Please give a warm welcome to D'Andre Williams, our first ever Falcoholic intern! Here's his take on three areas that have the Falcons primed for success, and three ways they have and may continue to lose games.
3 Ways the Falcons Can Win
Run Defense: The last few seasons, the Atlanta Falcons have had one of the worst defenses in the league. In the last three seasons, Atlanta has ranked 21st in 2012, 31st in 2013, and 21st in 2014 in rushing defense, and during that three-season slump, there were trades, free agent acquisitions, and even defensive scheme changes to bolster the front line, but nothing seemed to work. This season has been a totally different story for Dan Quinn's unit.
Atlanta is ranked 2nd in rushing defense due to effort and consistently intelligent decisions by the players and coaching staff. Players like Kroy Biermen, O'Brien Schofield, Jonathan Babineaux, and many others have been big pieces to the puzzle, and have contributed to the stagnant run defense of Atlanta. If the Falcons can continue to play so well in this category, a lot of run-happy teams will have to probably change their style of play, putting extra pressure on the passing game.
Running Game: Atlanta's run defense hasn't been the only thorn in the teams back for multiple seasons. The run game produced by the offense use to be also one of the worst in the league. Led by running backs Micheal Turner and Steven Jackson, Atlanta could never get the offense going when it came to running the ball. Owner Arthur Blank and GM Thomas Dimitroff demanded change and they meant it. In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons snatched up running back Devonta Freeman in the 4th round while also picking up 3rd round selection Telvin Coleman the following year in the 2015 NFL Draft. In the 2015 offseason, the front office hired Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan to help that run game going forward too. "Boy did that help!" Atlanta is ranked currently 13th in the league at rushing. Devonta Freeman is a big reason because of that. The team has rushed for 1125 yards so far this season but the lead back has 764 yards by himself also averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Did I say he also has 9 rushing touchdowns and is 3rd in the league in rushing yards? Point blank period, Devonta is a beast and a big reason for the successful rushing game, but it has also been a team effort with the offensive line and coaching staff working together to power this run game. The running game lives again for the Dirty Birds.
Cornerback Play: Atlanta does currently have one of the worst pass defenses in the league by yardage, and they do tend to give the opposing offenses big chunks of yardage through the air. Still, cornerback play has been encouraging for the Atlanta Falcons.
Starting corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have done nothing but impress this season for the red and black, with Trufant currently ranked in the top five for yards allowed and catches allowed. Alford has been one of the most aggressive corners in the conference under Dan Quinn, having worked on his footwork and technique with the new coaching staff. The team hadn't had a shutdown cornerback since Brent Grimes, but now they might have two.
3 Ways the Falcons Can Lose
Unbalanced Offense: The past several weeks, the Atlanta Falcons have not looked the same from when they have begun the season. The once staggering offense lead by offensive guru Kyle Shanahan has turned into a poorly scoring unit. This is because the offense has become unbalanced. Matt Ryan had 185 pass attempts in the first five games (and wins) while the team rushed for 148 attempts. The last five games, Matt Ryan has had 218 pass attempts (not counting week 10 bye) while the team has rushed for 113 attempts. That's a little one sided, don't you think? If Kyle could mix the play calling just a little more, expect to see more success out of that Atlanta offense, though it's tough without Devonta Freeman.
Energized Pass Rush: Ever since the release of John Abraham in 2012, the Atlanta Falcons defense has had little success at pressuring the quarterback. In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons spent a second round pick on the behemoth Ra'Shede Hageman, and the 8th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft on the quarterback-hungry Vic Beasley. These selections were supposed to help the Atlanta Falcons defense get more pressure on the opposing quarterback, but so far, they haven't. The Falcons pass rush is tied for the worst in the league with only 12 sacks. Going forward, Dan Quinn and the Falcons defense has to find a reliable solution at pressuring the opposing quarterback. Its key to there success down the road, especially when you have Cam Newton, Drew Brees, and Jameis Winston heading the offenses in the same division.
Minimize the Turnovers and Score: Lately for the Atlanta Falcons Offense, there have been numerous times where the offense would march down the field into scoring range and turn the ball over. Two-thirds of the time, the opposing offense has collected the ball and marched down the field to score themselves.
Dating back to the New Orleans Saints game, the Atlanta Falcons have surrendered 13 turnovers, compared to the five they committed during the first five games. The more your offense turns over the ball, the more you limit your offense and the points being put on the board. Not only that, but you also give a chance to the opposing team to score off of your mistakes. Because of the turnovers, Atlanta's offense has had a hard time putting points on the board, resulting to low-scoring, tight games for the Falcons. If the coaching staff can find a way to capitalize on takeaways by scoring, this will be a whole new dangerous and revamped team.