By Matthew Asher
With a 30-28 victory over the Carolina Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons are just one of three undefeated teams in the NFL. Now going for a fifth straight win, Atlanta will face another talented quarterback in reigning Heisman Trophy Winner, Robert Griffin III (RG3).
While Atlanta currently has a three game lead in the NFC South Division, head coach Mike Smith says he’s not putting too much stock into the current division standings. “This early in the season, you’ve got to concern yourself with your team” Smith said. “You don’t even think about what’s going on with the other teams until you’re ready to play them…We’ve started out fast and it’s just a start. The guys have worked hard…The first quarter is behind us and we’re moving on to the next mission.”
Not to sound sarcastic but finally for the first time in three weeks an Atlanta player was not arrested following their team’s victory. That alone means less outside distractions and more time focusing on the upcoming game.
One of the benefits of facing Washington after Carolina is the similarities in the offenses. Both feature mobile quarterbacks who are dangerous in both the passing and running games. “We got an idea of what worked and what didn’t work” Coach Smith said as he laughed at his last statement. “Robert Griffin III is not nearly as big. I think he’s got more foot speed than the quarterback that we just played, so we’re going to have some different issues.”
While shutting down RG3 completely would be ideal, it’s highly unlikely. The Falcons defense needs to be able to limit Washington’s big plays whether they are on the ground or in the air. “We only gave up 205 total yards passing, but there were three explosive passes and we had nine explosive runs in the ball game yesterday,” Smith said. “They’re part of the toxic differential when you look at how you play with the offense and defense together…We didn’t play that as well as we needed to.” For the record, Smith considers any play of 20 yards or more as an explosive play.
While slowing down RG3 and the Washington offense is important, Atlanta does need to have its offense working in order to win. As mentioned before, Atlanta currently has one of the most explosive passing attacks in the league. Since Atlanta has three different primary receivers in Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, defenses never know who Matt Ryan will be targeting on the next play.
With Atlanta’s running game still somewhat suspect, Ryan may be relied upon to make sure Atlanta scores points, something coach Smith knows can happen. “Matt’s done a very good job through the first four games,” Smith said. “We didn’t have a fast start, but we had a good finish. That’s something that as a team we want to emphasize, not only starting fast but finishing…That means finishing plays, finishing quarters, finishing series, finishing games, and I think we’ll like where we’re at if we continue to have good starts and good finishes.”
Atlanta’s game against Washington will be in the early session of Sunday games this week. If Atlanta can start off the season 5-0, there’s a good chance they will be the favorite to win the NFC South and be considered one of the top dogs in the NFC.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.