I’ve never been less optimistic about the Falcons than this offseason. I can’t pinpoint the reason (no wait, it was a mixture of keeping Kyle Shanahan, signing Mohamed Sanu, and ignoring the pass rush problem). Regardless, I don’t think many were expecting the Falcons to be 3-1 at this point. And certainly no one would have predicted they would look so damn good doing it. I can see where the coaches want their defense to go, and the offense looks fully loaded. It is finally fun to watch Falcons football and I really couldn’t be happier.
I kept my expectations low coming into the season, and I’m trying to maintain a reasonable, measured outlook about this team now, especially knowing how weak the defense is.
But man, I was blown away by how great the offense was against the Panthers defense, and they now have a two game lead on the rest of the division. There could be greatness brewing here, even if it’s going to take time to percolate.
To be honest, this team is still somewhat frustrating. The offense is dominating in a way I’ve never seen them do before, yet they continue to allow teams back into games. The defense is young and making some dumb mistakes, but the vision is starting to become clear. This offense looks like it can beat you however you like. Take away the run? We’ll pass on you. Take away the pass? We’ll run it down your throat. It’s thrilling and frustrating to watch and I still don’t know what to make of this team for the entire season, but so far it is at least entertaining. The fact that they’re 3-1 at the same time is just the cherry on top.
Right now, it looks like the Falcons’ offense is only capable of stopping itself. Watching the various offensive pieces come together against Carolina reminded me of the Packers and Saints in years passed, and that is meant as a big compliment. Might I be the first to make the suggestion that if they ever decide to change the mural on Stone Mountain, Mr. Julio Jones would make a fine replacement. I’ll continue to be the optimist of the group and say that I still don’t think the sky is falling because of Atlanta’s defense. Yes, they got complacent and let the Panthers back into it, but they made plays to put the game away for good. It’s something they did against New Orleans, as well. Also, pass rush!! All I know is that Atlanta is 3-1 with wins over the Saints and Panthers, life is good.
Solid blocking, wide receiver depth, and explosive plays were lacking last season. It’s all coming together during this current winning streak. Alex Mack doesn’t get enough recognition for what he’s brought to the team. With his ability to make second level blocks and allow Matt Ryan to step up in the pocket, the offense is looking far more dangerous. Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and Aldrick Robinson offer different elements to this emerging offense. With difference makers like Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, they are firing on all cylinders. Ignore the fact that Ryan was sacked three times against Carolina. Each sack came on a blitz. The offensive line hasn’t looked this good since 2010, when they were filled with nasty maulers such as Tyson Clabo and Harvey Dahl. As long as Mack stays healthy, he is worth every penny
While we’re better than I thought, I wonder just how good we really are. For two consecutive weeks, we’ve scored 40 points and still SOMEHOW managed to be within a moderate danger of losing. Add the Raiders game to the mix and there’s an alarming trend: NO lead is safe. Through 4 games, the Falcons have scored and allowed the largest combined total of points in NFL history. That should tell you that while we’re scoring in bunches, we’re surrendering points in equal bunches. That’s simply not a recipe for success in the NFL, and at some point the offense is going to cool off. I continue to get a bad feeling about this team, even though I’ve said that every week since before the OAK game. The Falcons took a step toward “for real” this week, but the difficulty kicks up to “All-Madden” next week.
I’ll repeat that the divisional games are critical. The Falcons dropped one they should have won at home against Tampa, but they’ve rebounded very well and have already won more divisional games than all of last season.
For me, the biggest concern at this point is depth. Long time fans will remember how the team started strong in both 2005 and 2006 but faded away as injuries took their toll. This roster is in a similar situation. They’re doing well, but they don’t have the depth to withstand injuries like we saw in 2013 or 2014.
Four games into the season, and I’m a believer again. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t expect the worst for this year; a brutal schedule combined with seemingly no tangible upgrades (outside of Alex Mack) made me think the Falcons were in for a long season. I never would’ve imagined the offense looking as unstoppable as it does. There’s undoubtedly still room for improvement (pass rush, please), but the arrow is definitely pointing up for this team.
This team has looked like an offensive juggernaut through four weeks. The Panthers had an exploitable secondary, but make no mistake: that is a quality, top-10 NFL defense that the Falcons just obliterated. With that kind of firepower, the Falcons should be considered a threat to any team on any given Sunday. The next two weeks against Denver and Seattle will tell us just how good this team can be. No matter what, the Falcons look like a legit Wild Card contender at worst. If they take out Denver or Seattle (or both) on the road? Get ready for the hype train.
With their 3-1 start, Atlanta has an unexpected shot at the playoffs. The rest of the NFC South is floundering at 1-3, with Tampa Bay and New Orleans both looking very dysfunctional and Carolina looking very mortal. The Falcons could be seeing the postseason sooner than any of us could have hoped. However, we need to see better, more consistent play from the defense if this team has any shot at a deep run.
Overall, I’m hopeful. Just don’t get too discouraged if the Falcons lose the next two games. The schedule after that is much easier, and Atlanta still has a relatively easy path to 10-6.