Whenever any team plays above expectations, everyone wants to identify notable statistics that have driven their success. One of the more glaring stats across the league has to do with the Atlanta Falcons making history. No team has started off the season with three comeback victories in the fourth quarter, and the ability to finish strong has fulfilled one of Dan Quinn's prominent mottos. Coming into Week 4, they needed to convert their positive momentum into a complete game.
With a vicious pass rush and workhorse running back, the Houston Texans are built to always play ahead. They will punish teams that start off slow or don't have enough talent within the trenches. If quarterbacks are attempting forty to forty-five passes, that will present more opportunities for J.J Watt to cause havoc and decimate the right side of any opposition's offensive line. When healthy, Arian Foster is more than capable of pounding defenses into submission.
Atlanta knew that starting fast was essential to force the game into Ryan Mallet's hands. A batted ball by Paul Worrilow, who needed the play to boost his confidence, generated Atlanta's complete takeover. Jonathan Babineaux recorded a bizarre interception that gave Matt Ryan good field position, and Atlanta never looked back through running the ball down Houston's throat and Ryan making timely throws.
The Offensive Line Shines
From Devonta Freeman running wild for the second week to not being completely dependent of Julio Jones, this was the all-around performance that fans have clamored for. Unsurprisingly, the offensive line had their fair share of issues with Watt. They took control in the run game, as the zone-blocking scheme continues to work wonders for this unit.
It's hard to explain how the offensive line has transformed into such a cohesive unit. Kyle Shanahan's offense has is built around putting his lineman in the right position to win one-on-one battles, but how the offensive line went from being embarrassed by Miami in pre-season to bullying Houston in the run game is a true mystery. Have Andy Levitre and Mike Person been that much of an upgrade? They've certainly improved on a weekly basis following their poor performances against Philadelphia.
Levitre played a crucial role in Freeman's first touchdown through keeping Vince Wilfork from gaining any sort of leverage to make a stop at the line of scrimmage. That block didn't quite stand out as much as Jake Matthews bulldozing Jared Crick completely out of the play. Besides Patrick DiMarco, no Falcon player has drastically improved more than Matthews. The oft-criticized (now applauded) left tackle has emerged as Atlanta's most dependable offensive lineman.
Matthews continued his run-blocking assault by taking Brian Cushing out on Freeman's second touchdown. Chris Chester has also stood out. When Chester is allowed to pull and use his athleticism, he immediately becomes a difference maker. That was showcased on Freeman's second touchdown. It became evident that Washington's power blocking scheme wasn't going to materialize well with him, but signing with Atlanta seems to have revived his career.
Similar to the successful (and last stable) offensive line from the 2010 season, it has become a cohesive unit despite not having much star power. With the exception of Matthews, every starting offensive lineman has been either undrafted or acquired from another team. The 2010 offensive line weren't really heralded as stars either, despite Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo forming one of the strongest right sides in Falcons history.
The Ground Game Rolls
The current running game shares some similarities to that exceptional 2010 team. While he isn't the highest paid fullback like Ovie Mughelli was, DiMarco has looked reminiscent of the two-time Pro Bowler based on winning one-on-one matchups with opposing linebackers. His play has reminded fans about the value of an excellent full back. On the final Freeman touchdown, his block on Whitney Mercilus opened up a key lane. It wasn't as bone crushing as his block last week on Kyle Wilber. DiMarco still picked up his assignment and beat his opponent at the point of attack. It seems like a simple concept, yet it has taken three years for DiMarco to start becoming an impact player.
The Defense Attacks
While the offense continues to excel through a new scheme and genuine balance, the defense remains opportunistic and aggressive. With the exception of the infamous butt fumble, nobody can deny that Derek Newton smacking into Arian Foster was the most bizarre fumble in recent memory. O'Brien Schofield was in position to complete another tackle for a loss. Newton's lack of awareness turned a hopeless play into a worse one, featuring Desmond Trufant high-stepping into the end zone.
While his pass breakup on a go route from DeAndre Hopkins was impressive, Trufant is still one of the more under-appreciated defensive stars in the league. He was oddly targeted on several occasions, which left many analysts and fans puzzled. Mallet's decision making converted Houston fans into searching for Matt Miller's 2016 NFL Draft mock draft during the second half.
Atlanta's defense will remain opportunistic, as they continue to rebuild from last year's weekly obliteration. It has been promising to see them force at least one turnover through four games. Whether it has been taking advantage of Brandon Weeden or executing a well-timed stunt on Sam Bradford, Atlanta's defense has made plays that altered the course of games.
Despite being reckless at times, William Moore remains as the heart and soul of Atlanta's defense. His tendency to hang around the ball is unparalleled in Atlanta, and Moore continuously forces turnovers through demoralizing hits and being at the right place at the time for interceptions. Most successful teams need an enforcer in their secondary. While he doesn't possess athleticism like Kam Chancellor, Moore's value couldn't be higher in Quinn's defense.
With Tevin Coleman and Devin Hester returning shortly, Atlanta's offense will continue to be more dangerous. Brooks Reed adds more muscle to an underrated front seven unit. All the pieces are starting to align for them, as the most generous part of their schedule has begun. They've managed to dominate a one-dimensional quarterback and flawed defense, thus far, and now they will need to stay on course with the undefeated Carolina Panthers throughout this easy stretch. Thanks to their best offensive line since 2010 and most aggressive defense in over a decade, Atlanta possesses all the capabilities of playing meaningful football in January.