Tell me if this sounds familiar.
Led by a top-10 offense, a team races to a 2012 division crown and enters 2013 with high expectations. Several national media outlets predict another division title and a playoff run. Unable to replicate the success of 2012, the team suffers a five-game losing streak during the regular season and sits at 3-10 in Week 15.
Welcome to reality in Washington and Atlanta.
In his preseason power rankings, Sports Illustrated writer Chris Burke had the Falcons and Redskins coupled together in the upper third of the NFL.
So what happened?
In a conference call with Washington media, Atlanta head coach Mike Smith pointed out three key factors that haunt the Falcons. These markers also help explain the situation in Washington.
1. TURNOVER RATIO
“There’s some markers that I believe are very important for the success of a football team, and the first one is the turnover ratio,” Smith said.
“We have not done a good job of taking the ball way. We are on the bottom of the league in terms of turnovers, and we’ve had some games where we’ve turned the ball over.”
Atlanta is ranked No. 28 in the NFL with a -11 turnover ratio. The Redskins are 20th with a -3 ratio.
2. EXPLOSIVE PLAYS
“We are giving up way too many explosive plays – what we consider explosive plays – 20 yards or more,” Smith said.
Atlanta is one of three teams who have given up 44 passing plays of 20 yards or more. St. Louis and New England are tied with the Falcons at No. 19 in this category.
By comparison, Washington has allowed 52 explosive passing plays. Only Denver, Jacksonville and Dallas have given up more.
Atlanta has allowed 10 explosive rushing plays, while Washington has given up nine.
3. THIRD-DOWN DEFENSE
“The third thing is third down,” Smith said. “Defensively we’re last in the league in third-down efficiency. When you do that, you expose yourself to more snaps.”
The Falcons are the worst team in the league on third down. Atlanta’s opponents have converted 80 of 175 third-down attempts, good for 46 percent.
Washington is surprisingly stout in this category. It has only allowed 54 successful third-down conversions in 156 tries. Holding opponents to a 35 percent success rate makes Washington the seventh-best team in the league on third down. This doesn’t mean as much when you consider the Redskins have allowed more points than any team in the league.
Of course these markers don’t tell the whole story. Smith wouldn’t blame the injury bug, but the Falcons have burgeoning superstar receiver Julio Jones, left tackle Sam Baker and starting defensive end Kroy Biermann on injured reserve. Atlanta has also lost six games by seven points or less, including a one-point defeat at the hands of Green Bay last week.
The Redskins rank second in the NFL in rushing, but have had trouble turning those yards into points. On Monday, before he discussed deactivating Robert Griffin III and starting Kirk Cousins in his place, Mike Shanahan talked about the deciding factor in contest between two struggling teams.
“They’re going through a tough time, too,” Shanahan said.
“The team that can actually focus on the job at hand has got a chance to do something special, and hopefully that’s us.”
Related: Jim Haslett on Atlanta’s offensive weapons
Tags: Falcons, mike shanahan, Mike Smith, Redsksins
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