by Justin Henry
Cold Hard Football Facts' Dr. Death (@jrhwriting)
Abraham and Robinson removed from their seats
Turner replaced by Jackson's nimbler feet
Secondary bolstered by April selections
Yet the Falcons defense shows many holes
The runners get no pop off of their soles
To the very bottom is this team's lone direction
TIME OF DEATH: 7:06 PM EST, Sunday, November 24, 2013 (Arizona getting their seventh win)
So it begins.
I've never cooked a primary Thanksgiving meal once in my life. I've been known to microwave a fleet of leftovers in the ensuing days, but never have I done any actual preparation for the centerpiece meal itself.
Go figure, it's Thanksgiving week, and I'm finally stuffing a bird. It's not for the consumption of others, however. Unless you're counting worms.
I never would have dreamed that the first demise of the 2013 NFL season would be one of last year's top-seeded squads. Peyton Manning would never be on the worst team in the league, unless he was IR'ed after neck surgery. That would leave Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, who had a downturn so highly disturbing.
One year ago, they started 8-0, finished 13-3, and were a stone's throw away from going to Super Bowl XLVII. Today, they sit 2-9, winless in over a month, and will be lucky to have even an inverse record from a year ago.
What happened? What on earth happened to this team that was poised to make another run at the elusive Super Bowl crown, and cash in Tony Gonzalez's decision to play one more year?
Let's go to the coroner's report, shall we?
1. The Falcons Have Already Turned the Ball Over More This Season than Last
In all of 2012, the Falcons turned the ball over 18 times. That includes 14 Ryan interceptions, and a reasonable four lost fumbles.
After just 11 games this season, the Falcons have committed 20 turnovers. That total includes 12 picks from Ryan's hand (who has only 18 touchdowns, compared to 32 a season ago).
Atlanta has also lost eight fumbles, six on offense. Of those six, five have been five separate receivers (Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Darius Johnson) getting the ball taken away. Of those five, four of the fumbles were returned for at least 11 yards.
In five different games, Atlanta has turned the ball over between two and four times. To no one's surprise, Atlanta lost all five.
Atlanta's had numerous issues with the offensive line, particularly with the losses of Tyson Clabo (first replaced by the awful Lamar Holmes, then veteran Jeremy Trueblood) and the retired Todd McClure (replaced by second-year center Peter Konz). Matt Ryan's been sacked 24 times this season, and backs have struggled to get big runs to the outside.
Injuries have played a big role in the team's downfall. Losing Julio Jones for the season after five games was killer (even though he's still third on the team in receiving yards). Roddy White missed three games, but his general production (209 yards, one TD in eight games) is a sharp decline from his lofty standard. Steven Jackson, the cure for Michael Turner's breaking down, missed four games with leg issues.
Between injuries and a lack of line continuity, Ryan has been unable to run the offense without experiencing the most painful hiccups he's seen as a pro.
2. Atlanta has the Worst Pass Defense in the NFL
Their 251.18 yards a game given up through the air are the NFL's ninth most. Their 23 passing touchdowns allowed are second most. Their six interceptions are sixth least.
Their 106.69 Defensive Passer Rating is, by far, the worst in the league.
Incredibly, a season ago, the pass defense was fifth best in the NFL, with a 77.10 rating. Atlanta had picked off 20 passes, allowed only 14 touchdowns through the air, and gave up a slightly-better 242.38 yards a game.
Opponents in 2012 completed 61.16 percent of their passes. A year later, that average has bloated to 67.41 percent, a 10.22 percent increase.
Listed below are the 11 quarterbacks faced this season. It reveals how many touchdowns and yards each threw for against the Falcons, and what their season average per game is.
Based on this chart, we know:
-Eight of Atlanta's 11 opponents threw more touchdowns than they do on average (although amazingly, Drew Brees didn't top his average either time).
-Seven opponents threw for more yards than they do on average. Three of them (Bradford, Brady, and Wilson) threw more than 50 yards higher than their averages.
-Atlanta has more games without producing an interception (six) than they do netting one (five).
3. Atlanta has No Presence on Defense, Period
This last examination is a simple look at Cold Hard Football Facts' Defensive HOG Index, the truest measurement of a defense's ability to both contain, and bring pressure. The metric considers rushing yards per attempt allowed, Negative Pass Play percentage (sacks/picks against total dropbacks), and third down percentage.
In 2012, Atlanta wasn't exactly stellar in this stat. They indexed at 23rd overall in the league, ranking 29th in rushing YPA allowed (4.80), 15th in NPP% (8.45%), and 25th in third down percentage (40.50% converted).
As of right now, Atlanta ranks 31st in Defensive HOG Index, barely ahead of Jacksonville (whom they now share a record with).
Admittedly, the run defense has improved, but not by much. The Falcons defense gives up 4.64 yards a carry, but it's only 28th best in the NFL.
Negative Pass Plays dipped slightly, down to 7.78 percent (26th in the NFL). While they do alright in sacks (22 this year, just 29 all of last year), it's the lack of interceptions that is killing them. You can't drop from 20 to six and not expect a critical decline.
Third down percentage is also damning. While the 40.50% conversion rate last season was bad enough, opponents crash the gate 45.86% of the time this season. That's the second worst average in the league, with only Minnesota turning out worse.