Falcons new team to beat


The entire offseason had Falcons fans wondering what the team would look like after the addition of a pair of new coordinators as well as the extremely talented Asante Samuel. Fans were excited to hear about how Jerry Rice picked Julio Jones to be his breakout star for 2012, but others took pause when Curtis Lofton left a void at middle linebacker and the team did not bring in another option at left tackle.

Through the first two games, though, the team has shown far more positives than negatives. The offense looks explosive under new coordinator Dirk Koetter after piling up 40 points on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs before returning home to put 27 points up against Denver on Monday Night Football. Matt Ryan’s understanding of the new system was obvious against Kansas City when he passed for 299 yards and three scores while recording an additional score on the ground. Jones also seemed to bust out against the Chiefs with six catches for 108 yards and two scores. Ryan spread the wealth around in Game 2, finding Roddy White for eight catches and 102 yards and one score and Tony Gonzalez for 70 yards on seven catches plus one touchdown. Koetter has plenty of toys to play with and will likely exploit teams all year by emphasizing a different weapon when opposing defenses try to take last week’s playmaker away. Ryan will be required to operate the plan, but if the first two games have shown us anything, it is that Ryan, following an intense offseason training routine, is up to the challenge.


Defensively, Mike Nolan’s unit limited Peyton Manning to just seven points through the first three quarters while coming away with three interceptions and one fumble. The defense got to Manning three times, a high number considering how quickly Manning has gotten rid of the ball throughout his career. Nolan’s defensive attack has been bring- ing pressure from different areas of the field as defensive tackles and a safety recorded sacks against Denver, and the defense has been disguised unlike in years past. The defensive players shift and rotate around right before the ball is snapped in an effort to confuse the opposing quarterback. During the Falcons’ postgame coverage, several people praised Nolan for confusing Manning with different looks and exotic packages. The three interceptions in the first quarter set the tone for the game and helped the offense put up 10 points to stick Denver in an early hole.

Nolan’s defense also did a nice job adjusting to Kansas City at halftime of the season opener. The Chiefs put 17 points on the board in the first half but managed just one score coming with three minutes left in the fourth quarter during Atlanta’s 40-24 win. The defense forced a missed field goal then forced a fumble, two straight interceptions and a punt to decide the game. William Moore and Stephen Nicholas recorded interceptions while sacks came from the de- fensive tackle spot, the end position and the linebacker spot.


For the Falcons to find success against Denver this past Monday, the team had to buck history. Entering the Denver game, the Falcons owned a lifetime 9-24 record in 33 games, most recently falling to the New Orleans Saints 45-16 in 2011, the team’s sixth straight loss on Monday Night Football. The team had not won on a Monday night since Dec. 12, 2005, when Atlanta hosted the Saints. The Falcons did more than just buck history though, as the team managed to rise up and snuff out Manning early. The Falcons’ defensive secondary had many in Dirty Bird Nation worried about the loss of Brent Grimes to a season-ending Achilles injury, but the defense picked off Manning’s second pass, fourth pass and eighth pass of the night. Despite being outgained by Denver, the Falcons should feel pleased with the effort considering the situations they put the Broncos in early on and the turnovers the defense forced.

Moving forward, the team will need to continue to use exotic packages to confuse opposing quarterbacks while continuing to take the ball away when the opportunity arises. Last year, Nolan’s Dolphins defense picked off 16 passes and recovered 17 fumbles while getting to the quarterback 41 times. His squad was third in the NFL in rush defense in terms of yards, rushing scores and fumbles recovered. The year before, his Dolphins defense was ninth in the league in passing yards allowed and seventh in rushing yards allowed. He is a master strategist and Falcons fans should be expecting his calls, as part of head coach Mike Smith’s overall scheme, to continue to flummox opposing offenses.


Radio co-hosts and national talking heads love to throw around the term “elite” when it comes to quarterbacks. Apparently, winning is the lone thing that matters for quarterbacks, unless a quarterback simply wins and it isn’t pretty in the process. For his first few years under center, all Ryan did was win in the regular season. In the postseason, Ryan is 0-3, leading many to say he is nowhere near elite. However through the first two games of the season, Ryan’s 117.6 passer rating is the best in the league and his five touchdown passes is tied for the tops in the league. He is also in the top 10 in completions, percentage and fewest interceptions. Should Ryan continue to hook up with Gonzalez, White, Jones and Harry Douglas, the playoff drought and the elite talk should become a moot point as his numbers will just increase.

The Falcons should also look to take the next step as far as becoming elite. Two years ago, the team earned home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, only to lose at home to the Packers. It is hard to see this team falling at home in the playoffs again. While Atlanta will likely not go 16-0 as only two teams have done in the past, it would not be a shock to see the Dirty Birds win the NFC South and handle their business in the postseason. If the first two games are any indication, the Falcons will be flying high with a pair of new coordinators and an offense that looks unstoppable.

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