By Matthew Asher
The Atlanta Falcons are in uncharted water starting off the season 5-0. After beating Washington 24-17 last week, the Falcons return home to the Georgia Dome to face the Oakland Raiders, the only AFC West team Atlanta has not played this season.
For the third week in a row, this is a game Atlanta is expected to win, which means this could be yet another trap game for the Falcons. According to Mike Smith, the goal for the upcoming game is to make sure the Falcons aren’t resting on their laurels. “Believe me, they know, they watch the tape,” Smith said. “When you have that and guys are doing that on their own, I think it takes care of itself. We’ve got great leaders in our locker room all across the board that are going to make sure we stay focused on the task at hand. Right now, it’s just a start…That’s all it is.”
As one of just two undefeated teams still this season, Atlanta knows this has all the makings of a special season. But just because they are 5-0 does not mean everything the Falcons have done this season has been perfect, nor have other teams under Mike Smith done poorly just because they didn’t start out this well. “I think we’ve played efficient football for the most part this season,” Smith said. It is a process. I haven’t said that word in a while, but it’s a long process to get where we want as a football team and as an organization. Everybody in the organization is part of that process. Not just the 53 guys in the locker room. It’s the entire building.”
One of the only low points against Washington was Atlanta’s run defense. Washington rookie Alfred Morris gained 115 yards on only 18 rushing attempts, averaging an impressive 6.4 yards per attempt. As a team, Washington averaged 6.1 yards per attempt on 21 carries. Falcons coach Mike Smith knows this needs to change if Atlanta is going to continue their winning ways.
“We didn’t basically take the blockers on in our terms,” Smith said. “Our path to the ball and our tackling wasn’t what we needed it to be…We’ll look at everything in terms of scheme, in terms of players and who’s playing and who’s not playing. I think it’s something we definitely have to fix.”
On offense, Atlanta made only two real mistakes against Washington, but they were costly. An interception by Matt Ryan was returned for a touchdown and a fumble by Ryan gave Washington a chance to kick a field goal to go up 10-0. “We really shot ourselves in the foot the first half of the ball game,” Smith said. “Self-inflicted, but we were able to show a lot of resolve, especially there in the fourth quarter coming back and scoring the 17 points to win the ball game.”
One of the biggest X-Factors for the upcoming Raiders game will be the extra time Oakland has had to prepare. With Week 5 as their bye week, the Raiders got a chance for their players to heal and pay extra attention to what has been working and what hasn’t been working for Atlanta.
“They’re very talented, they have a very talented running back. Darren McFadden is not only their leading rusher, but he’s also their leading receiver,” Smith said. “Carson Palmer, the quarterback, has been a Pro Bowl quarterback. He can cut you up, so we’re going to have our hands full.”
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.