FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (CBS46) – As the Atlanta Falcons start training camp for the 2019 NFL season, three new coaches welcomed the team in as head coach Dan Quinn looks to make it back to the Super Bowl this season.
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, offensive passing game coordinator Raheem Morris, and tight ends coach Mike Mularkey are all looking to reinvigorate the offense while Quinn takes the reins of a defense that was devastated by injuries in 2018.
The Falcons’ passing game, led by quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones, was ranked fourth by yards and third by touchdowns in 2018. The rushing game left a lot to be desired, ranking 25th in yards and 21st in touchdowns, while rushing for just 4.5 yards per attempt.
However, the defense couldn’t stop anyone in 2018, mainly due to injuries at every level. Overall, the Falcons’ defense ranked 27th in passing yards allowed and 25th in rushing yards allowed. The team’s passing defense ranked 29th in touchdowns allowed and the rushing team was just barely better, ranking 21st in the league.
Even more troubling was the defense’s inability to stop opponents on third down or in the red zone. The defense ranked 31st in the league in opponents third down conversion rate, giving up first downs 48.7 percent of the time. In the red zone, the defense wasn’t much better, allowing touchdowns 70.4 percent of the time, ranking 28th in the league.
Still, some of the key defensive players missed much of the season. Safety Keanu Neal went down in week one and was left on injured reserve the rest of the season. Cornerback Ricardo Allen joined him on IR after an injury two weeks later. Linebacker Deion Jones also spent much of the season on injured reserve before being ready to play near the end of the season.
Obviously if the Falcons can keep key players healthy on the defense, the 2019 season may be completely different than the 2018 campaign.
From the looks of the NFL Draft, the Falcons are going to try to run the ball a bit more. The team spent two first round draft picks on guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary. If both can settle into the starting lineup, the Falcons’ offensive line should be a strength of the team. If it is, the team will be opening running lanes for Devonta Freeman, assuming he too can stay healthy.
If Freeman can’t stay healthy, the Falcons’ are thin at experienced backs. Ito Smith split time last season when Freeman went down and rushed for 315 yards on 90 carries, 3.5 yards per game. Past Smith, the team may look to rookie Qadree Ollison to hammer the ball in between the tackles.
Obviously, running the football successfully will be a big benefit, even with the explosive firepower the Falcons deploy on the outside. Still, the success of the 2019 campaign will be if the defense can improve from a weakness to a respectable level. If the defense is successful, the Falcons are set up for another run at the Super Bowl. If the defense struggles again, Super Bowl dreams are likely going to end in nightmares.