A matter of time
Believe it or not, the Falcons offense has been good this season. Although Atlanta currently sits third in the NFC South standings, the Falcons are averaging the second most yards per play (6.2), fifth most yards per pass (7.9) and fourth most yards per rush (4.8) in the NFL. The only problem: time of possession.
The Falcons' 424 plays this season are the fourth-least in the NFL. Atlanta is making the most of each possession, but it simply needs more of them. Despite defeating the Jets on Sunday, the Falcons possessed the ball for 28 minutes, almost a minute less than their season average. It doesn't bode well for the Falcons that the Panthers rank second in time of possession.
Still taking shots
In 2016, Matt Ryan led the league with a 117.1 passer rating. That number elevated to 136.1 when throwing the ball 20 or more yards downfield. The 2016 NFL MVP's numbers have regressed in 2017, but he's still taking nearly as many shots down field.
Through seven weeks last season, Ryan completed 16-of-28 passes thrown 20 or more yards down field. In the same time frame this season, he's 6-of-23. The success in 2016 led the Falcons earning the reputation as one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. And the lack of success this season has led to the reputation that they've dropped off. The chances are still there; they just haven't been connecting.
"Most important thing for me is personnel," Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. "You look at Matt Ryan, MVP of the league, Julio Jones and those running backs they have. These guys have weapons, and we're going to have our hands full this week."
Fans are calling for offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian's dismissal after eight games. Expectations are high after Kyle Shanahan led a historically great offense to the Super Bowl in 2016. Last season, Ryan finished with 4,944 yards - a franchise record - 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was one of three players (along with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers) to throw for 3,500-plus yards and 10 or fewer interceptions in a season.
Shanahan recieved a bevy of credit for Ryan's outstanding play, as most cooridinators do. And as most coordinators do, now Sarkisian is receiving the blame for Ryan's average play, whether it's warranted or not.
"There's a lot of really good things that Steve does, and I don't want to lose sight of how good a football coach this guy is," Quinn told reporters Thursday (via ESPN.com). "And I think all of us, when you're going through a time where you're not producing from a points standpoint that you like, there's a lot of factors involved."
Don't forget the defense
With Ryan, Jones and running backs Devonte Freeman and Tevin Coleman on offense, it's easy to overlook the Falcons' defense. However, on Sunday against the Jets there was no overlooking the defense. Atlanta limited New York to 279 yards of total offense, including 43 rushing yards. Amidst unrelenting rain, weather conditions that demanded an efficient ground game, running back Bilal Powell averaged just two yards per carry.
The game wasn't an anomaly for the Falcons, though. This season Atlanta ranks 11th in total defense and against the run. They've been productive, almost as productive as they were in their Super Bowl run last season.
"They've got really good team speed on defense," Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "Over the last few years they keep getting faster, and they have really good cover guys that can cover both in man coverage and press coverage. When they go to their soft zone defense, they're going to keep everything in front and rally to the ball. Their team speed allows them to do that."
View the top photos from Panthers at Buccaneers by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.