The Atlanta Falcons came into the season with one of the hardest schedules in the NFL. The start to the season looked particularly brutal, with several road games, a brutal West coast trip and having to face both Super Bowl teams from 2015 in back-to-back. weeks
When the team returns to Atlanta, at worst they will be coming home a 4-2 team, having survived a brutal stretch with a record almost no one predicted. This is a legitimately good team that is actually getting better with each victory. Fears of a 2015 collapse will linger, but this team looks different in so many ways. That said, here are my key takeaways from the win over the defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos.
Good luck stopping this offense
The Falcons came in with the best offense in the league and continued to show that on Sunday. Ignore the stat lines: this Falcons team dominated from beginning to end against one of the top defenses in the league. Of the 23 points scored, 20 of them were accumulated in the first three quarters before the team went conservative to preserve the lead. The offensive line dominated in the run game, with Freeman and Coleman averaging 4.4 yards per carry. The pass protection was spotty at times, which is to be expected when the best pass rusher in the league is lining up against you. Still, the unit held Von Miller to only one sack on the day and gave Ryan time to lead an efficient passing game.
Denver’s secondary is the best in the league and it showed. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. are the best 1-2 CB duo and the depth this defense has is amazing. They did their job on Sunday, keeping Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu mostly quiet. And still, it didn’t matter. The Falcons just turned to their other explosive weapons in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. That duo accounted for 167 receiving yards, 119 rushing yards and 2 TDs on the day.
The Denver defense is one of the few with depth and quality at all three levels and they were still unable to stop the Falcons offense.
Take away the receivers and our running backs will kill you. Take away our running game and our tight ends will kill you. But good luck trying to take away all of it. So far, no one has been able to do it.
The pass rush is here ... sort of
Vic Beasley looked like a monster on Sunday. He was constantly in the backfield, registering 3.5 sacks (two of which were strip sacks) and just being an all-around bully. Granted, he was mostly abusing an injured back-up, but that is what you would expect to see out of a good pass rusher, and more importantly, this could be the confidence boost that he needs going forward. Additionally, Adrian Clayborn, Dwight Freeney and Grady Jarrett also got in on the action on Sunday, giving the Falcons their best pass rushing effort all season.
That said, let’s not assume the pass rush has fully arrived. They have definitely gotten better the past two games and that is notable. However, we also played two straight games against QBs that were holding onto the ball for far too long. Even so, the Falcons dominated the Broncos OL in a way we’ve not seen and it’s reason to be cautiously optimistic. The team was getting interior pressure to go along with the speed off the edge, and they looked like they were just overwhelming the Broncos OL for the majority of the game.
At the very least, it was a building block for this much maligned defensive line. If they can continue to build on this performance, the pass rush may finally be on the way to decency.
Aggressive mentality is evident
From the opening drive, the Falcons continued to display a mentality that is afraid of no one. Matt Ryan was still taking deep shots (even if they weren’t connecting) and on an early fourth down, Dan Quinn did not hesitate in the least to go for it. I can’t state enough how impressive this new, aggressive mentality has been. It screams utter confidence and belief, and each successful conversion only emboldens this entire team more.
This is not the same team we’ve seen in the past. This is a team that expects to win and is not afraid of taking chances to do so. More than anything, this change could be the most significant going forward. The 2016 Falcons don’t shy away and they won’t be conservative. They are a confident, hungry unit with a head coach who is instilling an aggressive mindset with every game and every play call. It’s thrilling to watch.
What are your take-aways from the victory over the Super Bowl champs?