The Atlanta Falcons came into the season with high expectations, and while the season is still young, it's certainly not a stretch to say that Atlanta has underachieved up to this point.
Somebody must be at fault, right? And is that "somebody" Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff?
On Sunday night, the team Dimitroff has assembled will face his former employer, the New England Patriots, in a Week 4 contest that's just about as close as you can get to a must-win game in September for Atlanta. Remember, 1-3 teams don't make the playoffs very often.
The Falcons find themselves in this position largely because of: 1) poor offensive line play, 2) a failure to consistently generate pressure up front with four on defense and 3) their inability to hold leads and finish games. Of those factors, the play along the offensive and defensive lines has been the most problematic, because the Falcons inability to finish games is arguably a symptom of the team's larger issues in the trenches.
Since taking over as Falcons general manager in 2008, Dimitroff has drafted a combined total of 17 offensive and defensive linemen, and those 17 players have combined for zero Pro Bowl appearances. In addition, while the early returns on Osi Umenyiora have been positive, Dimitroff has also failed to infuse elite talent into Atlanta's offensive and defensive lines via free agency.
By comparison, Falcons nemeses San Francisco (Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith) and New Orleans (Ben Grubbs, Jahri Evans) each have at least two Pro Bowl-caliber players playing along the line of scrimmage. The same can also be said for teams like Seattle (Max Unger, Russell Okung) and Carolina (Charles Johnson, Ryan Kalil), who both gave Atlanta trouble last season. Of those players, only Justin Smith and Ben Grubbs weren't drafted by their current teams.
Indeed, if the majority of Atlanta's fanbase agrees that the offensive and defensive lines are the biggest deficiencies on Atlanta's roster, Thomas Dimitroff may be the man they should force to wear a scarlet "1-2" on his suit at this early juncture.
Yes, Dimitroff deserves a great deal of credit for Atlanta's success over the last few seasons because he's arguably put together the best five-year epoch that any Falcons general manager has ever had. Through the draft, he has landed a franchise quarterback (Matt Ryan), a superstar wide receiver (Julio Jones), an up-and-coming safety (William Moore) and other key players like Sean Weatherspoon, Harry Douglas, Jacquizz Rodgers and Thomas DeCoud. He also traded for Tony Gonzalez and signed Steven Jackson in free agency.
However, as a great as Julio Jones is, would the Falcons have been better served by keeping the four additional draft picks they spent on him and investing more into the offensive and defensive lines? While I supported the move then and still do now, this is obviously a concern.
However, even if they hadn't traded up to get Julio Jones, would you have trusted Thomas Dimitroff to find talented linemen given the quality of the linemen he has drafted in the past? It's a reasonable inquiry.
There's a lot of football left to be played, but these 2013 Atlanta Falcons aren't with the program yet.
Who do you blame?