Atlanta Falcons Perched Comfortably Atop The NFC South
I’m still reeling from the amazing finish to the Falcons/Panthers game on Sunday. With mere seconds left and all the way at their own 2 yard line, the Falcons, or shall I say Matt Ryan and Roddy White with a little help from Matt Bryant’s leg, pulled off the kind of thing that makes last year’s non-scoring playoff appearance seem like decades ago. This is not the team from last year. The DC and OC are different, the mindset is different, and the leadership and effort from the QB is vastly different as well.
While I was marveling at what an on-field leader the Baltimore Ravens Joe Flacco has become, Matt Ryan was busy blossoming as well. Both quarterbacks’ confidence has led to more consistent play on offense for both teams. Ryan has an added advantage of a future Hall of Fame Tight End and what I believe to be the best Wide Receiver combo in the league right now (and yes, I’ve heard of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz).
And thus far it shows.
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My biggest worry for the Falcons coming into this season was Ryan’s arm and the defense’s lack of identity. I was worried about whether Koetter would insist Ryan throw too much and too far. I knew that adding Mike Nolan was a great thing for the defense but I didn’t think they’d fix gaping issues like coverage in the secondary quite so fast.
Like any team, the Falcons still have room for improvement. The front four could pressure more. The offensive line could be more consistent. But schematically the Falcons have found ways to conceal Ray Edwards’ uselessness, Ryan’s occasional breakdowns on long throws and severe lapses in communication among secondary players. But more importantly, they’ve shown a will to win and the ability to make in-game adjustments.
Every team has their achilles heel. That thing that rival fans always bring up to discount progress thus far. For the Falcons it is not being able to make it past the first round of the playoffs despite 4 consecutive appearances. Looking at this current 4-0 team it’s hard to fathom having the same kinds of play calling and mental breakdowns that occurred last year.
Ryan is spreading the ball and the plays are a good mix of longer and shorter passes. I think Ryan was absolutely correct to study Drew Brees’ and his use of checkdowns to bolster the offense. Some may see checkdowns and screen passes as signs that an offense isn’t ready for primetime. But in a league where defenses are fast getting to the ball, banking lots of YAC should be a goal of receivers whether the play happens 46 yards out or 5-8. In my view, using the checkdown approach isn’t all that different from having a standard hot read. Either way the QB has to make the throw–a throw that often happens in traffic and to guys who may not always catch on the run– and the defense has to respond.
I’m looking forward to seeing what the Falcons can do against the Redskins studly defense. Granted, the Skins are down both Carriker and Orakpo increasing the likelihood that Ryan will have time to throw and Michael Turner will get some ground yards in. But this year the Skins have been one of the best teams at altering their approach based on circumstances. I expect the Falcons to pull away at the end and win a mostly close game.
If you missed it, check out Ryan’s 59 yard pass to Roddy White here. It made NFL films top 5 play list this week.