Insiders

Are The Atlanta Falcons As Good As Their Record?

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Ever since the Atlanta Falcons won the NFC South back in 2012, the Carolina Panthers have held reign in the division, even if it means only winning seven games like last year.

Heading into the 2015 campaign, many believed Carolina would run away with the division for a third straight year and while that still may end up being the case, Atlanta is hoping to disrupt things.

First time head coach Dan Quinn has liked the chemistry from his team thus far.

“I certainly have [been pleased]. The biggest thing, I think, is when you see how tight this team has become, the connection that they have for one another. For me, most of the good teams that I’ve been a part of, they have that connection, just knowing they’re just going to play as hard as they can for one another. That part, from the players and coaches connecting, I’ve been really pleased with so far,” the former Seahawks defensive coordinator said.

Atlanta surprised the football world after racing to an 5-0 start before dropping two of their last three games at the hands of NFC South foes New Orleans and Tampa Bay.  A major part of the Falcons success has been the surprising play of second year running back Devonta Freeman. He currently leads the league in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.

“Devonta has played really, really, really great,” quarterback Matt Ryan stressed. “It’s a thing where we’ve gotten better in the run game as the season’s progressed. Week-in and week-out, I feel like we’re getting better. And week-in and week-out I feel like Devonta is getting better, as well. He’s been so productive that you forget that it’s really only five or six weeks of him starting. He’s taken full advantage of the opportunity. He’s a guy who’s worked extremely hard from the time we drafted him, and I think is a player that has really improved and gotten better because of that work ethic. He’s playing at a really high level for us right now.”

Without the exceptional play of Freeman, it’s hard to imagine where Atlanta would be right now because Ryan has been anything but exceptional. The veteran quarterback is among the league leaders in passing yards, however, he’s in the middle of the pack when it comes to quarterback rating and his touchdown to interception ratio is a mere 11 to 7.

Despite his mediocre play, Ryan is very fond of his new coach.

“Dan’s been awesome to be around,” Ryan stated. “He’s got great energy. Every day he shows up in the building – I think he’s very consistent day-in and day-out. He’s really clear with his messaging. I think guys understand what he expects from us and the guys buy into it and believe in his philosophy about winning games. It’s worked well so far. We’ve got a long way to go, but it’s been a good start.”

The other side of the ball is where Atlanta has shown progress. Just a year ago, this unit ranked dead last in total defense. Now, they’re near the top in stopping the run, allowing only 83.4 yards per game on the ground, ranking them third in the league.

Having said that, in order for Atlanta to reach the next level, they’ll need to figure out a way to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. As of right now, Atlanta is 30th in the NFL with 10 sacks.

Dan Quinn understands their pass rush is an area of concern.

“For me, when we’re going to be at our best is when we’re affecting the quarterback and taking the ball away. Sometimes those two go hand-in-hand – hits on the quarterback where the ball gets knocked up in the air, or a sack on the QB where it comes out,” Quinn explained.  “So it’s something that we’re totally committed to doing to improve in that area. And honestly each and every week, that’s really the challenge for us, to see how much better we can get. That’s really the challenge for the players and for the coaches, not just in the pass rush – that’s for sure a factor – but just in terms of our fundamentals, can we keep continuing to try and get better? That’s where our focus is and will continue to be.”

Assuming Carolina wins the division, the Falcons are in great position to obtain one of the wildcard slots. If the season ended today, they would be in the playoffs with the Minnesota Vikings holding down the second wildcard spot.  Atlanta is a game and a half clear of 4-3 St. Louis, who is vying for one of the six playoff berths in the NFC.

Also, it doesn’t hurt that Atlanta only plays two teams with winning records the rest of the way.

In other words, it’ll take an epic collapse for Atlanta to miss the postseason, but the team hasn’t been playing well and are showing signs of the Falcons teams that lost 10 and 12 games respectively each of the last two seasons.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.