I have become so immune to pathetic performances that I wasn’t even mad after the Falcons fell to the Bears at home. Numbness is all I felt after yet another loss in a season bound for substandard results. As usual, the defense could not get off the field on third down and the offensive line couldn’t sustain any semblance of cohesion, once again holding the entire offense back. Take away Julio Jones and you take away the Falcons.
I’m sick of losing because of an inept, patchwork defense. I’m sick of not being able to run the football and ditching the entire running game one quarter in. I’m sick of a coach that says the same things over and over again. I’m sick of relying on two players to carry an entire team. But most importantly, I’m sick of going to a home game in which the opposing team outnumbers us in fans. I’m sick and tired of being an Atlanta Falcons fan. Swift, all-encompassing change needs to happen in order to change the trajectory of an inept team.
Seven years ago, I would have scoffed at my current frustration after just one bad season. At that point, Joey Harrington was the starting quarterback after Michael Vick’s arrest. Bobby Petrino, the offensive-minded coach geared toward revamping a “flat” offense, resigned after just 13 games in Atlanta after a 3-10 record. Make no mistake, that was rock bottom.
Things turned quickly after hiring Patriots guru Thomas Dimitroff as the GM and Mike Smith as the coach. The team earned a playoff birth and a 10-6 record in its first year behind franchise-quarterback Matt Ryan. The franchise was on an unstoppable trajectory to the top. In 2012, we nearly broke through. The hypotheticals of that final drive of the 2011 NFC Championship still ring through my head. What if Matt Ryan had not dislocated his shoulder on the final drive? What if Harry Douglas didn’t slip in the open field? Just ten yards stood between my beloved Falcons and super bowl glory. Then it was snatched from our hands quicker than we could appreciate it.
Who knows what happened during that offseason? Maybe the front office got complacent (I tend to doubt it). Dimitroff definitely made some poor choices. Some tend to blame the 4-12 finish last season on “toughness,” this unquantifiable code-word for “lacking talent on either side of the line of scrimmage;” but, in reality, the poor bill of health sure hurt their chances far more than any lack of grit. Regardless, regression to the mean was more than likely for the 2014 season. Right? Right?!
Wrong. Here they stand in 2014 at 2-4 and not much better than last year. The lack of defensive talent is killing the offense (that, too, has disappeared as of late). Even with the Bears’ four best linebackers on the sidelines with injuries, the Falcons completely abandoned the running game. Antone Smith scored again (he leads the team in touchdowns), and proceeded to ride the pine for the entirety of the fourth quarter. Jonathan Massaquoi showed promising flashes of pass-rushing ability – an unfamiliar sight to us Falcons fans – and the coaching staff proceeded to drop him into pass-coverage more often than he was unleashed toward the quarterback. Thank you, Mike Nolan, for shutting down the only thing that has been working to accommodate your “scheme.” If this seems like an overreaction, it is – but things need to change.
Change number one: fire everyone (okay, keep offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, he’s been pretty good when the offensive line has given him a chance to be.) Nolan, gone. Smith, gone. Dimitroff, gone. I’m not usually one to dole out firings like they’re inconsequential, but a culture change is necessary – and it starts at the root.
Aside from the Ryan pick, Dimitroff has hardly nailed his drafts. The narrative of the Julio Jones trade being the chief reason for the dearth of depth has been vastly overblown, mostly because Julio Jones is a darn good player. But at some point Dimitroff needs to hit on some mid-round picks. Those drafts, on top of the Ray Edwards, Osi Umenyiora, Steven Jackson, Dunta Robinson, and Tyson Jackson (no, it isn’t too early to declare that a bust) signings, prove that it is time to move on. Simply, this team lacks enough talent to win football games. With Dimitroff gone, the Smith firing should not be far behind. His inability to get this team to form a defensive identity after being a defensive coordinator himself (*cough hire Rex Ryan cough*), has been disappointing. And, though it isn’t his fault the team lacks depth at every position, somebody has to be the scapegoat.
After the 2012 season, this looked like the golden age of Falcons football. Instead, we’re looking at the same-old Atlanta team, the same-old Atlanta fanbase that has plagued us for generations. I understand it will be difficult to find a coach who will immediately provide an upgrade. But the culture has to change. Tear it down, Mr. Blank, and start from scratch.