The Atlanta Falcons are 3-0 and it feels so good as fans to see our team playing so darn well. Some in the media and others around the league tried to downplay the significance of the Falcons good start by saying the Chiefs win was way overrated after their week 2 performance and that the Birds big Monday Night win was more of a product of Peyton Manning’s errors than the Falcons fine play. Well, it’s hard to keep that line going when they are only one of 3 remaning teams that are unbeaten and they traveled out to the west coast and utterly dominated another of the only remaining undefeated teams. Yes, it’s early, but the Falcons are looking as good as they ever have and must be considered one of the best teams, at least for now. A look at the big road win……….
Last week it was William Moore’s turn for a huge night and this week it was Thomas DeCoud’s turn. Some fans wondered if DeCoud would even be re-signed as he was set to become a free agent this past offseason as he’d floundered somewhat after a great start in 2009. Those worries are no more. Many wanted to see him in a more aggressive system with a more experienced coordinator and the dividends are paying big time right about now. DeCoud was all over the field, pulling down two interceptions (one being an amazingly acrobatic pick) and recovering a fumble. Some thought 2010 would be the year DeCoud was primed for a Pro Bowl season, but it turns out that this may it if he keeps up his pick parade.
Michael Turner notched 80 yards, a touchdown, and looked much, much better overall. Maybe the offensive line was blocking better, maybe he was running harder, maybe the passing game opened up him some holes, but it was also a very nice mix and balance of carries in the RB backfield. Turner still got most of the carries at 14, but Jacquizz Rodgers also got 10 carries as well. The Falcons coaching staff said they planned on cutting back Turner’s workload, while also giving younger guys like Rodgers more chances. It’s a win-win across the board. The running game is less predictable and you truly get more of a complementary rushing attack. Rodgers numbers weren’t eye-popping, but it does offer a more diverse running scheme and also gives Turner a chance to rest more. Combined, the two went well over 100 yards rushing, with 150 total yards when you throw in Rodger’s receiving yards. One of the questions posed in the offseason here in The Cage was what percentage do you foresee the running back touches being? In perhaps the Falcons most impressive win to date, the breakdown was Turner 58% and Rodgers 42%. Not bad.
It’s already been covered many times this year so far, going all the way back to preseason, but Matt Ryan is taking that next step right before our eyes. He’s currently ranked as the highest rated QB in the NFL according to quarterback rating. He’s passed for almost 800 yards, 8 touchdowns, 1 interception, completed 72% of all his passes, and has even rushed for almost 50 yards and 1 TD. Beyond all the numbers, Ryan is sharp, accurate, and above all, supremely confident in his play this year. He is directing drives with ease, keeping plays alive, and simply getting it done. Some are even throwing around some MVP talk. It’s way too early, but that’s not out of the realm if he keeps up his torrid pace.
Everyone expected Spoon to be fantastic as he is of course, but the big surprise this year has been Stephen Nicholas and the overall excellence of the linebacking corps. Weatherspoon and Nicholas have been outstanding in coverage, rushing the passer, forcing fumbles, and making sure tackles. Akeem Dent hasn’t been included very much in Nolan’s nickel-heavy scheme, but he’s been a good run stopper and is progressing in pass coverage. One thing that always seemed to lack in past Falcons defenses was making plays from the LB position. That’s a problem no longer. Nicholas has 27 tackles, 2 passes defensed, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble. Spoon’s got 22 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 2 passes defensed, and 1 sack. Even though it’s a touch on the thin side relating to depth, this linebacker corps is looking like one of the best.
This Falcons defense is looking spectacular so far this season and has fans as excited as they’ve ever been. Mike Nolan has inspired this defense to be one of the most opportunistic in the NFL so far. Even though it’s still very early, the Falcons are ranked 1st in the NFL in interceptions and tied for second in forced fumbles. It’s not surprise the Falcons are 3-0 with a takeaway margin of +10 (11 takeaways, 1 interception). The Birds aren’t the highest in sacks right now, but the pressure has been there and that’s a main reason for many of the turnovers, not to mention they’ve played two of the best quarterbacks in the league in back-to-back weeks. The Falcons probably won’t or can’t keep up this pace, but it’s safe to say there’s a dramatic difference from the last few years on defense.
