Falcons jump out to commanding NFC South lead

Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham helps knock the ball loose as Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton fumbles in the final minutes of the game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sunday , Sept. 30, 2012. The Panthers recovered the fumble but punted it away on fourth down allowing the Falcons to drive for the game winning field goal. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham helps knock the ball loose as Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton fumbles in the final minutes of the game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sunday , Sept. 30, 2012. The Panthers recovered the fumble but punted it away on fourth down allowing the Falcons to drive for the game winning field goal. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons coach Mike Smith stole a page out his brother-in-law’s coaching book back from his days as an assistant in Baltimore.

Smith, in a ploy to keep his team focused on short-term goals, breaks the season up in to quarters when discussing the outlook with the players, who had Monday and Tuesday off.

He admits to borrowing the approach from Brian Billick (the two are married to sisters), his old boss with the Ravens.

“Guys are going to look ahead. It’s just human nature to look ahead, but you want to have it where they don’t get too far ahead of themselves,” Smith said. “By breaking it up by quarters gives you emphasis points.”

VIDEO: Cam Newton blames himself for loss to the Falcons

The Falcons (4-0) went undefeated in the first quarter and are one of three undefeated teams remaining in the league with Houston and Arizona.

“We’ve started out fast, but it’s just a start,” Smith said. “The guys have worked hard. When we meet on Wednesday, the thing we’ll be talking about is the start of the second quarter of the season. The first quarter is behind us and we are moving on to the next mission.”

So far, so good. The Falcons have a four-game lead over the defending NFC South champion New Orleans Saints (0-4) and a three-game lead over Tampa Bay (1-3) and Carolina (1-3).

“I’m aware it, but I don’t pay attention to it,” Smith said. “This early in the season, you’ve got to concern yourself with your team. You don’t even think about what’s going on with the other teams until you’re getting ready to play them. So I’m familiar with what Washington did yesterday [a two-point win over Tampa Bay].”

VIDEO: Matt Ryan discusses comeback win over Panthers

The Falcons have opened the season 4-0 just twice before in franchise history, in 2004 and 1986. The Falcons have never opened a NFL season at 5-0 since opening play in 1966.

Before the start of the first quarter, the Falcons concentrated on the fact that they were facing three AFC West teams before closing it out with division foe Carolina.

Looking ahead to the second quarter, the Falcons will begin their tour of the NFC East (Washington on Sunday, at Philadelphia on Oct. 28 and Dallas on Nov. 4) and also play their last AFC West (Oakland on Oct. 14) team before getting into the meat of their division schedule in the second half of the season.

“You’ve got to have focus on the task at hand first and foremost,” Smith said. “That’s the next game, but it’s always important for you to have some vision down the road. I don’t want you to get too far down the road, but I think you can put an emphasis on it.”

VIDEO: Breaking down the 30-28 win over the Panthers

The Falcons have some fabulous take-aways from the first quarter.

Both of the new coordinators have installed massive tweaks to schemes that are working.

Offensively, the team has been able to attack via the air while spreading the ball around. Also, the screen game has paid dividends under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.

The pass protection had been stout until the Panthers romped around the Georgia Dome, amassing seven sacks and 12 quarterback hits on Sunday.

But Smith is not placing all of the blame on the offensive line.

Smith and wide receiver Roddy White pointed out that receivers were not breaking off routes in some blitz situations and that forced quarterback Matt Ryan to hold the ball longer than the play required. Also, Carolina appeared to sit on some of Ryan’s favorite routes.

“There are a lot of factors that go into protecting the quarterback,” Smith said. “We gave up way too many sacks in the game, but they weren’t all on the offensive line. I can assure you that. It was an effort that everybody was a part of. … We’ve got to shore up our pass protection.”

The Falcons have run the football better the last two games (240 yards in 45 attempts) after struggling against Kansas City and Denver.

“It was an impressive job with the run-blocking,” said Smith of the Carolina game. “The guys did a nice job. We got Michael [Turner] going north and south. He did a great job on yards after contact.”

Defensively, the Falcons have played an opportunistic brand of football that has led to an 12-to-2 turnover ratio.

The unit 29th against the run (146.2 yards per game), ninth against the pass (206.8 yards) and it has forced the opposing quarterbacks into a passer rating of 68.7, which is fifth lowest in the NFL.

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120 comments Add your comment

Nobis 60

October 2nd, 2012
7:05 am

J-Man Falcon Fan

October 2nd, 2012
7:06 am

First again! Go Birds!

Nobis 60

October 2nd, 2012
7:07 am

Been a fan since 66 and (for the first time since 1980) i feel like this team can go all the way.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

October 2nd, 2012
7:15 am

Good morning Mr. Nobis 60!

robertussen

October 2nd, 2012
7:22 am

we are 29th against the run, 4th from the last team in the league not 4th overall. we do, however have the 15th ranked defense overall which is not so bad. the turnover ratio has kept us looking great on defense though.

shipdit

October 2nd, 2012
7:23 am

Great way to look at the season: in quarters. Washington will be a tough game on their field, but I believe this team will fix the mistakes from last Sunday. It is so refreshing to see our defense running an NFL/grown men style scheme. Thank you Mike Nolan! One negative: Julio’s hand injury is obviously more bothersome than first thought – he’s still dropping passes.

old man

October 2nd, 2012
7:27 am

Good morning Tommy. Good morning D-Led.

