The Falcons are 6-0, but certain other numbers don’t add up

Mike Smith and VP of Communications Reggie Roberts leave to check the stats. (AP photo)

Mike Smith and Falcons VP of communications Reggie Roberts exit to check the stats. (AP photo)

There’s only one unbeaten NFL team, and it’s based in Flowery Branch. And we know, courtesy of Bill Parcells, that in the NFL you’re as good as your record says you are, which would suggest that the Falcons are flat-out great. But here’s where we run the numbers, and numbers, as we also know, can be pesky things.

The biggest number, duh, is 6-0. The Falcons have never been undefeated this deep into a season in their previous 46 years of doing business. But here’s another number: 11-21. That’s the combined record of the six teams the Falcons have beaten. Of those six, only San Diego is above .500. (And the 3-2 Chargers play Denver on Monday night.) This wasn’t entirely unexpected. The Falcons’ schedule always seemed tougher on the far side of the bye week. To look again, however, is to wonder.

We all thought Philadelphia and Dallas and New Orleans — the Falcons’ next three opponents — would be stout. The Eagles are 3-3, the Cowboys 2-3, the Saints 1-4. Check now and you’ll see that the Falcons are scheduled to play only two more games against teams that currently hold a winning record, and both of those games (against the Cardinals and the Giants) will be played here.

Yes, this is all subject to sudden change. Nobody expects the Saints to finish 4-12, and nobody expects Philly and Dallas and Detroit to sputter forever. But the 6-0 Falcons could stand a test, and it might be a while before another arrives.

Why does a 6-0 team require testing? Because, if you check the stats, the Falcons don’t look 6-0 good. They look, on paper if not on the field, not quite as imposing the 10-6 Falcons of last season.

The 2012 Falcons rank 15th in total offense, down from 10th in 2011. This team is 21st in total defense, down from 12th last season. A year ago they were eighth in passing, 17th in rushing; this year they’re 10th and 25th. Last season they were 20th in passing defense, sixth in rushing defense; these Birds are 11th and 27th. For those keeping score, the 2012 Falcons have improved over 2011 in exactly one of those six major categories.

Figure Filberts insist the most important football stat is Yards Per Pass Attempt. The Falcons have improved from 7.3 YPA to 7.4 on offense, while opponents’ YPA has risen from 7.2 to 7.6. (The offensive number ranks 15th in the league, the defensive one 21st.) On the bright side, the Falcons have improved their third-down conversion percentage all the way around: The defense ranks 21st this year, up from 28th in 2011; the offense ranks fifth, up from sixth.

If you’re looking for numbers to support 6-0, start here: The Falcons are tied with New England for the NFL lead in turnover margin, and they’ve been called for the fewest penalties of any team. (They were fifth and 10th last season.) New coordinators Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan haven’t had a transforming effect on the yardage-based stats, but the impression — and it’s borne out by these key indices — is of a better-coached team. More concrete indicators: The Falcons are scoring 3.4 more points and yielding 3.1 fewer points than they did under 2011 management.

Here we pause for an emphatic disclaimer, offered by Richard Seymour, the Oakland defensive tackle who was once a New England Patriot (and before that a Georgia Bulldog). After the Raiders outgained the Falcons 474 yards to 286 but lost 23-20, Seymour told reporters: “I’ve done a lot of different things in my career in wins where statistically it all doesn’t line up. But stats are for losers. If you want to pay attention to statistics, go ahead. The only stat that matters is wins and losses.”

That’s true. Also true is this: The 11-5 Falcons of 2008 were beaten in the playoffs by the 9-7 Cardinals; the 13-3 Falcons of 2010 were upset in the playoffs by the 10-6 Packers, and the 10-6 Falcons of 2011 were undone by the 9-7 Giants. So sometimes you aren’t quite what your record says you are.

And what does this team’s architect say? This was general manager Thomas Dimitroff, speaking Monday morning: “We’re an evolving team that is 6-0. We’re a team that has shown a lot of resilience, and that’s an indication that we’ve matured.”

It is. The nice thing about winning all the time is that it becomes second nature. At winning, these Falcons are batting 1.000.

