Following a 56-14 dismantling of the Buccaneers, the Falcons have to be feeling pretty good about themselves. This game shouldn't and won't convince the team that they can rest on their laurels, however.
We turn out eyes to Marshall Faulk again this week for the impetus behind this post. This week's theme is focus, so that's what we'll focus (HA!) on.
The Falcons need focus in many ways, but it's less about how hard they focus than what they focus on. The win over the Buccaneers was nice and it puts the Falcons in the thick of the NFC South race early on, and I'm not trying to take away from that. I am, however, suggesting that this team still has a ton of work to do before we can consider their defense fixed, and I'm certainly suggesting that they need to continue to forge a high-flying, burn everything offensive identity.
With that in mind, here's what I would recommend the Falcons continue to focus on going forward:
- Splitting carries effectively. Steven Jackson is useful in short yardage and as the guy who wears down the defense by running right into them. Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman are quicker and can bounce to the outside more easily. Antone Smith can just take off and run for miles. All four should be involved in every single game this season, and the Falcons did a good job of incorporating them in to the offense last night.
- Spreading the ball around. Don't let Matt Ryan get comfortable locking in on Julio Jones and Roddy White, as great as both are. Devin Hester's speed and Levine Toilolo's size create mismatches against inferior defenders, and the Falcons should look to exploit them. Harry Douglas lurks as an underrated weapon over the middle of the field, whatever you may think of him otherwise.
- Stopping the run. While we've all mocked the Falcons for thinking stopping the run would make the rest of the defense better, there is merit to the idea. Take away an opposing ground game and you're likely forcing more punts, hopefully your offense is building you a lead and the other team is going to have to pass to catch up, which allows you to pin your ears back and rush the quarterback while trusting your quality secondary to do good work. We saw the Falcons largely shut down Bobby Rainey last night, putting them in prime position to do just that.
- Focus on improving the pass rush. Fortunately, Nolan already saw the need for this and tinkered with his lineups, albeit against a team in really rough shape. By getting Jonathan Massaquoi, Stansly Maponga, Corey Peters and others more pass rushing snaps instead of dropping them into coverage, and by not stacking up defensive tackles in nickel sets with the same frequency, Nolan was able to squeeze some real juice out of a pass rush that ranked as the league's worst coming in to the night. It's not always going to be that easy, but hopefully with continued focus on the issue, the Falcons can start applying some kind of consistent pressure.