The Atlanta Falcons didn’t fare well in the desert Sunday, falling to the Arizona Cardinals 27-13. The loss pushed the Falcons to 2-5 on the season and moved their playoff hopes from distant to a mirage.
Mathematically the Falcons could rebound, win every remaining game and finish with an 11-5 record, likely making the playoffs. But this team is too broken for that to happen.
Atlanta’s running game averaged 1.9 yards per carry and that was with a 13-yard scramble (the Falcons' longest run of the game) from quarterback Matt Ryan. Take away Ryan’s carry and Atlanta gained just 14 yards on 13 carries.
Ryan was also punished by the Cardinals front seven, as reported by Fox Sports South’s John Manasso.
Arizona running back Andre Ellington paced the offense with 154 yards on the ground. The Cardinals gained 201 yards rushing on Sunday and became the fourth team in a row to gain at least 100 against a Falcons defense that’s finding it tougher and tougher to stop the run.
Factor in the MASH unit that Atlanta’s training facility in Flowery Branch, Ga., has become—wide receiver Roddy White did not play in Arizona, Julio Jones is gone for the year, along with other starters—and it's easy to see why the 2013 season is about to be written off.
But don’t be so quick to count this franchise out for long. The Falcons will be right back in the thick of a playoff hunt in 2014. All that’s needed are a few adjustments.
Atlanta’s injured reserve list reads like a who’s who of Falcons starters. The two biggest names are wide receiver Julio Jones and hybrid defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann.
Alex Welch of SB Nation spoke with an orthopedic surgeon about a potential timetable for Jones’ return to the field. The doctor wasn’t Jones’ physician, but the timetable given indicates the wide receiver will be ready for 2014.
You would expect it to be about the same as the first time. It's an outpatient surgery. Typically you keep him from putting weight on it from 2-6 weeks depending on the severity. He'll wear a walking boot...As you start to see the fracture heal, you increase weight bearing. You progress to jogging and cutting. Any time you have a revision surgery or repeat surgery, in general, you're a lot more cautious. It's going to run through the rest of the season, though, so I don't think there will be any sense of urgency.
Biermann provided a mini-injury update on Twitter earlier this month. He seems to be progressing nicely from the Achilles injury that landed him on injured reserve, and hopes are high for his return to the field fully healthy in 2014.
A healthy return by both will provide a spark to the Falcons ability to move the ball on offense (don’t forget wide receiver Roddy White should be 100 percent by 2014 too) and get pressure on opposing quarterbacks on defense.
A Year of Experience
When the Falcons enter training camp in 2014, cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford won’t be rookies any more. The year’s worth of experience under their belts will pay dividends as the duo moves toward becoming fixtures in the Atlanta defensive backfield for years to come.
The same can be said for rookie linebacker Joplo Bartu and rookie tight end Levine Toilolo.
Bartu impressed during camp prior to the 2013 season and has been thrust into a starting role with the many injuries that have hit the Falcons’ linebacker corps. He’s learning on the job, but he’ll be stronger in 2014 because of the playing time.
The same can be said of Toilolo, who’s learning under the tutelage of Tony Gonzalez, arguably the greatest tight end to ever live. Any time he gets on the field with Gonzalez—either in practice or real games—is beneficial to the rookie's future.
When the Falcons move into 2014 the team will have to make some roster adjustments. The most pressing need is on the offensive line.
Heading into Atlanta's game against the Cardinals, only three quarterbacks in the league had been hit more times on their dropbacks than Ryan, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Odds are, after watching Ryan get mangled over and over again Sunday, that statistic might be even worse after Week 8.
This offensive line is also failing at run-blocking too. The 14 yards rushing against Arizona comes on the heels of last week's performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in which Atlanta running backs Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 30 yards on 15 carries.
Prior to Sunday, Atlanta ranked 30th in the league, with a 68.3 yards-per-game average running the football. That ranking might fall as well when all the games for Week 8 have been completed.
Atlanta must bring in some new blood along the offensive line. There is too much talent at quarterback and running back for it to be rendered almost useless by ineffective blocking.
Atlanta could use some help in the trenches on the other side of the football too, especially when it comes to rushing the passer. Atlanta pulled down Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer three times on Sunday but entered the contest ranked 26th in the league with only 14 sacks.
Defensive end Osi Umenyiora could continue to provide more help in getting pressure on the quarterback, and Jonathan Massaquoi has been getting better as he gets more snaps. Biermann’s return also will factor in positively. But the Falcons need new resources, and waiting until the fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft might not be good enough next season.
There is talent all up and down this roster—playoff talent. The Falcons are going to suffer through the rest of the 2013 season, and it’s going to hurt. But the 2014 future is bright.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.