How many times do we have to be told, stop overreacting to week one. Yet, time and time again, week one concludes and the whole world already knows who will be lifting the Lombardi Trophy in February. The NFL season is a long grinding process that changes from week to week at the drop of a hat. Nothing shows that more than Atlanta’s perfect red zone performance in week 2.
Coming off a week where the Falcons were only able to score 12 points despite reaching the red zone five times, nobody could have foreseen such success in week two. Unless of course, you are familiar with the NFL and are aware that nothing makes sense in this league. Atlanta came up with a huge 11-yard touchdown on third down in their first red zone trip, which allowed Falcons’ fans everywhere to let out a huge sigh of relief, and the rest was history.
Austin Hooper caught Atlanta’s second touchdown from eight yards out, as he was wide open in the back corner of the end zone. The final two scores came from Matt Ryan‘s legs, including one play where he trucked (I say that generously) three defenders on his way to a touchdown. It was a show that left Atlanta fans everywhere pleasantly puzzled with a couple of looming questions on their minds; What was the difference in this game and what can we expect going forward?
It starts with the opponent: The Falcons match up terribly with the Eagles. Philadelphia’s defensive line is loaded, and most importantly, has a plethora of pass rushers that can rotate in. Thanks to a fantastic game plan by Doug Pederson that kept Atlanta’s offense off the field as much as possible, the Philadelphia pass rush was fresh for the entire sixty minutes. Matt Ryan was never able to get comfortable as he faced double-digit pressures and was sacked four times. The Eagles deep defensive line also prevents Atlanta from sticking to their running game, which has not topped 100 yards in their last two meetings. There are not a lot of teams that can put that type of pressure on Atlanta offensively, but Philly is one of them, especially in their own building.
Secondly, it was adjustments along with stellar execution by Steve Sarkisian and the offense. The Falcons noticeably turned up the tempo when they entered scoring position. Ryan has been incredibly successful in up-tempo situations over his career where he can get set, read the defense and call the play accordingly. However, the fast-paced offense has not been a staple under Steve Sarkisian. Maybe that will change after Sunday’s success.
While the up-tempo offense is something that needs to be utilized more often, the most crucial alteration was Atlanta’s ability to maintain balance. The Falcons feature numerous dynamic skill players not named Julio Jones. Last week, Jones was the first option on seemingly every single play. That needed to change heading into week two and did dramatically.
Julio still led the team with nine targets, but Austin Hooper and Calvin Ridley each had five targets of their own. On those ten targets, Ryan was 9/10 for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns. It just goes to show how much attention Jones requires on every play, and how much damage these other weapons can cause because of it.
The adjustments by Sarkisian were a pleasant surprise for a fan base that needed a pick-me-up after a rough start to the season. However, none of it would have been possible without a tremendous showing from the offensive line. This unit, that was dominated by Philadelphia, made a statement on Sunday against a talented Carolina defensive line. They controlled the line scrimmage, allowing Tevin Coleman to rush for over 100 yards on just 16 carries. The Falcons as a team ran for 170 yards on 32 attempts.
The offensive line also kept Matt Ryan clean all day. Besides the two times he let out his inner Michael Vick and ran for a touchdown, of course. The Panthers, who sacked Dak Prescott six times a week ago, failed to come up with a single sack on Sunday. That’s a recipe for disaster with Matt Ryan under center. This was one of the highest rated offensive lines coming into the season, so these kinds of results should become the norm rather than an outlier.
Like you cannot overreact to week one, there is no reason to get too excited about this win either. Everyone knew the Falcons offense was capable of this coming into the season. The key now is finding consistency, something Atlanta has been searching for since Kyle Shanahan departed.