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NFL contenders gone wrong: Barnwell ranks the six top playoff fallers

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Bolding in the article is mine for emphasis.

___________

A lot can go wrong for a team in five weeks. History says you can kiss your playoff chances goodbye if you start 0-5; since the NFL went to its current postseason structure in 2002, no team that started the year without a win through five games has made it to the postseason. That's bad news for Cincinnati and Washington. Even teams that win one game out of their first five have only converted their slow starts into postseason trips 8.5% of the time.

It's one thing for the league's worst teams, who started out of the race, to confirm their January vacations early. It's another to watch teams that were expected to contend see their playoff chances wane. Let's go through the six teams that have had their playoff chances decline most severely, according to the ESPN Football Power Index (FPI). It's a list that starts in California and makes its way all around the NFL:

Jump to a team:
ATL | CHI | LAC
LAR | NYJ | PIT

atl.png?w=110&h=110&transparent=true

Atlanta Falcons

Preseason playoff chances: 40.5%
Current playoff chances: 3.5%
Playoff chances decline: -37%

The Falcons' collapse is a lesson in self-scouting. Crucially, on the defensive side of the ball, the team evaluated itself as the defense it wanted to be as opposed to the defense it actually has been for several years. Dan Quinn & Co. wanted to believe that a healthy version of the defense that looked dominant during the 2016 playoffs is what the Falcons would look like in 2019. It wasn't realistic.

To put it another way, here are Atlanta's ranks on defense during the Quinn era by points allowed and DVOA, where first would be best and 32nd would be worst:

  • 2015: 14th in points allowed, 22nd in DVOA

  • 2016: 27th in points allowed, 26th in DVOA

  • 2017: 8th in points allowed, 22nd in DVOA

  • 2018: 25th in points allowed, 31st in DVOA

In 2016, the defense was subpar all season, only to dominate in the NFC playoffs and for half of Super Bowl LI. In 2018, the defense was ruined by injuries. In 2015 and particularly in 2017, though Quinn might have thought he was running an above-average defense, the Falcons' mediocrity on that side of the ball was masked by opportunity. Because their offense typically ran long, methodical drives, the defense faced a league-low number of drives in both 2015 (172) and 2017 (164).

The only explanation I can imagine for the Falcons conducting their business as they did this offseason is to assume that they wrote off 2018 because of injuries and thought their 2017 performance in scoring defense was real. Outside of signing defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones to extensions, the organization did little to address its defensive woes. Atlanta signed defensive linemen Adrian Claybornand Tyeler Davison to small deals, then added edge rusher Allen Baileyon a two-year, $10.5 million deal in July after his market didn't develop.

It seemed like a sure thing that Atlanta would address its woes in the draft, but it used the 14th pick on offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom. General manager Thomas Dimitroff then traded his second- and third-round picks to sneak back into the first round for what was surely going to be some help ... only to draft a second offensive lineman in Kaleb McGary. Atlanta did take a pair of defenders in the fourth round in end John Cominsky and cornerback Kendall Sheffield, but the two have combined to play only 71 snaps on defense through five games.

The Falcons have been healthier this season, though they did lose safety Keanu Neal to a torn Achilles in Week 3. They weren't playing well before Neal went down, though, and they're currently 27th in defensive DVOA through five games. That's a tiny improvement, driven by better performance against the run; Atlanta is 30th against the pass after allowing Deshaun Watson to throw for a staggering 426 yards and five touchdowns Sunday.

There's really not much Atlanta does right in pass coverage. Start up front and you see that the Falcons aren't bothering opposing quarterbacks. Only seven teams have blitzed more frequently than them, but they still rank a lowly 30th in pressure rate. When they do manage to get pressure, their pass-rushers don't finish the job, as the Falcons also rank 30th in sack rate against pressured quarterbacks.

In part, this is a personnel problem. The organization has continued to believe that Vic Beasley Jr. was only one shift or movement away from recapturing his 2016 form, when he led the league in sacks off an unsustainable hit rate; he had 15.5 sacks on only 16 knockdowns. The former first-round pick produced only 10 sacks and 13 knockdowns over the ensuing two seasons, but the Falcons still decided to keep him on the roster under his fifth-year option at $12.8 million. Beasley did make a fourth-and-1 run stop against the Titans in Week 4, but he has only 1.5 sacks this season. Fellow former first-rounder Takkarist McKinley, who led the team in sacks a year ago, has just a half-sack through the first five games.

