The Falcons are off too a blistering 4-0 start under new head coach Dan Quinn. While most people around the NFL believed the Falcons would be improved with Quinn at the helm, nobody saw this coming. The Falcons’ defense is playing with more energy than ever and is coming off a game against the Texans in which they scored two touchdowns. The fast and physical attitude has take over the Atlanta locker room and the team is no longer soft. Kyle Shanahan has done wonders for the offense. The new implemented zone blocking scheme has rejuvenated the Falcons’ ground attack, something that had been missing since the departure of Michael Turner. The line has also been one of the best at keeping Matt Ryan clean. Yes, nobody expected the Falcons to be serious contenders at the beginning of the season, but they are and this is no fluke.
Ryan has already shown he has the ability to lead his team to remarkable regular season records. Twice he has led the Falcons to 13 wins and a number 1 overall seed. However, with the evolution of players like Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, Ryan might have the best weapons he has ever had. Ryan has always been an unbelievable talent since coming out of Boston College, and he has proved to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league over his first 5 seasons. While the last two seasons have been shaky, a lot of that is due to his lack of a running game and dreadful pass protection. I was giving Ryan credit for able to do as much as he was with so little around him. Now that those holes seem to patched, the offense is moving more efficiently and balanced than ever.
Not enough credit can be given to Kyle Shanahan, who has added so many different elements to the offense. I will be the first to admit I was skeptical of the hire at first, but he, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones look to be operating on a different level than everyone else. The blocking scheme has also opened up big holes for both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Atlanta went after a lot of offensive linemen in free agency that were familiar with zone blocking scheme. Chris Chester, Andy Levitre and Mike Person have all stepped in and played huge roles for the Atlanta.
Defensively, not much can be said. Vic Beasley, Justin Durant, Adrian Clayborn and Brooks Reed were the key additions to the defensive side of the ball. While they have performed well and certainly made a difference, the real difference between this year’s defense and last year’s defense is that they are no longer soft. They now have an attitude about themselves that nobody should move the ball on them regardless what happened in the past. Most notably, the Falcons’ defense was trampled in the first half against Dallas. Joseph Randle gashed them and they seem to have no answer. The defense last year would have just laid down. This season, they came out in the second half and dominated the Cowboys offense. Randle, who nearly had 100 yards rushing in the first quarter, finished the game with just 87, as the Falcons blanked the Cowboys in the second half on their way to a 39-28 victory.
This team is clearly different than year’s past, but the number one reason the Falcons have a great chance at the franchise-record 14 wins is their schedule. Coming into the season, Atlanta looked to have the easiest schedule in the NFL, and amazingly it looks even easier now. The Falcons got a huge break by getting to play the Cowboys without Tony Romo or Dez Bryant. Unless something drastic happens, Atlanta will without a doubt be favored in their next 5 games versus the Redskins, Saints, Titans, Buccaneers and 49ers.
They could easily be 9-0 heading into a week 10 matchup at home against the Colts. The Colts were the AFC favorites heading into the season. They certainly are not anymore. While Luck has a bevy of new weapons, the offensive line has not been able to protect him and he still turns the ball over too much. Because of that, the Colts have gotten off to an underwhelming 2-2 start and could easily be 0-4. This matchup looked a lot worse at the beginning of the year, but the Falcons should have a great shot at beating the Colts at home. The Falcons have 2 of their last 6 games against the Carolina Panthers who are also 4-0. While those games can go either way, the Falcons’ 4-0 start looks a lot more impressive than the Panthers’ because the quality of the opponents.
Yes, even with that easy of a schedule, 14 wins is going to be a tough number reach. The number one concern for the Falcons is health. While they have a lot of talented starters on both sides of the ball, they are not a very deep team. If a few players go down, it is going to be tough to keep putting up these type of results. However, if the team can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for this bunch.