I notice that ATL is second in the league in 3rd down conversion percentage, and has the fewest penalties of any team in the league. And I’m guessing we are number one in turnover margin. This tells me that we have some very good coaching that has 11 guys with complete focus 100% of the time, all playing smart football. If anyone was underestimating the difference a Coordinator can make, maybe you shouldn’t.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

October 2nd, 2012
7:30 am

shipdit — Nice post. I think you are right about Julio.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

October 2nd, 2012
7:35 am

robertussen — You are correct. 29th. Read the matrix backwards. But the turnovers are helping the ranking a great deal.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

October 2nd, 2012
7:37 am

old man — Good points. Winning more on third down was an offseason focus. Also, keeping penalties down is key.

Steve

October 2nd, 2012
7:45 am

I’m not ready to say all the way yet but there seems to be something very special about this team.

True Falcon Fan

October 2nd, 2012
8:06 am

Dled – What happened to JJ, i know the hand injury happened during the first play of the Charger game?? It looked like he severely jambed the first two figures on left hand?

Thanks

Go Falcons – Pesky Redskins next

D. Orlando Ledbetter

October 2nd, 2012
8:08 am

True Falcon Fan — One radio report said it was a laceration. Team is just calling it a hand. A laceration would have required stitches I’m told.

True Falcon Fan

October 2nd, 2012
8:10 am

Rico

October 2nd, 2012
8:26 am

Yeah, who said Matt Ryan cannot throw the DEEP-BALL. Where all the falcons haters now!

zorro

October 2nd, 2012
8:43 am

Let just say for the record that RGlll will get hurt this Sunday if he start running the football. Coach Nolan will show him so many blitz packages he will make some mistakes in his growth in the NFL. All first year QB’s do and he will put the ball up for grabs. live action!!

Jasmin

October 2nd, 2012
8:44 am

RG2 or 3 or whatever they callin him is going to come with gunz blazin. I know we will be ready & last weeks game has showed us where we need to improve. Tough game yet again, but I predict 5-0

zorro

October 2nd, 2012
8:46 am

I should have said MOST 1st year QB’s.

Dazzy G

October 2nd, 2012
8:52 am

RG3 is smaller and faster than Cam Newton. I anticipate lots of QB options and draws. I wonder if Nolan will deploy the “roving QB spy” this week?

Chris

October 2nd, 2012
8:53 am

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Judge Smails

October 2nd, 2012
8:56 am

It was good to see 33 get turned on last week. For this team to continue in this manner, he will need to eat some yards and clock.

Go Falcons!

Thomas

October 2nd, 2012
9:03 am

Well all of that is true no doubt. the falcons are one of the best this year. better than they been in a long time. i perdict 5 wins straight. but to get there we need to buckle down on more stuff and catch them with our defence on there short passes. thats were there mostly getting us right now. if we can change that up a little we will be a force to be recon with. which dont get me wrong we already are. but we can be stronger. and give them a reason to call us THE DIRTY BIRDS. cause they will have dirt all over them. and not just cause our old reasons. yall know what im talking about.

Dirt Nap

October 2nd, 2012
9:24 am

Skins are 26th in total D, should be a huge day for the Falcons!
Birds trail only the Bears in takeaways with 12, what a difference
Nolan has made this year!

Grape Nuts are neither grapes or nuts

October 2nd, 2012
9:36 am

Celebrate while you can FAILCANTS

October 2nd, 2012
9:38 am

No SB ring, no playoff wins…perennial losers…fact…truth hurts…so sorry..

GATiger

October 2nd, 2012
9:53 am

There’s a story on espn.com reporting that, after Bryant’s winning FG, Matt Ryan yelled in the direction of the Panthers’ bench, “get the f&%$ off our field”. I didn’t know Matty Ice had that kind of passion in him. Doesn’t that just get you pumped?

RobbE33

October 2nd, 2012
9:57 am

I’m encouraged by the schemes of the new coordinators and am hopeful they will continue to evolve their plans as their opponents counter. The Falcons are bound to have a few hiccups along the way, let’s hope the players remain hungry, focused and smart for the long haul. Thank you, Arthur Blank!

AS

October 2nd, 2012
10:04 am

Raider= AFC West; not NFC West

Frankie

October 2nd, 2012
10:08 am

it was pretty good game…seems like a lot of the games this weekend were of either comeback nature or hold on nature….includin UGA and some other college teams.

Turner needs to do well against this defense that has lost it best two defensive players.

They should be able to have a good passing game but RG3 will make them really work….better place a spy on him

Damage Inc.

October 2nd, 2012
10:10 am

Go away CHOKE ^^^^^ no one wants you here

Damage Inc.