The secondary, too, hasn't lived up to form. Cornerback Desmond Trufantwas supposed to be Quinn's version of Richard Sherman, but after an impressive debut season with Quinn in 2015, Trufant tore his pec in 2016 and hasn't been the same player since. He is tied for the league lead with four touchdowns allowed as the closest defender in coverage this season.

Opposite number Isaiah Oliver, who moved into the starting lineup after the Falcons cut Robert Alford this offseason, has been worse. The 2018 second-rounder has been targeted on 23.7% of opposing pass attempts, the eighth-highest rate in the league. That's great if a defender is holding up against those throws, but Oliver has allowed an opposing passer rating of 136.0 as the closest defender, which is the fourth-worst mark in the league for corners with 100 coverage snaps or more.

It's hard to overstate just how frequently Oliver shows up in this secondary's lowlights. Quinn's defense from Seattle was famously in three-deep coverage frequently, so the players see a lot of Cover-3 beaters on offense. It's one thing when the Vikings run Adam Thielen on a clearout and then sneak Stefon Diggsinto the zone Oliver vacated for a 31-yard gain. It's another when the Titans go back to the same concept three weeks later, and it's even worse when the Texans appear to get Oliver on a similar scissors concept for an easy touchdown the following week.

There were moments in the Colts game when it looked as if Oliver was lost on the field. Teams often try to take advantage of young cornerbacks with veteran wideouts on back-shoulder throws, but rarely do you see a corner still running upfield as their receiver catches the ball, as Oliver does while T.Y. Hilton makes this catch. On a later third-and-1, both Oliver and Kemal Ishmael were flat-footed and absolutely mesmerized by a play fake, with Zach Pascal running by Oliver for an easy 35-yard gain. I don't want to keep picking on Oliver, but I could keep going.

Sometimes, though, it isn't Oliver's fault. Take the third-and-5 touchdown pass in the Texans game to Will Fuller V, where Oliver was the closest cornerback in coverage. Quinn dials up one of the strangest coverage concepts you'll see. The Falcons rush three against Houston's five-man line, leave two quarterback spies for Watson, and then play man coverage across the board with a double-team on DeAndre Hopkins. This is a great play if the Falcons somehow get pressure quickly with three men or if Watson decides to run out of boredom. Neither of those things happened, and Fuller was able to turn his route upfield for an easy touchdown (animation via NFL Next Gen Stats):

Quinn hasn't been able to come up with a solution for Atlanta's defensive woes beyond repeatedly explaining how "pissedhe is about the defense on the team's Twitter account. The Falcons swapped linebacker Duke Riley and a sixth-round pick for backup Eagles safety Johnathan Cyprien and a seventh-round selection, only to place Cyprien on injured reserve after one game.

Again, we have to go back to the offseason. The Falcons fired both offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel and attempted to relive prior glories. Quinn hired former Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to take over his old job and handed himself the defensive coordinator duties. Any extent to which the defense has improved seems to be a product of getting Jones back on the field.

The offense, meanwhile, has taken a step backward. Falcons fans made up their minds about Sarkisian after the team failed in goal-to-go situations against the Eagles to end the 2017 season and to start the 2018 campaign, suggesting that he didn't know what he was doing in the red zone. (Never mind that the Falcons scored touchdowns on their next 11 trips inside the 20.) By the time the season ended, it was clear that the Falcons were going to make a change.

And yet, five weeks into 2019, even with a healthy Devonta Freeman, the Falcons are worse in the red zone with Koetter than they were last season with Sarkisian. The 2018 Falcons averaged 5.1 points per trip to the red zone. The 2019 Falcons are averaging 4.8 points per red zone possession. After ranking ninth and then eighth in offensive DVOA during the two seasons with Sarkisian, Koetter's offense is 20th in DVOA through five games.

After Week 2, the NFC South seemed as if it had opened up perfectly for Atlanta. The Saints were 1-1 and down Drew Brees. The Panthers were 0-2 and were about to sit an injured Cam Newton. The Bucs were 1-1, with a brutal loss to the 49ers and a narrow win over Newton's Panthers. The Falcons had just ridden an emotional roller coaster by converting a fourth-down pass to Jones for a touchdown to finally beat the Eagles in prime time.

