Pro Football Focus recently put out their list of player grades from last season and Atlanta Falcons’ wide receiver Julio Jones landed at the top of the list. Jones, who graded out at a 96 out of 100, was just a half point away from first place Antonio Brown.
The Falcons had a promising season going last year as they headed into week six with a perfect 5-0 record, and they still looked pretty promising heading into week eight with a 6-1 record. However, that’s when the wheels fell off.
Atlanta would go on to win just two more games last year even with stellar performances from Jones and running back Devonta Freeman.
These performances have left fans wondering why the team hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2012 season. Some blame last year’s bland record on Matt Ryan. Some blame it on the fact that 2015 was Dan Quinn’s first year as head coach. Others blame it on the magic that seems to keep Atlanta sports teams from doing well while breaking fans’ hearts.
One thing that can be linked to the losses that Atlanta suffered last year is turnovers. Atlanta was top five in the league with thirty turnovers. The Falcons had at least one turnover in seven of the eight games that they lost last year, and they only had four games all year without a turnover.
They could move the ball up and down the field in most games, but drives were often thwarted by an interception or fumble.
Some of these turnovers can be attributed to Matt Ryan playing in Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system for the first time. Interceptions happen when the quarterback makes a bad decision because his target isn’t where he thought it was going to be.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons created a seventeenth best 23 turnovers including 16 interceptions, but they ranked last in sacks. They didn’t get much pressure on the quarterback, which made it hard to create turnovers.
What people tend to forget about last year is that five of Atlanta’s eight losses were by four points or less, and only one loss was by ten or more points. They played in a lot of close games during Quinn’s first year.
The Falcons hope that the team learned a lot of lessons in 2015 and that another offseason and training camp will help propel them into the playoffs.
So far during this off season, Atlanta has added to a somewhat struggling offensive line, with the acquisition of Alex Mack from the Cleveland Browns. Mack will fit right in at center where the Falcons hope he will make his other offensive lineman better around him, while giving Matt Ryan more time to make better decisions.
Atlanta also added to their defense by taking defensive players in the first, second and fourth including first round pick Keanu Neal, a hard hitting strong safety who will probably also play some at outside linebacker because he can cover tight ends. Quinn hopes Neal will fit into a similar role to Cam Chancellor who Quinn coached in Seattle.
As for Jones, the Falcons hope he will be a top five receiver next year like in 2015, but football is the ultimate team sport, and if Atlanta hopes to get back to the playoffs they must get more pressure on the quarterback, have diversity in play selection and improve their turnover ratio.
Jones will be wonderful, but it takes all eleven to be successful.