By Matthew Asher
With their 30-28 win over the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta is 4-0 and has a commanding lead in the NFC South. With the first quarter of the season now complete for the Falcons, it’s time to look back and critique the team’s performance. Like always, there will be the good, the bad and the ugly.
Atlanta’s passing offense gets an A+. Matt Ryan has been near unstoppable averaging 290.5 yards passing each game. If he keeps up this pace, Matty Ice will finish the season with more than 4600 yards, 44 touchdowns against just eight interceptions and with a QB Rating of 112.1. While Ryan has been efficient, he’s also been distributing the ball evenly among his receivers.
Rather than just one go-to receiver for Atlanta, Ryan has three main weapons. Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones all have three touchdown catches and each one has led the team in receiving yards at least once, meaning defenders can’t just key up on one guy; they have to be aware of all three. For Ryan and company, the passing attack doesn’t stop with these three receivers. Running backs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers also have one TD reception each.
As a team, Atlanta has the third most passing first downs (64), the second most passing touchdowns (11) and is in the top 10 for both total passing yards (1,070) and yards per pass play (7.28).
Atlanta’s kicking game gets an A. Matt Bryant currently is a perfect 9-9 on field goals (currently the sixth most in the league) including a last second 40-yard field goal to beat the Carolina Panthers. Bryant is also a perfect 13-13 on extra points. While it doesn’t show up as often on a stat sheet, punter Matt Bosher has been great at giving the Falcons the all-important field position battle victories. Bosher is averaging 44.8 yards per punt with seven of his 17 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
Atlanta’s defensive unit gets an A-. Mike Nolan’s defenses are known for two things: sacks and takeaways. The Falcons’ defense had done a great job of both. Atlanta currently has the third most interceptions (seven) with three against Peyton Manning, ninth most sacks (10) and five fumble recoveries to give them a plus-10 turnover ratio. Yes, they had difficulties slowing down Cam Newton last week, but in the end, they stopped him enough to win the game and that’s what truly matters.
Even though Atlanta currently allows the second most rushing yards per attempt (5.2), the majority of those yards occur when Atlanta has built up a comfortable lead. The all-important statistic to pay attention to is points allowed per game, which is only 19.
Atlanta’s rushing attack gets a C. With the exception of the Carolina game, Atlanta’s running game has been anemic at best. Averaging just 3.5 yards per rush in the first three games, Atlanta is lucky their passing attack has been so good.
Even factoring in the Carolina game, Atlanta is in the bottom 10 teams regarding rushing first downs (18) and total rushing plays (96), averaging 97.75 yards each game. The Falcons are currently ranked thirteenth in the league for both yards per rush (4.1) and rushing touchdowns (three). Matt Ryan has the best rushing average on the team with 4.8 yards while Michael Turner is averaging 4.7 and finally got his first 100-yard rushing game last week.
Atlanta’s offensive line gets a D+. The O-Line for the Falcons is an enigma. The first three weeks the line’s run-blocking was bad but the pass-blocking was great. Then in Week 4 the roles reversed with Matt Ryan sacked a career-high seven times (they had only give up three sacks in the first three games) and Michael Turner and company finally got decent run support averaging 6.4 yards per carry (Turner averaged 7.9 per carry). Proving that they can do both well, but not in the same game simply boils down to figuring out how to focus on improving their all-around blocking.
With all of the good, bad and ugly, the most important factors to consider is 125 points scored (3rd best in the league) vs. 76 points allowed (8th best excluding Pittsburgh who has only played 3 games so far) and 4 wins vs. 0 losses. Arizona and Houston are the only other undefeated teams. Clearly Atlanta is doing very well and is currently one of the most dangerous teams in the league. Hopefully their first-half report card will be as good as their first-quarter one.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.