Since then, the Saints and Panthers have gone 3-0, the Bucs upset the Rams, and the Falcons have lost three games to the AFC South by a combined 38 points. I have faith that this offense will get better as the season goes along, but it would take something close to the 2016 offense to carry the defense to victories every week. Unless Quinn suddenly stumbles onto a solution or the defense starts forcing three turnovers per game -- which is hardly out of the question against the Cardinals on Sunday, to be fair -- the Falcons are probably out of the playoff picture.

https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/27805932/nfl-contenders-gone-wrong-barnwell-ranks-six-top-playoff-fallers#atl

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1 hour ago, fuego said:

Bolding in the article is mine for emphasis.

___________

A lot can go wrong for a team in five weeks. History says you can kiss your playoff chances goodbye if you start 0-5; since the NFL went to its current postseason structure in 2002, no team that started the year without a win through five games has made it to the postseason. That's bad news for Cincinnati and Washington. Even teams that win one game out of their first five have only converted their slow starts into postseason trips 8.5% of the time.

It's one thing for the league's worst teams, who started out of the race, to confirm their January vacations early. It's another to watch teams that were expected to contend see their playoff chances wane. Let's go through the six teams that have had their playoff chances decline most severely, according to the ESPN Football Power Index (FPI). It's a list that starts in California and makes its way all around the NFL:

Jump to a team:
ATL | CHI | LAC
LAR | NYJ | PIT

atl.png?w=110&h=110&transparent=true

Atlanta Falcons

Preseason playoff chances: 40.5%
Current playoff chances: 3.5%
Playoff chances decline: -37%

The Falcons' collapse is a lesson in self-scouting. Crucially, on the defensive side of the ball, the team evaluated itself as the defense it wanted to be as opposed to the defense it actually has been for several years. Dan Quinn & Co. wanted to believe that a healthy version of the defense that looked dominant during the 2016 playoffs is what the Falcons would look like in 2019. It wasn't realistic.

To put it another way, here are Atlanta's ranks on defense during the Quinn era by points allowed and DVOA, where first would be best and 32nd would be worst:

  • 2015: 14th in points allowed, 22nd in DVOA

  • 2016: 27th in points allowed, 26th in DVOA

  • 2017: 8th in points allowed, 22nd in DVOA

  • 2018: 25th in points allowed, 31st in DVOA

In 2016, the defense was subpar all season, only to dominate in the NFC playoffs and for half of Super Bowl LI. In 2018, the defense was ruined by injuries. In 2015 and particularly in 2017, though Quinn might have thought he was running an above-average defense, the Falcons' mediocrity on that side of the ball was masked by opportunity. Because their offense typically ran long, methodical drives, the defense faced a league-low number of drives in both 2015 (172) and 2017 (164).

The only explanation I can imagine for the Falcons conducting their business as they did this offseason is to assume that they wrote off 2018 because of injuries and thought their 2017 performance in scoring defense was real. Outside of signing defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones to extensions, the organization did little to address its defensive woes. Atlanta signed defensive linemen Adrian Claybornand Tyeler Davison to small deals, then added edge rusher Allen Baileyon a two-year, $10.5 million deal in July after his market didn't develop.

It seemed like a sure thing that Atlanta would address its woes in the draft, but it used the 14th pick on offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom. General manager Thomas Dimitroff then traded his second- and third-round picks to sneak back into the first round for what was surely going to be some help ... only to draft a second offensive lineman in Kaleb McGary. Atlanta did take a pair of defenders in the fourth round in end John Cominsky and cornerback Kendall Sheffield, but the two have combined to play only 71 snaps on defense through five games.

The Falcons have been healthier this season, though they did lose safety Keanu Neal to a torn Achilles in Week 3. They weren't playing well before Neal went down, though, and they're currently 27th in defensive DVOA through five games. That's a tiny improvement, driven by better performance against the run; Atlanta is 30th against the pass after allowing Deshaun Watson to throw for a staggering 426 yards and five touchdowns Sunday.