October 2nd, 2012
10:14 am

It seems to me that Nolans plan was not to try to blitz Cam too much. I don’t think he wanted him running around in the open field all day playing to his strength. All the scheming will come when we play the more cerebral pocket passers. You know what they say though… opinions are like MCR’s.

Shotyme

October 2nd, 2012
10:19 am

Only one Aints fan so far.

Michael M.

October 2nd, 2012
10:25 am

I can’t remember back when the NFC South Division was so lopsided as it is right now……………….It is all good though……………………………Seems like past years we had to fight with the others in it to either stay close to first or to stay out in front by a game in first………………………Falcons need to keep it the way it is now and really pour it on the Skins Sunday and make it 5 – 0 ………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Jealous

October 2nd, 2012
10:30 am

@Celebrate while you can FAILCANTS, hello SeenThisB4, you can’t hide the stench of LOSER, you reek of it !!!!

Knock ,knock
Who Dat ?
Owen
Owen who ?
Owen Four

Michael M.

October 2nd, 2012
10:41 am

Just think about……………..Falcons have won twice as many games already as the other three losers (teams) in the Division…………………that is three football Teams.and with the commanding lead they have, sure don’t have to look over their shoulders………all they have to worry with is preparation and focusing on the next opponent………………………………….” Focus “………thats what it is all about…………………………

Cejay

October 2nd, 2012
10:45 am

Celebrate while you can FAILCANTS

October 2nd, 2012
9:38 am
No SB ring, no playoff wins…perennial losers…fact…truth hurts…so sorry..

————————————————————————-
Perennial losers ?? Coming from a team (aint’s) that invented the paper bag of shame, took 38 years to win their first playoff, has NEVER won a home plaoyoff game in 45 years, has a * SB “feel sorry for them ” win and any success in winning has come in the last 8 out of 45 years ……..now that, my friend is a prennial loser and quite pathtic team to be calling another team a loser…..

[...] to Original Content From Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog): read more Related Articles Share About Author [...]

Cejay

October 2nd, 2012
10:50 am

Now thats funny !! Post of the day Jealous !!

Knock, knock
Who Dat ?
Owen
Owen who ?
Owen Four

Gatorzone

October 2nd, 2012
10:50 am

I can’t wait to see Meangelo get burnt to a crisp this weekend!!! LOL, Roddy, needs to put it on him!!!!

Michael M.

October 2nd, 2012
10:53 am

0 – 4 Caints have to take on the 3 – 1 chargers this week, the1- 3 Mucs get the 1- 3 chiefs, 1 – 3 Pansies get the 2-2 Seahawks………………………hehehehe

Singletary

October 2nd, 2012
11:03 am

We need to stay healthy. We need to continue to have radical thoughts about making adjustments at half time. We need to war-game mobile QB’s vs. pocket passers. We need to bring the amoeba D back as well as the no-huddle (which relies on this ref system.) Did I leave anything out? Oh, yeah, we need to take extra pleasure out of Division wins, no matter how painful.

Farcus

October 2nd, 2012
11:03 am

Any aints fans talking smack on a winners blog is drinking the water from Lake Ponchatrain. Either way, you are ignorant losers. Keep living in the past and maybe this year will be forgotten.

Mike Smith

October 2nd, 2012
11:09 am

I apologize for being an A$$ at the end of the game. However, Arthur Blank, you are next if you don’t leave me the HE!! alone during the game.

BenNewt

October 2nd, 2012
11:10 am

@Celebrate while you can FAILCANTS….HAHAHA I seee what you did there how clever putting Fail & Cant in our name….you FAINT fans are hilarious….uuuhh ooohh you see what I did there I exchanged the S to an F because i’m sure after your epic 0-4 start to the season your fanbase has either fainted or switched teams….. who dat we dat RISE UP FAINTS!!!!

GregKennesaw

October 2nd, 2012
11:20 am

yeah 4-0 is over rated,

GregKennesaw

October 2nd, 2012
11:22 am

being 1 of 3 undefeated teams is “over rated”

Touchdown

October 2nd, 2012
11:22 am

When Julio can’t catch, pass to Mike. That makes sense. It always takes a team. Can’t wait to see what other surprises the offense might spring on unsuspecting defenses. Save some for our division opponents.

Michael M.

October 2nd, 2012
11:23 am

Will the Caints beat the Chargers this week ? = with that sorry defense that can’t tackle…………nope !
Will Superman shine against the Seahawks ? = sorry boys, they got some kryto in their sleeves………nope !
Will Josh win one against the little cheifs this week ? = mmmmm…………..I think they go 2 – 3……………….yes !

………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Will the Falcons stay undefeated against the Skins ?……………………..yup!

ctfalconsfan

October 2nd, 2012
11:25 am

Regarding Julio’s hand, he caught that one deep ball along the sideline just fine but he should know by now that he is going to have to drag that last foot inbounds..

Michael M.

October 2nd, 2012
11:25 am

it won’t work imposter……………laughin