Way back in July, Matt Ryan said something that caused eye-rolling in many quarters of the fanbase.
"Absolutely," Ryan said Friday. "There's no question. I feel like we have a really good receiving corps. We've got great running backs. We've got a really good offensive line; tight ends across the board. Of course we can.
"If you have the mindset that you can't, you have no chance. And I believe we've got the guys to do it. We've got the system to do it. Absolutely I think we can do it."
Why did we scoff? The reasons were myriad, really, from being concerned about guard play to lingering worries about Matt Ryan’s growth in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme to the lack of compelling receiving options beyond Julio Jones. It was fair to expect improvement, and I did, but asking for the offense to average 30 points a game seemed a little steep. To do so would require hiking their points per game average up nine damn points, considering they averaged about 21.2 in 2015.
With the advantage of hindsight, we can see that basically everything the Falcons needed to go right did on offense. Tevin Coleman emerged as a force for good, particularly as a pass catcher, and Alex Mack has turned a solid offensive line into a very good one by his mere presence. Austin Hooper, Taylor Gabriel, and Mohamed Sanu have taken turns breathing life into this offense even when Julio Jones isn’t available. And Devonta Freeman and Matt Ryan have been generally terrific, with Ryan enjoying his finest season as a pro through nine games. Basically every move you can think of from the offseason worked out for the Falcons, and Kyle Shanahan proved that he is a smart (if sometimes difficult) dude who just needed time and added personnel to get the team to where he wanted it to go.
The caliber of opponent may well be playing a role—there haven’t been a lot of impressive defenses outside of the Broncos and Seahawks thus far—but Atlanta’s getting it done no matter who is hurt and who is ineffective, even winning the three games where Julio Jones has looked mortal. That’s a credit to both how this offense has been built and how well Shanahan has done working around their few remaining weaknesses. No matter where you want to give credit most, it has been a joy to watch.
The Falcons are now on a trajectory that will take them into the record books behind only a handful of historic offenses, including the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf,” if they can just keep this up. There are some difficult defenses over the last seven games, including the Chiefs, the intermittently dangerous Rams, and next week against the Eagles, but it seems very doable. Quite a different picture than the one most of us saw way back in July.