Statistically Comparing the 2016 and 2017 Atlanta Falcons

by Evan Birchfield

We are now at the midpoint of the 2017 NFL season, with our Atlanta Falcons sitting at 4-4. Going into this season, many had doubts as to the level of success that our offense would have under the newly hired Offensive Coordinator, Steve Sarkisian. I don’t think many expected this season to go as it has, but nonetheless, here we are.

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It’s difficult to even come close to repeating the level of success that the Falcons had in 2016, garnering an offense that ranked 8th all-time in scoring within an NFL season. Please note that while we can compare, the 2017 data is only based off of eight games.

2016 vs. 2017 Offense

As mentioned above, the offense of the 2016 Atlanta Falcons was something historic. An expectation of replicating the 2016 offense, in 2017, was doomed to fail.

The biggest statistic that shows the drop-off for the offense is the Falcons averaging 34.1 points per game in 2016, while so far only averaging 21.2 points per game in 2017. There’s still time for the 2017 number to increase, but given our remaining schedule, I’d be shocked if it raised more than a couple overall points.

The 2017 offense is doing all the right things, they just can’t score. Considering that they are currently ranked 7th in total yardage, 13th in rushing yards per game, and 6th in passing yards per game, it makes no sense to be ranked 19th in offensive scoring. At the current rate, in terms of offensive scoring, the 2017 Falcons will finish somewhere around 340 total points, while the 2016 Falcons finished at 540 total points scored.

In my opinion, the Falcons offense is doing everything correctly—except for scoring.

Our rushing offense is on pace to finish like 2016 did. Currently averaging 114.5 rushing yards per game, the 2016 Falcons averaged 117.5 rushing yards per game. Recently, I’ve noticed that RB Devonta Freeman has seen a drop in carries since the bye week.

Freeman had 70 carries prior to the Falcons’ bye week, and he now has 44 carries since. RB Tevin Coleman has seen an increase in production as he now has 34 carries, while having 29 prior to the bye week. Also, worth noting the targets for the Falcons duo-threat RB’s has flipped with Freeman going from 9 to 15 targets, and Coleman going from 15 targets to only 5.

In 2017, Coleman had a total of 118 carries, and he’s currently on pace for 126 carries. Freeman had a total of 227 carries in 2016 and is on pace for 228 carries this year. As I mentioned above, the 2016 & 2017 Falcons’ rushing offenses are very similar.

The Falcons passing offense is where the difference appears in 2017. I’ll start at the top, with MVP QB Matt Ryan. I don’t think anyone expected “Matty Ice” to match his production from 2016, and he hasn’t. Please note that some of his interceptions came off tipped passes.

In 2016, Matt Ryan put on an MVP-winning performance with 38 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and 4,944 yards. 2017 Matt Ryan is on pace for 22 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, and 4,314 yards. I don’t expect the numbers to improve, as only one of the Falcons’ remaining opponents has a passing defense outside of the top-22, and that’s the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who rank 24th worst.

I’m not even going to dive into the play calling discussion. Everyone has their own opinion by now, and they’re likely sticking to them.

2016 vs. 2017 Defense

Comparing the Falcons’ 2017 defense to the 2016 defense is currently a hot topic on social media. So again, I’m not going to tell you what to think, but I’ll provide some statistics to help form your opinion.

The Falcons’ 2017 defense currently has a better yards allowed per game average, at 321.8 yards, while 2016 defense held opponents to 376.9 yards per game.

Opponents yards per play is also currently better this year with the Falcons allowing an average of 5.1 yard per play, compared to 5.6 in 2016. Teams playing the Falcons in 2017 are having a more difficult time converting on 3rd down as well, with an average of 5.0 conversions per game, compared to 5.5 conversions per game in 2016. I can’t stress enough that these numbers will change, as there are still eight more games to go for the 2017 team.

Many expected the 2017 Falcons’ run defense to improve due to the additions of DT Dontari Poe & DT Jack Crawford. Currently ranked at 18th overall, the 2017 Falcons are allowing 114.5 rushing yards per game, while the 2016 Falcons allowed 104.0 rushing yards per game. The remainder of the 2017 season will be a good test for the Falcons run defense, having to stop quality rushers such as Mark Ingram (twice), Doug Martin, and speedy backs such as Jerick McKinnon and Alvin Kamara.

The 2017 Falcons’pass defense has improved stats-wise compared to 2016. So far, the passing defense is ranked 10th in average passing yards allowed per game with 207.2. In 2016, the Falcons’ passing defense finished the season ranked 30th in this category, allowing an average of 272.9 passing yards per game. The sacks per game average is about the same in both years, with the 2017 Falcons sitting at 2.2 sacks per game, while the 2016 Falcons finished at 2.3 sacks per game.

Outlook

As I mentioned, the numbers for 2017 are subject to change. At this point, I have a slightly optimistic outlook for the remainder of the season. Our team remains similar on paper to that of 2016, but for some reason, whether through bad luck or poor execution, the Falcons are about average.

As a lifelong Falcons fan, I hate to see this team, which sat atop most of the statistical categories last season, return to mediocrity. And I believe even if they don’t make the playoffs, they’ll go down fighting. We’ll see what happens.

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