WATCH: 5 Takeaways from the 2019 Atlanta Falcons season
It was a tale of two different seasons for the Atlanta Falcons in 2019. The first half couldn't have gone any worse with a 1-7 start, but then the team turned things around with a 6-2 finish.
With the way the schedule was built, the Falcons had all of their division games in the second half of the season. They made up some tremendous ground in the standings during November and December, but they dug themselves too big of a hole this year.
Here are our five biggest takeaways from the season:
1. The Falcons defense was much better under Raheem Morris
Everything was better for the defense once Morris became defensive coordinator after the bye week. In the second half under Morris, the Falcons recorded 21 sacks, 10 interceptions and held opponents to about a 24 percent conversion rate on third down. During the first half when Morris was coaching the wide receivers, the Falcons had just seven sacks, and two interceptions while allowing opponents to convert 53 percent of their third downs.
Furthermore, the Falcons allowed 8.4 yards per pass in the first half compared to only 6.4 yards per attempt during the final eight games.
That's a tremendous turnaround. Of all the coaches the Falcons elected to keep last week, Falcons fans should be most excited to see what Morris and the defense can do during a full season next year.
2. Despite finish, the Falcons should still be considered a below average team from 2019
Now to the negatives. Despite the defensive turnaround, the Falcons should still be considered a below average team right now. They have two straight below .500 finishes, and it took two strong ends the last two years to just reach 7-9.
Even with a strong second half, the Falcons still finished six games behind the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South and three games out of the last wild card spot. Furthermore, the Falcons were the third team eliminated from the playoffs this year.
Atlanta made no tangible progress back to the postseason in 2019 and even including the strong end, they were closer to a playoff spot last year.
3. The offensive line still needs fixing
The biggest problems for the Falcons remain the same. On offense, the offensive line is still a major Achilles Heel. That's despite two first-round picks and two top free agents dedicated to fixing the line.
The unit was a little better when rookie guard Chris Lindstrom returned in Week 14, but against the Buccaneers on Sunday, the Falcons allowed six sacks and posted 2.9 yards per rush.
Atlanta allowed 50 sacks, which was tied for the fifth-most in the NFL. Once again, the Falcons will have to make fixing the offensive line a priority this offseason.
4. Pass rusher is still one of the team's biggest needs
Defensively, the Falcons still need a top pass rusher. The team failed to address this need in the draft, electing to count on improvement from Vic Beasley and a bunch of veterans on one-year contracts.
This strategy worked better in the second half under Morris, but it was a disaster to start the year. Beasley recorded a team-high 8.0 sacks, but he is an unrestricted free agent.
Even if the Falcons elect to bring back Beasley, which they likely won't, they still need pass rushing help.
5. Matt Ryan & Julio Jones are still some of the best but time is ticking
Ending on a positive note, the Falcons very best players are still their best guys. That's a great thing, considering the amount of money the team owes Ryan and Jones over the next few years.
Ryan finished with 4,446 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Jones was a few yards shy of another 1,400-yard campaign. Additionally, Calvin Ridley has matured in his role, and the Falcons may have found something in Brian Hill in the final few weeks of the season.
The Falcons biggest challenge moving forward is to insulate Ryan and Jones with enough talent around them so they can continue to be top producers as they age.