Five games into the season, the Falcons (5-0) already have a 3½ game lead over Tampa Bay (1-3) and a four-game lead over New Orleans (`-4) and Carolina (1-4). They also are one of only two unbeaten teams in the NFL and lead the race for home field advantage through the NFC playoffs.
What does this all mean? Well, not quite nothing. But not nearly everything.
It’s only October, and as impressive as the Falcons have been in many areas — particularly pass offense, pass protection and to so me degree pass defense — they weren’t great in consecutive come-from-behind wins over Carolina and Washington. The biggest issues remain the running game and run defense, which also happen to be the two factors (along with quarterback play) that generally separate the Super Bowl contenders from the also-rans in December and January.
Today’s game against Oakland seems to set up perfectly. The Raiders (1-3) aren’t very good, they can’t run the ball (32nd) and their secondary is horrible. The Falcons also know they have a bye week after today, before going into a potentially difficult three-game stretch (at Philadelphia, home against Dallas, at New Orleans).
Matt Ryan should be able to throw the ball against this team. But at some point, the Falcons need to get their running game on track. Michael Turner had a 13-yard touchdown run in last week’s win at Washington but generally he has struggled this season behind a weak-blocking line.
Just a few bullet points and then I’ll open up the phone lines.
• Linebacker Stephen Nicholas (ankle) and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (groin) were both limited in practice this week but are in the lineup.
• Falcons coach Mike Smith (48-21) can tie Dan Reeves (49-59-1) as the winningest coach in franchise history in only his fifth season.
• Tight end Tony Gonzalez needs one touchdown catch to hit 100 in his career. He has four already this season — previous season totals with the Falcons: 6, 6 and 7 — and had 13 receptions for 123 yards and a TD at Washington.
That’s it for now. The cyber-venting lines are open. I’ll be here if you have any questions.
By Jeff Schultz
Earlier blogs from the digital jukebox