Further reading: This week’s Heat Check, with the Falcons chief among our local hotties.

By Mark Bradley

119 comments Add your comment

[...] Further reading: The Falcons are 6-0, but certain other numbers don’t add up. [...]

Not Disappointed

October 15th, 2012
2:39 pm

I will still take the 6 – 0!
Yes, we need to improve but we are still winning inspite of our mishaps!

tvradioguy

October 15th, 2012
2:40 pm

GOOD POINTS MARK!

tvradioguy

October 15th, 2012
2:41 pm

Philly, Dallas and New Orleans (the next three teams we play) will be the tell of the tape…

gtt

October 15th, 2012
2:49 pm

gtt

October 15th, 2012
2:50 pm

Yes! Sweet victory!

gtt

October 15th, 2012
2:55 pm

In all I’d rather the Falcons be an ‘85 Bears juggernaut than this year’s version of the Cardiac Kids.

BubbaDaBaller

October 15th, 2012
3:01 pm

At this stage the numbers do add up…every year is different in the NFL due to rule changes and trends. With the “pass first” wave hitting the beach ( and the Falcons ) what was indicative of success in 2010-2011 may not signal success in 2012…NFL has now become vulnerable to HGS (Hot Goalie Syndrome) for post season success and hopefully it’s the year that MR2 channels his inner Marty Brodeur…Enjoy the ride, don’t get caught up in the “undefeated” thing…

Nite Owl

October 15th, 2012
3:02 pm

It all comes down to the offensive and defensive lines. Are we going to let the Eagles, Cowboys, and Saints push us around? Is Matt going to have time to get big chunks in the passing game? Are we going to find a pass rush from someone besides Abe and the occasional monster push from Babineaux?

It seems that the strategy against our offense the past couple of weeks is to give us the underneath stuff and try to deny Roddy and Julio. If Matt wants to try and force it to Roddy and Julio, or hold the ball long enough to get them open, then we’re at greater risk for INTs and sacks. But if we dink and dunk, we face more 3rd downs and greater possibility of fizzling out halfway down the field.

On defense, we’ve been doing whatever it takes to win. We’ve been alternately great and awful—the best example being the pick six by Samuel and then being so gassed that Carson Palmer marches right down the field on the next drive. But they’ve been giving our offense just enough of a window to figure it out.

So are we going to attack the underneath stuff, like we did in Washington (13 catches for HOF TG), or try to force the issue like we did yesterday?

I have the feeling in extra week that we’ll figure it out.

And by the way, that one win we have against a winning team (San Diego) was total domination on the road. We just have to adjust to what the NFL defenses have done to adjust to our offense.

In the event that was Too Long, Didn’t Read: 6-0 baby! Now go block someone and give our playmakers a chance, and give our defense a rest!

Sonny Clusters

October 15th, 2012
3:08 pm

We read somewhere that Arthur Blank has hammer toes and that’s how he got introduced to the hardware business. One thing, when Arthur left Home Depot we was hoping they’d sell their hammers cheaper and instead they started selling cheaper hammers from China. Still, he seems to know what he is doing on the sidelines with the high 5’s and all the hugging and fanny patting almost like the Braves. How did that turn out?

Pamela

October 15th, 2012
3:10 pm

It’s just like I have ALWAYS said…it doesn’t matter how you START the season, but how you FINISH. Trust me the Falcons will NOT pass round 1 of the playoffs. They only did that once years, years, years ago when they went to the Superbowl and lost horribly.

Pamela

October 15th, 2012
3:12 pm

Matt Bryant saved the Falcons at EVERY game, NOT Matt Ryan! :)

Damage Inc.

October 15th, 2012
3:12 pm

Even if they lose half of the games they got left they would be 11-5. I don’t think anyone expects they’ll lose that many. Two of those mediocre teams that they played, and beat, were coming off a bye week. There are no gimmes in the NFL. Not to mention of the 23 losses their opponents have, 6 have come at the hands of Atlanta.