There's really not much Atlanta does right in pass coverage. Start up front and you see that the Falcons aren't bothering opposing quarterbacks. Only seven teams have blitzed more frequently than them, but they still rank a lowly 30th in pressure rate. When they do manage to get pressure, their pass-rushers don't finish the job, as the Falcons also rank 30th in sack rate against pressured quarterbacks.

In part, this is a personnel problem. The organization has continued to believe that Vic Beasley Jr. was only one shift or movement away from recapturing his 2016 form, when he led the league in sacks off an unsustainable hit rate; he had 15.5 sacks on only 16 knockdowns. The former first-round pick produced only 10 sacks and 13 knockdowns over the ensuing two seasons, but the Falcons still decided to keep him on the roster under his fifth-year option at $12.8 million. Beasley did make a fourth-and-1 run stop against the Titans in Week 4, but he has only 1.5 sacks this season. Fellow former first-rounder Takkarist McKinley, who led the team in sacks a year ago, has just a half-sack through the first five games.

The secondary, too, hasn't lived up to form. Cornerback Desmond Trufantwas supposed to be Quinn's version of Richard Sherman, but after an impressive debut season with Quinn in 2015, Trufant tore his pec in 2016 and hasn't been the same player since. He is tied for the league lead with four touchdowns allowed as the closest defender in coverage this season.

Opposite number Isaiah Oliver, who moved into the starting lineup after the Falcons cut Robert Alford this offseason, has been worse. The 2018 second-rounder has been targeted on 23.7% of opposing pass attempts, the eighth-highest rate in the league. That's great if a defender is holding up against those throws, but Oliver has allowed an opposing passer rating of 136.0 as the closest defender, which is the fourth-worst mark in the league for corners with 100 coverage snaps or more.

It's hard to overstate just how frequently Oliver shows up in this secondary's lowlights. Quinn's defense from Seattle was famously in three-deep coverage frequently, so the players see a lot of Cover-3 beaters on offense. It's one thing when the Vikings run Adam Thielen on a clearout and then sneak Stefon Diggsinto the zone Oliver vacated for a 31-yard gain. It's another when the Titans go back to the same concept three weeks later, and it's even worse when the Texans appear to get Oliver on a similar scissors concept for an easy touchdown the following week.

There were moments in the Colts game when it looked as if Oliver was lost on the field. Teams often try to take advantage of young cornerbacks with veteran wideouts on back-shoulder throws, but rarely do you see a corner still running upfield as their receiver catches the ball, as Oliver does while T.Y. Hilton makes this catch. On a later third-and-1, both Oliver and Kemal Ishmael were flat-footed and absolutely mesmerized by a play fake, with Zach Pascal running by Oliver for an easy 35-yard gain. I don't want to keep picking on Oliver, but I could keep going.

Sometimes, though, it isn't Oliver's fault. Take the third-and-5 touchdown pass in the Texans game to Will Fuller V, where Oliver was the closest cornerback in coverage. Quinn dials up one of the strangest coverage concepts you'll see. The Falcons rush three against Houston's five-man line, leave two quarterback spies for Watson, and then play man coverage across the board with a double-team on DeAndre Hopkins. This is a great play if the Falcons somehow get pressure quickly with three men or if Watson decides to run out of boredom. Neither of those things happened, and Fuller was able to turn his route upfield for an easy touchdown (animation via NFL Next Gen Stats):

Quinn hasn't been able to come up with a solution for Atlanta's defensive woes beyond repeatedly explaining how "pissedhe is about the defense on the team's Twitter account. The Falcons swapped linebacker Duke Riley and a sixth-round pick for backup Eagles safety Johnathan Cyprien and a seventh-round selection, only to place Cyprien on injured reserve after one game.

Again, we have to go back to the offseason. The Falcons fired both offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel and attempted to relive prior glories. Quinn hired former Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to take over his old job and handed himself the defensive coordinator duties. Any extent to which the defense has improved seems to be a product of getting Jones back on the field.

The offense, meanwhile, has taken a step backward. Falcons fans made up their minds about Sarkisian after the team failed in goal-to-go situations against the Eagles to end the 2017 season and to start the 2018 campaign, suggesting that he didn't know what he was doing in the red zone. (Never mind that the Falcons scored touchdowns on their next 11 trips inside the 20.) By the time the season ended, it was clear that the Falcons were going to make a change.

