The Falcons already have a three-game lead in the NFC South at 4-0 on the year. This team looks better than we've seen in quite some time, and it doesn't look like they're slowing down anytime soon.
Week 4 wasn't nearly as impressive as the first three games of the season. Matt Ryan was sacked a million (7) times, the Panthers couldn't be stopped on the ground and Cam Newton was actually happy for a short period of time. But despite all that transpired, Mike Smith's squad overcame adversity to emerge victorious.
There's still plenty of work left to do in 2012, but I can honestly say I feel confident about the Falcons chances in the long run. Let's take a look at what we learned in Week 4.
1) Matt Ryan is SO GOOD: I try to stray away from just raving over their star player every week, but how can you not be excited about the season he's putting together? Ryan threw for 369 yards (just four shy of his career high) and three touchdowns while averaging 9.2 yards per pass attempt. I love the aggressive play-calling. He needs to keep taking shots downfield, because guess what? He can make those throws. Last week I said he's making a case for MVP. That thought hasn't changed.
The Redskins are currently allowing an unbelievably bad 326.3 yards per game through the air. Ryan will certainly be looking to pad his stats against them in Week 5. Looking forward to that.
2) Tyson Clabo is not who we thought he was (Dennis Green voice): According to Pro Football Focus, Clabo's worst performance of 2011 in pass protection was rated a -2.8 in Week 3 when he allowed one sack and three hurries to the Bucs. This past Sunday against Carolina? Overall pass block rating of -6.6. I wish that was a joke. He yielded three sacks, one hit and five hurries as he was matched up against Charles Johnson most of the time.
Now I'm not saying he's completely lost his touch, but he was only credited with allowing four sacks last season, and he's already exceeded that mark in 2012. I like Clabo. I think he's a great guy with a ton of talent. However, he is not going to hold that job forever with performances like these. The entire offensive line struggled at times, so let's hope we can repress those memories next week against Washington's depleted defense that managed a single sack against the Bucs. On the plus side, Justin Blalock looked better. There's some good news.
3) Michael Turner hasn't gone anywhere: He gained 103 yards on just 13 carries against Carolina's porous run defense. The Falcons have several games left on the schedule against teams who really struggle stopping opposing running backs, including one more against the Panthers and two matchups with the 0-4 Saints.
If Turner can keep up this consistent pace, Atlanta will be so much more dangerous. The Skins fared well against the ground game the past two weeks, so this Sunday will be more of test for The Burner.
4) Special teams continues to come up big: When Matt Bryant steps onto the field to line up a kick, we can all rest assured that it's going through the uprights. He doesn't have the strength of Greg Zuerlein, but he's automatic within 51 yards, which was his longest field goal the past three seasons. Matt Bosher continues to provide booming punts, and coverage on these kicks looks solid as usual. Captain Munnerlyn had one 20-yard return, but we've seen very few of those this year.
5) Mike Nolan needs to bolster the run D: The Panthers racked up 199 yards on 35 carries in Week 4, adding two touchdowns on the ground as well. We're used to seeing a solid effort in stopping the run from the Falcons/Nolan's squads, so let's hope he can figure this out going forward. Through four weeks Atlanta ranks 29th overall in most rush yards allowed per game (146.3). It's not going to get any easier next Sunday against RG3 and Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme. Alfred Morris just ran all over the Bucs, who rank fourth in run stoppage. Time to buckle down.