By Matthew Asher
The last four weeks have been a rollercoaster ride for the Falcons. After starting out the season 8-0, the New Orleans Saints handed Atlanta its first loss of the season. Atlanta won the next game against Arizona, but it was one of the uglier wins a sports fan will ever see. To finish up these four games, Atlanta defeated the Saints and ended Drew Brees’ NFL record of consecutive games throwing a touchdown pass.
While Atlanta’s defense has always kept them in every game this season, this third quarter review is going to focus on the offensive side of the ball. It appears as though Atlanta’s defense adapts to whatever is needed of them from week to week.
Atlanta’s three-headed monster of receivers get an A. While Matt Ryan has been struggling as of late, the trio of Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White have shared the duties of each leading the team in receiving stats throughout the season. Of Ryan’s 312 completions this season, this trio has caught 199 of them for 2,724 yards and 17 of Atlanta’s 22 passing touchdowns.
While this is only Jones’ sophomore year, he’s already on pace to eclipse 1,200 receiving yards and should break his rookie receiving yard record next week against the Carolina Panthers.
Against the Saints in Week 10, Gonzalez became the first tight end in NFL history to record 100-plus touchdown receptions in a career. He now has 102 and has the sixth most touchdown receptions of all-time in the NFL. He’s currently on pace to top the 1,000 receiving yards mark for the fifth time in his career and just the first time as an Atlanta Falcon.
Roddy White’s touchdown number may have slightly slipped, but he’s still producing lots of reception yards. He’s already over the 1,000 receiving yard mark for the sixth time in his career and is on pace to record 1,364 yards, the third-highest number in his career. It should be noted that some of the production drop off is due to the acquisition of Jones and Gonzalez. Still, with a small decline in stats, Roddy has done a great job and is a legitimate Pro-Bowl candidate for this year.
Atlanta’s rushing attack, specifically Michael Turner, gets a D+. The running attack of Atlanta has been extremely perplexing as of late. Against the Saints in Week 10 and Bucs in Week 12, Michael Turner had 26 rushing attempts for a combined 32 yards. Anyway you slice it, a 1.2 yards gained per rush attempt is terrible. That being said, Turner has scored three of his seven rushing touchdowns in the last three games.
Against New Orleans in Week 13, Turner had a respectable game with 83 rushing yards on 12 carries for a nice 6.9 yards per carry average. The problem has been the consistency of his efforts.
Matt Ryan gets a C-. This is a tough one to call due to Ryan’s statistics. The 1,412 yards Ryan has thrown in the past four games is the most he’s thrown in any quarter of the season but his touchdown and interception rating is bad. He has thrown just 5 touchdowns against 7 interceptions in these four games.
To put this in context, these are Ryan’s statistics for the first and second four game sets of the season. Weeks 1-4 Ryan had 1,162 passing yards with 11 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. Weeks 5-9 (with Week 7 as the Bye Week) Ryan had 1,016 passing yards with 6 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Ryan is on pace to throw for almost 4,800 yards, 29 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. If he continues on this pace, Ryan will set new career records in passing yardage and interceptions while tying his 2011 record of touchdown passes. For the record, Ryan’s 29 touchdown passes last year came against just 12 interceptions. a number Ryan already eclipsed through his first 11 games of the season.
For Atlanta to finish the final four games of the regular season strong and hopefully deep into the playoffs, the name of the game will be consistency for everyone on the offensive side of the ball. If they can do that, there’s no reason Falcons fans shouldn’t be thinking at least NFC Championship or Super Bowl XLVII in February.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.