The Atlanta Falcons are close. The roster is better than most casual fans assume, littered with explosive talent on offense, a stout offensive line, and a defense boasting several All-Pro caliber players. So, why are they a measly 6-8 with a chance at the postseason evaporating before their eyes?
The Atlanta Falcons: What Went Wrong In 2023?
That is a loaded question, requiring a handful of answers to get to the bottom of it. From the general manager to the head coach to the quarterback, the power structure in Atlanta could look vastly different a month from now. Is a house cleaning in order?
In today’s article, let’s look closer at the 2023 Falcons — all the good and bad, but mostly the bad. What steps can the franchise take to get back into the playoffs? In a division as winnable as the NFC South, a few tweaks to the roster and up top should do the trick.
No. 1: Find A Better Quarterback Than Desmond Ridder
Full disclosure: I graded Desmond Ridder as a starting signal-caller in the NFL and assumed he would be good enough to be a game manager at worst and an above-average starter at best.
Unfortunately, for both Ridder and the Falcons, this vision has not come to fruition. And with the benching of the former Cincinnati quarterback, his chances of becoming the long-time starter behind center are virtually zero.
Fret not. Atlanta currently sits at No. 10 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft, putting them in range for a trade up the board if necessary. Options like Caleb Williams and Drake Maye will require a lucrative trade package, while Jayden Daniels might not require a move at all.
Any of the three would provide a higher upside and more stability to the Falcons' offense. If the front office chooses to wait until Day 2 or to trade into the back end of Round 1, then names such as Bo Nix, J.J. McCarthy, and Michael Penix Jr. hit the radar.
There’s also the possibility of going the veteran route. Kirk Cousins, although recovering from an Achilles injury, has been linked as a potential free agent. Who knows, maybe the Buccaneers fail to retain Baker Mayfield, and Atlanta can take a swing at the former No. 1 overall pick.
Regardless of how it happens, the Falcons need more from the quarterback position, period. With the assortment of talent on offense, paired with a fiery and tenacious defense, the fan base deserves better play from the most important position in sports.
Arthur Smith Isn’t Cutting It…
No. 2: Find A Better Head Coach Than Arthur Smith
While Desmond Ridder deserves his fair share of blame, the offensive failures cannot fall solely at his feet. Second-year head coach Arthur Smith has not made life any easier for his young quarterback.
Earlier in the season, Smith was afraid to take the training wheels off of Ridder. Instead keeping him close to the vest and calling plays that minimize the risk of turnovers. However, in doing so, Smith also handcuffed what should have been one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL.
As the season progressed, the polarizing head coach began introducing a few more wrinkles; unfortunately, Ridder was unable to consistently perform, putting him on the bench behind journeyman veteran Taylor Heinicke.
Now, it’s fair to say Smith deserves another chance with a quarterback who can run the offense the way he envisions. But perhaps the bridge has already been burnt between the 41-year-old, the roster, and ownership. And don’t forget the fan base — a large contingency of which wants to run Smith out of town.
Saddling a new quarterback, potentially a rookie one at that, with a playcaller who hasn’t proven to be worth his billing is a risky proposition. The Falcons could be best served cutting ties and starting over fresh with a completely new nucleus at head coach and quarterback.
No. 3: Finish Building The Defense Up
General manager Terry Fontenot has had his own mishaps during his tenure in Atlanta. It was Fontenot who believed in Desmond Ridder as QB1. He also believed in Arthur Smith to get the most out of Ridder early on. Alas, neither of those came to pass.
However, one area where Fontenot has noticeably made a difference is the defense. Jessie Bates III and Calais Campbell were franchise-altering additions this offseason, with the former still in his prime and the latter coming to the ATL as a veteran presence in the trenches.
On top of that, draft picks like Arnold Ebiketie, Clark Phillips III, and DeAngelo Malone have all shown flashes of starting-caliber play. The defense is already above-average on paper, but a look at the tape shows that Fontenot’s work is not done.
Can GM Terry Fontenot Complete The Build In Atlanta? He’s Close
The team has improved in the pass-rushing department, but they still rank toward the bottom of the league in efficiency and production. Furthermore, A.J. Terrell is one of the premier cornerbacks on Sundays, but he requires assistance on the boundary.
If Fontenot can put the finishing touches on his defense while also straightening out the issues on the other side of the ball, the Falcons will return to postseason play in 2024. And for the first-time general manager’s sake, he needs things to turn around immediately. Otherwise, it will be his seat that warms up next.
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