And yet, five weeks into 2019, even with a healthy Devonta Freeman, the Falcons are worse in the red zone with Koetter than they were last season with Sarkisian. The 2018 Falcons averaged 5.1 points per trip to the red zone. The 2019 Falcons are averaging 4.8 points per red zone possession. After ranking ninth and then eighth in offensive DVOA during the two seasons with Sarkisian, Koetter's offense is 20th in DVOA through five games.

After Week 2, the NFC South seemed as if it had opened up perfectly for Atlanta. The Saints were 1-1 and down Drew Brees. The Panthers were 0-2 and were about to sit an injured Cam Newton. The Bucs were 1-1, with a brutal loss to the 49ers and a narrow win over Newton's Panthers. The Falcons had just ridden an emotional roller coaster by converting a fourth-down pass to Jones for a touchdown to finally beat the Eagles in prime time.

Since then, the Saints and Panthers have gone 3-0, the Bucs upset the Rams, and the Falcons have lost three games to the AFC South by a combined 38 points. I have faith that this offense will get better as the season goes along, but it would take something close to the 2016 offense to carry the defense to victories every week. Unless Quinn suddenly stumbles onto a solution or the defense starts forcing three turnovers per game -- which is hardly out of the question against the Cardinals on Sunday, to be fair -- the Falcons are probably out of the playoff picture.

https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/27805932/nfl-contenders-gone-wrong-barnwell-ranks-six-top-playoff-fallers#atl

WOW!! They put TD on notice he can't find players needed and Quinn is having  problems coaching them up! OMG this was on the point!!

Emmitt and Cheap Talk like this

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Looked pretty much on point to me. Especially ****ing to Dimi with him making the bold statement that this is the best roster that he has ever put together. DQ is saying that the defense which he has put together over the past 5 offseasons makes too many mistakes to be effective.

I believe that can be described as utter failure throughout the organization!!! From ownership, the front office and coaching...

SMDH 

m2Falcons and Cheap Talk like this

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Dimitroff just ******* blows. I don't know how anyone can even argue that at this point. Argue that he's a glorified finances guy if you want; we still have an obscene amount invested in our offense when the defense is a bigger problem. Quinn can go, but Dimi needs to go with him. We have a team full of cowards with the occasional gem wasting their potential away.

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Oh wow, while the truth doesn't make me feel great, I have to agree with everything this article says. People keep screaming "MATT RYAN" and I'm over here saying..."Yeah, but Dan Quinn."

We've been believing that somehow we'd find the magic of The Brotherhood again, but honestly, the culture of this team is weak. We are soft and our defense hasn't gotten better under Quinn. It's gotten worse. Our guys look lost out there. In fact, I think we are a few years away from recovery based on what he's done. Quinn isn't the coach who got us to the Super Bowl. Sark and MM weren't the issues with the team for the past two years. Quinn is the weak link and I'm through with him. Dimitroff is probably done too. Falcons are looking at a top 5 pick this year. Hope it's a good one. 

m2Falcons and Godzilla1985 like this

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I dont know what you expect when the coaching staff completely switches up the schemes on O and D after years of the same thing. It's going to take time to adjust. Either the players do or the coach does...something has to give...we'll see in DQs play calls this week if he will lead and adapt.

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So...keeping Vic leveraged us to go OL in the draft...but then that guy got hurt in week 1...

Then, Oliver has been waaay worse than anyone could have anticipated...even  @FalconFanSince1970 was worried but I doubt anyone thought Oliver would play worse than Alford’s 2018 abysmal year...

Those 3 things have hurt this team badly...

D was sacrificial lamb for our OL overhaul and it got delayed from injury to Lindstrom; who although a rookie looked like the future and fixed RG pass blocking woes of recent years at minimum...

Vic hasn’t done much and Takk is only guy on edge doing anything in terms of pressure rate....maybe the plan was to play with a lead more often but...

....because pass rush and coverage is so bad; coupled with some slow starts by the offense; which doesn’t have a run game to protect the D as much as we need...

Welp...1-4.

Honorable mention: Not being able to find a proven WCO playcaller. I regret not getting Bevell...Dirk needs to show me a lot more. Yikes on the run game and yikes on that Titans game plan.

FalconFanSince1970 likes this

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