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First To Worst: How Did The Falcons Reach This Point?

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A lacking run game and mediocre defensive play have doomed the Falcons playoff chances on a weekly basis. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images.
A lacking run game and mediocre defensive play have doomed the Falcons playoff chances on a weekly basis. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images.

With the injuries and heart-breaking losses piling up, the Atlanta Falcons’ season is not going as planned. Fans everywhere fully expected Atlanta to battle the New Orleans Saints for NFC South supremacy this year. The signing of RB Steven Jackson gave the offense another boost, while landing DE Osi Umenyiora meant that the front seven could finally get after opposing quarterbacks consistently. TE Tony Gonzalez’s vow to return for one more season also gave fans hope of another run at a Super Bowl trip.

Instead, the Falcons are sitting at 2-9 and are in last place in the division. They are also just as lowly as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars, two teams that looked to have the first two picks in this year's draft locked up. 

But just what is to blame for such a tragic downward spiral? The Dirty Birds are in this difficult position for three main reasons.

The first factor to consider is the injury bug that has plagued the team throughout the season. Key players like DE Kroy Biermann, WR Julio Jones and LT Sam Baker are all out for the year. The defense is glad to have its emotional leader in LB Sean Witherspoon back from injury, while WR Roddy White and Jackson - a perennial 1,000-yard running back - are slowly getting back to playing like themselves after missing time of their own.

Atlanta's inability to close out games is also to blame for the team's recent failures. It all started with the 2012 NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs, where the Falcons gave up a nice lead and almost allowed then-rookie QB Russell Wilson to complete a comeback for his Seattle Seahawks. Luckily, the Falcons won the game on a Matt Bryant field goal. They also gave up a considerable lead in the NFC Championship Game, which allowed the San Francisco 49ers to advance to the Super Bowl. Since then, we have seen the same pattern unfold throughout the season. I do not know if the defense simply can’t hang with the opponent for the whole game or if the coaching staff is making ill-advised calls, but one thing is certain: QB Matt Ryan is not able to save their butts like he did last season.

Lastly, the running game is just about nonexistent and the defense is pedestrian at best. Currently, the Falcons only run the ball for 74.7 yards per game (second to last in the league). Yes, it is better than 63-65 yards per game, but that is still subpar. As mentioned previously, Jackson struggled with injury for a good chunk of the season, but he has yet to go over 100 yards in a game. Jacquizz Rodgers may be the team’s leading rusher, but I do not see him being an every-down back in the long run. And I am shocked that Jason Snelling did not get the ball as much this year.

Luckily, the Falcons can still end the season with a few more wins and then look toward getting more running back and defensive talent in the upcoming draft. From the darkness that has enveloped the team this season, there are a few bright spots beginning to shine through. Let's hope that 2013 was just an anomaly.