MIKE

October 15th, 2012
3:12 pm

well i say we need to get ready for the game ahead when we beat these 3 teams we will be ok

MIKE

October 15th, 2012
3:14 pm

its the luck of the seeding if u look at the pass years since 08 when we lost in first round the team that beat us has won superbowl or went so we cant be that bad @ PAMELA

ziggy

October 15th, 2012
3:20 pm

You forgot to mention the role fewer penalties has played in the 6-0 record! (At least it seems that way)

Ronald Millsaps

October 15th, 2012
3:21 pm

The Falcons are good, but indeed, certain numbers don’t add up. Ryan and his teammates appeared the take Oakland, an underrated team, lightly, and they almost didn’t pull the win out.

I’d still like to see more physicality on both lines of scrimmage and more zip from some of Ryan’s throws. I’d also like to see a stretch each game where the team runs the ball for about a dozen straight plays regardless of who’s in the backfield, exhibiting line dominance in the process…and if not for a dozen consecutive plays, a stretch of at least 80 percent runs.

I hope the team refrains from comments like, “We haven’t won anything yet.” They absolutely have; they’re 6-0 and are the only undefeated team in the league. As for never being satisfied, you can be satisfied in the moment—when deservedly so. Being satisfied after success and becoming complacent are not <—the same thing.

As for the Braves, we hear about how they have $25-$30 million available, but the number should be significantly higher. Chipper's contract alone frees up $14 million; Lowe's frees up $10 million; Hudson's frees up $9 million; Jair's frees up $6.5 million; Hinske and Sheets each free up $2 million; McCann frees up $12 million; Bourn frees up $8 million; Uggla might be traded, which adds another $12.5 million.

I'd re-sign Bourn, Hudson, and McCann, though I might <—-not pick up McCann's 2013 option and try again for 2014, as he might miss most of the season and might not be in position to sign over the next 12 months. Why Frank Wren hasn't tried signing Bourn this season bothers me and I think was a major distraction to our center fielder in the second half. I'd consider a package of Uggla and Hanson for an Evan Longoria or Chase Headley; I would not trade Uggla for Josh Willingham, Willingham's big year notwithstanding. Keep in mind also that Juan Francisco, if a season starter, probably cracks 24-30 homers out. He's another lefty; if we trade Uggla, we need another righty—like a Longoria or a Headley.

The chances of Nick Swisher becoming a Brave are very good. If Bourn leaves, I would make Jose Constanza the leadoff hitter, keep Heyward in right, put Swisher in left (if signed), and move Prado to third. I also don't see why the team is skeptical about re-signing Hinske, and I don't know why Lyle Overbay became Fredi's top option off the bench.

Damage Inc.

October 15th, 2012
3:22 pm

How’s your saints doing this year Pamela? At least they didn’t lose yesterday!

George Stein

October 15th, 2012
3:22 pm

Please. Stats aren’t for losers. They are for people who want to know whether the results are sustainable.

If you think there’s some mystical “knowing how to win” skill, go listen to Chris Dimino or some other pinhead on sports talk radio.

maxman

October 15th, 2012
3:26 pm

21st in denense, brian vangorder will probably be available soon, hey we were 12th last year

Ronald Millsaps

October 15th, 2012
3:27 pm

Ryan still made some fine plays; his using the sideline late in the game and realizing that short, quick gains could add up quickly was discerning.

I differ with the premise that success is solely about wins and losses. Remember when the Rams played the Titans on the same field? The Rams proved they could score a meager 23 points on turf in a dome against a great defense; The Titans showed tons of character in fighting back. Jeff Fisher might as well have been coaching the Rams that night because he made two huge <—————coaching errors. Thankfully, Eddie George demanded the football midway through the third quarter, which should've been the game plan all along. Note also that Marshall Faulk did not <———–show this boldness three Super Bowls later.

Ronald Millsaps

October 15th, 2012
3:27 pm

Ronald Millsaps

October 15th, 2012
3:28 pm

Nice; only one of two posts posted just then.

Ronald Millsaps

October 15th, 2012
3:30 pm

George, some statistics are more meaningful than others; the line of empirical statistics used arguably is not 1% of what it should be.

