When a team like the Falcons reach the midway point and the biggest question about them is why they don’t get more respect, then you’re having a pretty good season.
It’s difficult to get off to an 8-0 start and still fly under the radar, but still, teams like Green Bay, Chicago and the 49ers get brought up as the best in the NFC before the Falcons do. Some point to their schedule that most view as light while others conclude that a few of their close victories have been against mediocre teams. But however you slice it, they’re undefeated and headed for a pretty good review from me at the halfway point of the 2012 season.
I’ve said it so many times that you can probably repeat it with me by now, but the biggest offseason move for the Falcons was letting Mike Mularkey go as offensive coordinator. I say this because trying to make an offense with playmakers like Roddy White, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones into a power running team was a hard-headed thing to do. After the first eight weeks, it’s easy to conclude that I was right in this assumption.
So far, Atlanta is running the 8th best offense in the league by putting up 377 yards and 28 points per game. They’re doing it with a pretty balanced attack, too. Yes, they’re throwing the ball a lot more this season, but they haven’t forgotten how valuable running back Michael Turner is to their overall scheme. Combined with Jacquizz Rodgers, the running duo has gained 654 yards and 5 touchdowns. This, allowing Matt Ryan to do what he’s been doing.
What has Matt Ryan been doing, exactly? Well, only generating talk about being league MVP this season. With a sizzling rating of 103.0, Ryan has been clutch in tight situations and had benefitted from having the passing game opened up more for him in 2012. He’s close to averaging 300 yards and 2 touchdowns throwing the ball this year. He’s on track to set career highs in almost every statistical category and shows no signs of slowing down. I think it’s safe to say he’s arrived.
When cornerback Brent Grimes went down with a season-ending surgery early in the season, I figured the Falcons were going to have to win some shootouts. What I didn’t figure was that they’d hold steady and hold their opponents to just 19 points per game.
A big reason for the success is a legitimate pass rush. They’ve already tallied 20 sacks on the season and have turned the ball over 17 times. Overall, the team is sitting at a sharp plus 10 in the turnover battle, but back to that pass rush. A big reason for the success goes to John Abraham, who many declared “washed up” or too old to continue to be effective, yet here he is on pace for another 14 or 15 sack season.
If this unit has a real weakness, it has been against the run, in which Atlanta is allowing 128 yards per game. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is having a pro bowl type year, but he can’t do it all on his own. The safeties are still compiling too high of numbers in tackles, the first indicator of a team struggling to stop the run.
A “bend, but don’t break” defense is about the best defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could have asked for up to this point. But it’s doing more than enough to support the explosive offense.
How can you really have much bad to say about a team that is the only undefeated left in the league? Mike Smith has completely changed the culture in Atlanta. Before he arrived, the franchise had never posted back-to-back winning seasons. Now, he’s leading them to their fifth consecutive finish above the .500 mark. The guy gets far too little credit for what he’s overseen in the ATL, in my opinion.
For those calling Atlanta frauds, I remember people doing the same to New England in 2001 when the won 8 of their last 9 games against “weak” teams and proceeded to win the whole thing. I’m not saying the Atlanta Falcons are the next New England Patriots…but I’m not saying they’re not.
Filed under: Atlanta Falcons
Tagged with: Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, John Abraham, Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Mike Nolan, Mike Smith, New England Patriots, NFC, NFC South, Roddy White, San Francisco 49ers, Sean Weatherspoon