The Atlanta Falcons are a great football team this season. They've had their nail-biters along the way, but they've won all six of their games and have shown glimpses of a team so terrifying that Roger Goodell is in talks to seal them a lead-lined sarcophagus.
These Falcons also have not hit their full potential just yet, aside from the brutal 27-3 shellacking of the San Diego Chargers. To gain entrance into the stratosphere of the NFL's perpetually elite teams, the Falcons need to fix a few issues, minor and otherwise. Or, you know, just keep winning.
As a fan who has enjoyed this season immensely but still hasn't quit his old habit of finding fault, here's three things the Falcons can do as a team to be even better than they are now.
I singled out Thomas DeCoud for this, but he's hardly alone. In the fifth season of Mike Smith's tenure with the team, the Falcons are still a team that struggles to bring opposing players down.
It was pointed out by The DW in the comments that the downside to wrapup tackling is that you can't force turnovers as easily, because you're not attempting to punch out the ball. That's true and there's little doubt that the Falcons thrive on turnovers, given their enviable team speed and habit of scooping up loose balls (teehee). The downside, of course, is that if you miss a tackle in the secondary it's likely that the player you just whiffed inoffensively at is off to the races.
The Falcons should figure out a way to balance this out and emphasize sound tackling technique. Ultimately, I trust this defense to make enough plays to force punts and put the ball back in the hands of a high-octane offense more often than not. Too much gambling turns route three yard gains into drive-saving plays, and that's something none of us want to see.
The Run Game
The fact that the Falcons can pass as well as they do dragging the corpse of the run game up and down the field is kind of remarkable.
Michael Turner is slowing down and becoming less of an asset. That's true. The Falcons are calling less run plays. That's also true. But ultimately this wouldn't matter all that much if the offensive line blocked well, because hey, the Broncos have been able to make Willis McGahee look good a couple of times this year. The Falcons are not blocking well, however.
The only solution to this conundrum that I can see is to be willing to either shuffle personnel on the offensive line or focus heavily on improving run blocking during the bye week, and neither are guaranteed winners. It would also behoove the Falcons to mix and match backs in the backfield, get Turner to the outside where he's capable of breaking some big gains and not abandon the run at the first sign of a lead.
I'm not arguing for true balance. A 70/30 split's fine, even, if they actually get something out of the run.
Protect Matt Ryan
I covered some of Ryan's struggles with pressure yesterday, and that remains a valid and relevant point. The Falcons could also render that moot fairly easily.
The offensive line is an enduring source of grief for fans this season for both the struggles in the ground game and the on-again, off-again struggles against the pass rush. Sam Baker and Justin Blalock have mostly been solid at keeping Ryan upright, but everyone east of LG has been anywhere from average to a disaster, depending on the game.
Again, you either evaluate and make personnel changes, or you work hard to identify flaws and coach them out of Todd McClure, Garrett Reynolds and especially Tyson Clabo. One way or the other, you cut down significantly on the pressure Ryan's feeling and he absolutely ruins defenses. It's not as easy as I'm perhaps making it sound, but it is essential.
What else would you like to see the Falcons work on?