The Atlanta Falcons entered the 2018 with the expectation of contending for not only the division crown, but the NFC title.
A 1-3 start isn't the best way to approach that.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank knows this and isn't bashful about his feelings concerning his last-place team, especially after a crushing defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4.
"Well, I am concerned about a 1-3 start," Blank told ESPN on Tuesday. "I don't know anyone who would say that's where we had planned on being or that's where we had hoped to be, but we are 1-3."
Facts are facts, but if there's a silver lining, each of Atlanta's losses has been by one score or less. The optimist views that as a Falcons team that just keeps getting bad breaks. But a pessimist (or maybe a realist) sees a team that can't win close games.
Back to the positives: After struggling to cobble together just 12 points in Week 1, the Falcons have put up 31 or more points in each of their last three games, thanks to the league's No. 7 passing offense. The downside is, of course, the defense not holding up its end of the bargain. Atlanta is 28th in the league in total yards allowed per game at 403.
Much of that is due to three key injuries sustained early in the season: Keanu Neal (ACL, out for year), Deion Jones (foot surgery, out until at least Week 11) and Ricardo Allen (Achilles, out for year).
"This is not excuses, but reality is reality," Blank said of the injuries. "We've had some very difficult injuries to really good players. All three of the players, people talk in baseball when the middle has to be good: your catch, your pitcher, your second baseman, and then the center fielder. So when you lose Allen and Neal and Deion Jones, those are kind of the middle of that defense. So that hurts.
"And all three of those guys are really good communicators. They not only play at a very high level in their own right, but they get everybody else in the right positions. They make everybody else better."
Up next for the Falcons is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are seventh in the league in yards per game (411), but limped to an ugly finish on Sunday night in a 26-14 loss to Baltimore. Pittsburgh's offense has been difficult to predict in an up-and-down first four weeks. Many in the Steel City are concerned by the unit's relatively slow start, considering its talent. Most would expect another shootout for the Falcons -- perhaps one they could win -- but that isn't a winning formula in the long run.
Blank knows this and expects better from those remaining on his team's defense.
"We have plenty of talent on defense to play well," Blank said. "It's trying to put people in the positions where they can maximize their strengths and not expose any lack of experience that they may have. And that's what the coaches are in the process of doing."