Another week, another statement win by the 4-1 Atlanta Falcons. After dropping arguably their easiest game in the season opener, the Falcons have rattled off four straight, and just knocked off the defending Super Bowl champions on the road.
This is not a drill, folks.
Atlanta looked aggressive on both offense and defense(!) and executed a tremendous game plan to keep the NFL’s best defense on its heels.
It’s safe to say there are a lot more things to celebrate than to worry about after that win.
Here are a few things we can celebrate
Kyle Shanahan: The subject of pretty much every fan’s ire last season, Shanny outdueled Wade Phillips and the vaunted Broncos defense. Atlanta attacked Denver at where it was most vulnerable: In the running game and lining up Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman on linebackers. The offensive line limited the Broncos to only two sacks, their lowest total of the season, and gave Matt Ryan time to run the offense to perfection.
Whatever we are calling the Falcons’ RB duo: During training camp, there was debate over whether or not the coaches should move toward an even split between Coleman and Freeman. At this point, it doesn’t look like they can touch the ball enough. As was the case against New Orleans, “Tevonta” was the Falcons’ most effective weapon. There are few running backs who are legitimate threats running and catching the ball and Atlanta might have the best ones not named Le’Veon Bell. Dan Quinn wants versatility on his defense, but the team’s most versatile players may be coming out of the backfield.
Vic Beasley and the pass rush: Making their first appearance in this category are the Falcons’ pass rushers. Yes, Denver’s offensive line has been crippled by injuries, but before this week a case could be made that Atlanta would struggle rushing the quarterback against a college offensive line. Vic Beasley finally had a breakout performance, earning 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 8 tackles. Hopefully, he continues to build upon this game and finally gets on track to justify his draft status. All told, Atlanta registered 6 sacks to give them 10 on the season.
The Falcons’ safeties: Due to the ancient curse that has decimated the linebacker corps, Kemal Ishmael was called upon to serve in a hybrid role against Denver. He responded in tremendous fashion, leading the team with 10 tackles and looking fearless against the run. Keanu Neal also had a solid game – outside of nearly ending Vic Beasley’s afternoon. He finished tied with Beasley for second on the team with 8 tackles and has shown his big-hitting reputation is no joke.
The Special Matts: While Matt Ryan might be the most important Matt on the team, this section is dedicated to the Falcons’ pair of Matts who have been very solid on special teams. Matt Bryant continues to be one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL and was 3/3 on field goals and 2/2 on extra points Sunday to remain one of the few who has yet to miss this season. His partner in crime, Matt Bosher, averaged a stellar 61.7 yards per punt in the Mile-High air and pinned the Broncos at their 1-yard line.
Earning what we get: Although winning in the NFL is never easy, not all victories are created equally. Some wins come against battered opponents, others are won via fluke plays or controversial calls. Atlanta’s four wins this season have involved none of the above. Every victory was an achievement in its own right, and the Falcons have earned every ounce of praise. And that, my friends, is a fine reason to celebrate.
One thing to worry about
Injuries: While the makeshift defense fared well against Denver, the Falcons won’t have the luxury of facing a rookie quarterback making his first start anytime soon. There is a slew of veteran quarterbacks left on the schedule, starting this week with Russell Wilson, and LaRoy Reynolds, Philip Wheeler and A.J. Hawk aren’t the players fans what to see out there each week.
The faster Atlanta can get healthy on defense, the sooner we can worry about what’s happening on the field and not who’s off of it.