levine Toilolo TE: Decent blocking TE, but with a cap hit 4.5 million it seems like he makes a little too much. Austin Hooper is a good blocking TE what they need is a better pass catcher at TE. Cap Savings: $2,500,000

That’s the only Cap Casualty. Trying to keep the roster together as much as possible. That being said I want to talk about Tevin Coleman. He is a super talented running back and there has been talk of trading him because you can’t pay him given the cap situation and the fact that it is hard to pay both him and Freeman. Coleman as shown in the charts above, is a very important member of the offense. The team is in win now mode and you can’t replace him with the amount of money he is scheduled to make next year (977,000).

Free Agents:

PLAYER (19) POS. STATUS Resign Yes or No
Dontari Poe DT UFA No
Adrian Clayborn DE UFA No
Matt Bryant K UFA Yes
Taylor Gabriel WR UFA No
Kemal Ishmael SS UFA No
Andre Roberts WR UFA No
Courtney Upshaw DT UFA Yes
Ahtyba Rubin DT UFA Yes
Austin Pasztor T UFA No
Blidi Wreh-Wilson CB UFA No
Sean Weatherspoon ILB UFA No
Leon McFadden CB UFA No
Ben Garland G RFA No
Jordan Tripp ILB UFA No
Derrick Coleman FB UFA No
Nick Williams WR UFA No
Ricardo Allen SS RFA Yes
Terron Ward RB RFA No
Sharrod Neasman S ERFA No

Unfortunately its going to be hard to resign most of the players on this team with the cap space situation. Keeping Ricardo Allen I think is actually the most important free agent to bring back. He pairs very nicely with Keanu Neal. Its going to be hard to sign him to a long term deal, but being a RFA a first round tender can be placed on him. I can’t imagine a team signing him to an offer sheet then this basically becomes a mini franchise tag. Resigning Matt Bryant is important, he is a very good kicker. Adding depth to the d-line to help the blow of losing Adrian Clayborn and Dontari Poe, Ahtyba Rubin and Courtney Upshaw are solid rotational guys who can contribute.

Matt Ryan could be extended this off season. It would be nice to get this out of the way but given the cap situation. Resigning the players mentioned above limits the cap space available ( Around $4,000,000 left), and some should be left over to rollover to help pay for Matt Ryan. Maybe he can take a hometown discount something in the range of what Alex Smith was just extended for. Unlikely, but I would start talks at that which mean more than likely an extension will have to wait until next year.

Outside Players Signed:

 Shane Vereen on a veteran’s minimum deal. He is a nice camp body who they could use in some different packages. Good pass catching running back, never used enough in his time with the Giants.

A great defense and still a very good offense. This team is reloading while also developing young talent for the future.This team has been very successful at finding quality players in free agency and has done a great job using the draft as a way to plan ahead. I am very confident this will continue this off season.

Up Next: If I Were GM: Atlanta Falcons Part 2


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