It was a tough week for Turner. It’s been a slow start for the Pro Bowl running back and of course the news only got worse when he got a DUI only a few short hours after the Monday Night Football game. Many (including this author on many occasions) have called for Turner to see his workload cut down and regardless of the reasons or excuses, the facts were that he simply wasn’t producing. Whether it be the lack of OL blocking, him not hitting the hole as hard, defenses keying in on him more, or him just slowing down hitting the 30 year old wall, Turner just hasn’t been effective to date. That changed a little on Sunday vs. his old team. The former Charger ran tough and hard and made some decisive runs, including a nice touchdown run. Even though many have called for Turner’s workload to decrease, very few feel that he doesn’t have some role in this offense and getting a 60-40% split with either Rodgers or Snelling will only help him in terms of endurance through the long season and doing what he does best.
Fans are finally seeing all the Falcons weapons utilized pretty close to full capability. The idea was always that it would be next to impossible to stop all the offensive talent the Falcons possess. Dirk Koetter and Matt Ryan are doing a great job of spreading the targets around. Ryan threw to 8 different receivers on Sunday, including 3 wide receivers, 2 tight ends, and 3 running backs. Everyone’s getting involved in the offensive explosion and there’s even more talent if they want including Kevin Cone, Drew Davis, and Antone Smith. It’s a great feeling as a Falcon fan finally seeing the offensive distribution come to fruition.
The debate has raged this week in The Cage over the idea and philosophy known as “SmittyBall.” It’s been a constant worry in the back of fans heads that even with all the talent for an aggressive team at his disposal, Head Coach Mike Smith may decide to go back more in the direction of Mike Mularkey’s slow and methodical ball-control type of offense (there’s no hint to conservatism to the new defense). Some felt that Smith came close to costing the Birds the game against the Broncos when they went hyper-conservative after building a big lead. Others had no problem with the pulling back of the reigns when you’ve got a good lead heading into the 4th quarter. They have an argument because Smith was 33-1 (now 34-1) when he has a lead heading into the fourth quarter.
So in terms of all the criticism that’s been heaped on Smith and his conservative nature at times, including the SmittyBall references from right here in The Cage and this author, he gets enormous credit not only for his outstanding record when getting a late lead, but also for keeping the acceleration on in San Diego. It was 20-3 and the Falcons had just gotten the ball back near the goalline. Many would’ve settled for 3 straight runs and kicking a field goal. A bad play call ensued and Matt Ryan threw his first interception of the season. Some fans were upset at the aggressive nature and others were just upset with the play-call. For all the criticism Smith, here’s a massive amount of praise for the intent of the play-call. Many fans have wanted Smith to show a more aggressive nature and a killer instinct and that’s exactly what he was doing. The defense has been dominating and it’s a chance to end the game. An interception there was as good as a punt and the Falcons defense were never really threatened since the 1st quarter. Sure enough, the defense got the ball back and the Birds marched right back down field to score the TD on the ground. Kudos again for trying to get that long sought killer instinct.
The cornerbacks are not only covering well and having an excellent year so far, but they are really bringing the wood. Dunta Robinson has always been known for a hard hitting CB, but now he’s been joined by Asante Samuel who has shown several times he’s still got plenty of pop left. This defense is not just about takeaways, but also about a hard-hitting attitude that has led to excellence on defense.
The Falcons have one of the best safety tandems in the NFL, at least right now. In consecutive weeks, William Moore and Thomas DeCoud are showing the NFL that they should be considered as one of the best. They are tough, hard-charging, and ball-hawking safeties that are taking full advantage of Mike Nolan’s new system and the sky’s the limit for this young duo.
1) Simple: How happy are you as a Falcons fan right now?
2) Are DeCoud and Moore the best safety tandem in the NFL right now?
3) Your thoughts on the run balance?
4) Is Matt Ryan entering MVP territory?
5) How good is this linebacker corps?
6) Is the Takeaway Defense due for a slowdown?
7) Are Koetter and Ryan taking full advantage of the offensive arsenal?
8.) Are you worried about a trap coming soon?
9) How about that Smitty Gas Pedal?
10) Love or hate the aggressive play-call intent that resulted in interception?