Six weeks down, six wins in the books. The past few weeks haven't been pretty, but the Falcons are still finding ways to win games, regardless of any struggles they face along the way.
Now the only remaining undefeated team in the NFL, Atlanta heads into Week 7 with a bye and time to correct some of the ongoing issues we've witnessed. Whether it's stopping the run, or pass protection or keeping Michael Turner happy, you can rest assured Smitty will address these areas during the upcoming break.
After seeing this team play for six weeks straight, let's take a look at what we know about the No. 1 team in the league. Yeah, I said it.
1) The Falcons know how to win games. Matt Ryan knows how to win games. He threw three picks against the Raiders, looked like a completely different quarterback at times and still managed to pull out a victory. The defense gave up 474 total yards on an average of 7.0 yards per play to Oakland, but it didn't matter in the end.
Asante Samuel came up with a pick-six late in the fourth quarter. Big name players come up with big plays when their teams need it most. Week 6 marked the third game in a row the Falcons have made a late drive to seal the deal. Say whatever you want about them. They've had an easy schedule, they're getting lucky, etc. As long as they keep winning games, it doesn't matter what the critics think.
2) Play-calling needs to find a happy medium. The Falcons only converted 2-of-9 third-down opportunities on Sunday. We saw them fail to make it past the sticks on third-and-short several times, a task that shouldn't be difficult for a team with so many weapons. Jason Snelling ran the ball on third down at one point with just a yard to go, and the play resulted in a disaster. I'm not saying he can't run the ball, but the whole play overall just confused me. Why not give Julio a quick slant, or let Tony G box a defender out just a few yards over the middle?
Now Turner seems vexed about the run game. He doesn't need to handle 25+ carries a game, but he can still make an impact. So can Snelling and Quiz. You can't expect to win big every time without keeping a little balance.
3) Pass protection is an ongoing project. The front five gave up just one sack to the Raiders, but nine hits and six hurries made for an relatively adverse afternoon for No. 2. We've seen an improvement in Ryan's protection from last season, especially with Sam Baker. However, overall the unit has been up and down. Of course that will always vary week to week depending on the matchup. Keeping Ryan upright is a top priority, and if they can continue to do so, the offense with thrive.
4) I've seen about all the missed tackles I can take. Pro Football Focus has the Falcons at 52 missed tackles on the season, with 11 total in Week 6. Guys continue trying to simply hit the ball carrier instead of bringing him down. There were multiple instances where a defender would fly in to try and knock one the Raiders down, but it failed and the runner would just keep on going. It's resulted in touchdowns in prior weeks, and it will keep hurting them until they start trying to wrap up more often.
5) Mike Nolan's defense held Darren McFadden to 70 yards on 26 carries, clearly focusing on stopping the run this past week. Meanwhile Carson Palmer was completing passes all over the field, finishing with 353 yards through the air. Either pass defense in up and run defense is down, or vice versa each week. Nolan knows how to stop the one area he plans for each week. We just haven't really seen the defense step up against both the pass and the run. If the game plan to take away one facet of opposing offenses works, then go for it. It would just be nice to see an overall dominant performance, and I think this defense is capable of doing so.
6) I'll end on No. 6 because it's fitting right now. Matt Bryant is so clutch. Who cares if he finally missed one against the Raiders, he nailed that 55-yarder like it was nothing. His longest kick since 2006, this one marked the 14th game-winner in his career.
I believe we're all in accord that this season has been awesome. Sure, mistakes have been made, fans have been close to heart failure at times, but 6-0 feels pretty good. What's your biggest takeaway so far?