By the way, “sustainable” is a real red-flag term; it’s Marxist, one of many examples of the propaganda of our “educational” system.

George Stein

October 15th, 2012
3:35 pm

Of course some statistics are more meaningful than others, Richard. Yards per attempt is more meaningful than touchdown passes (which is a completely useless metric for evaluating QBs). I assumed that the statistics being analyzed were useful.

I really have no idea what the other part of your comment means.

George Stein

October 15th, 2012
3:36 pm

Sorry. I meant Ronald, not Richard.

Creaky

October 15th, 2012
3:39 pm

Enter your comments here

Ivan

October 15th, 2012
3:50 pm

Another stat……..

There are 31 teams in the NFL that wish they could trade their stats for the Falcons record.

Nite Owl

October 15th, 2012
3:52 pm

@Pamela:

I trust you implicitly. Past performance is an absolute guarantee of future success or failure.

I have thrown away all my Falcons gear and decided to become a Giants fan. They are clearly the only team worth following, because they won the last Super Bowl.

Thanks for saving me the trouble!

Nite Owl

October 15th, 2012
3:53 pm

@ Ronald:

You hit the nail on the head. The Marx brothers were able to sustain their success for many years.

FrontRow

October 15th, 2012
3:54 pm

Something missed in all of the “not being able to win in the playoffs” talk – 3 times under Smith / Ryan the Falcons go to the playoffs and lose – to the eventual NFC Rep in the Super Bowl.

So far, 100% if these years the road to the big game goes through the Atlanta Falcons. I am guessing this year is no different.

BTW somebody needs to teach Bobby Flay et. al. to quit serving up sour grapes in NOLA.

Mark Bradley

October 15th, 2012
3:54 pm

Actually, I did mention the penalties. Or the lack of same.

falconfever

October 15th, 2012
3:57 pm

was at the game yesterday and noticed the guys seemed loose and having fun… Our Defense will come together….love the hard hits

PreyDawg

October 15th, 2012
4:32 pm

Thank you Columnist wet blanket. Perhaps tommorow you can turn the sprinklers on during some local fall festival. I don’t want to hear any of it. I HAVE NEVER enjoyed being the only unbeaten team in the NFL and I am going to ride this ALL WEEK.

Escaped from Email Purgatory

October 15th, 2012
4:32 pm

I’m just gonna relax and try to enjoy the ride. The Falcons are undefeated and fun to watch. Ryan, for all the faults I find in him, can definitely orchestrate a last minute scoring drive.

Six weeks in, who can tell who’s the best team in the league? Six weeks in, does it matter? The good thing about the NFL is that the Figure Filberts (good nickname) don’t have jack to do with the final team standing after the Super Bowl.

The Falcons definitely look better. Matt Ryan looks more decisive. His passes seem to have more zip on them. He runs with a purpose (besides saving his life) now. He’s been standing in the pocket longer.

We pretty much have the same cast of characters as last year (save Assante Samuel0. And big kudos to Dimitroff for retaining darned near all the critical talent. We lost Lofton, and that hurts with the loss of Lofa Tutupu (sp?).

Our new O and D coordinators (and new line coach) seem to be paying dividends. Like I say, the roster’s not much different from what Mularkey and Van Gorder and the old line coach worked with.

The tough part of the schedule is upon us after the bye week. I’m looking forward to it. We’ll see what we got in these 2012 Birds.

detritusUSA

October 15th, 2012
4:50 pm

In the NFL, a teams won-loss record doesn’t necessarily reflect how good or bad that team is. It’s the any given Sunday thing. Like last Sunday, the Raiders were much tougher than their record, but the Falcons found a way to win. Regardless of who the opponent is or their record, the Falcons must, and have, found a way to win. Will they continue to do so, who knows? I’m just enjoying watching them play and win.

Been a fan since 1966, and have had my bubble burst many, many times (the worst: Eugene Robinson) but I’ve enjoyed the ride. Go Falcons!

Brian McCann

October 15th, 2012
4:52 pm

Why do I sense the Falcons won’t past the 1st round of playoffs again?

Tommy

October 15th, 2012
4:56 pm

So if we were 3-3 our opponent’s record would be 14-18 instead of 11-21.

Would this somehow make us look better???

The Patriots were last in pass defense last year (if I remember right) and nearly won the Super Bowl. Two stats matter in the NFL: 1) W 2) L.

Archie

October 15th, 2012
4:58 pm

So if the Falcons are overrated, then who’s better? The Texans and 49ers just got housed at home. The Giants gave up 34 and 27 points to Tampa and Cleveland. The AFC currently has 3 teams that are over .500. Face it, there is no such thing as dominance in the NFL, there is a very small gap between the best in the league and the worst. This isn’t college football where the top teams have twice the number of skill players as half the teams on their schedule, there is no Alabama or Oregon in the NFL that can just line up and score 50 points a game on talent alone. If you’re expecting 45-10 wins in the NFL, you’re watching the wrong sport. It happens sometimes, but the teams are just too evenly matched for that.

Peter

October 15th, 2012
5:00 pm

Well Mark…..seems the league make the schedule. and I am glad they are beating the sub .500 teams.

They will have a shot at the Giants and other teams…….but the Giant’s may be the ONLY above .500 team they face depending on what the Cowboys and Eagles do……

But in my mind the Giant’s are a real legit threat again to go to the BIG Game…….. so that could be the Falcon’s only measuring stick ?

ATLFAN

October 15th, 2012
5:07 pm

So your saying although Atlanta is 6-0; don’t get our hopes up – because basically the teams they have beaten were sorry anyway. Well I rather be 6-0 beating sorry teams; than to be 0-6 and getting beat by those same sorry teams.

GO FALCONS!!!

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 15th, 2012
5:08 pm

Anyone remember when high number of passing attempts per game slowed the game down to a crawl? Sunday’s game over around 4p, just as the league would have it.

Growler

October 15th, 2012
5:14 pm

MB makes the turnover ratio and lack of penalties almost an afterthought. Both are big.. in fact, turnver margin is HUGE and usually a great indicator of success, or lack thereof. Archie — a few comments above — is exactly right. Anyone who pays attention to the NFL week after week knows that one of the golden rules is: don’t ever apologize for who you beat.
Now, you CAN apologize for games you lose… but so far, this Falcons season is an unaplogetic one.

John H.

October 15th, 2012
5:18 pm

I love the Falcons, and the undefeated record. But they are not a Super Bowl winning team right now. The O-line is fragile, and the defense is still giving up too many points. But the season is still young, and hopefully Matt Ryan wont get killed out there.

Denise

October 15th, 2012
5:26 pm

Really Mark Bradley…really??? Go write for someone else then….Geez!!!

Michael M.

October 15th, 2012
5:30 pm

I expect the Caints to go 1 – 15 during the 2012 Season………………its hard to say about the Falcons…………………I never expected them to be 6 – 0 after this first part of the Season……….to me it was a tough schedule for them this year and now after the bye it would seem that it would be even tougher for the Falcons to keep winning every week but somehow I got this feeling they going to keep winning games this year and beat Teams they shouldn’t beat.

kenny

October 15th, 2012
5:30 pm

Tha last two teams that beat us in tha playoffs both went on to win tha Superbowl both times

Michael M.

October 15th, 2012
5:34 pm

This Team gets that first playoff win they will be hard to beat the rest of the way ………………………………………..

4xtra

October 15th, 2012
5:38 pm

Well remember what GB did to ATL LAST YEAR??
I see many of you have realistic expectations but WE KNOW ATL will NOT go to the superbowl.
The TOILET BOWL? Maybe …but not the superbowl.

Cavin G. Sims, Sr.

October 15th, 2012
5:48 pm

People seem to be analyzing the NFL and the teams and the Falcons to death. I just want to say that the Falcons are my favorite team. On my birth certificate where it say “Place of Birth” it says Atlanta. I am 60 years old and I have been a Falcons fan since they got here (Spartans before that). I am just happy that 1 – It is football season, 2 – My team is winning. I am so proud of them and I am so happy..

Go Falcons!!!