The Atlanta Falcons haven’t just won their first three games. They have solidly beaten each team they have played. As a matter of fact, they have lead each game by at least twenty points at one moment or another. Nobody is saying this team is already qualified for the playoffs or is certainly going to the Super Bowl, but based on what we’ve seen so far this season, there is good reason to feel that they are in an outstanding situation both in the conference and in the division.
Coming into the season, everyone generally accepted that the Falcons were going to take the same basic roster and team from 2011 into the 2012 season. The hope was that another season for the team to gain cohesion and the introduction of two new coordinators and a new offensive line coach would be able to help the team out. Not only have they helped the team out, but it looks like they have made all the difference in the world.
Offensively, the team is finally allowed to spread its wings and take flight. In past season, the Falcons tried to run the ball too much, got into too many long yardage situations, and teams were able to limit their passing game. Under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the Falcons have run the ball effectively, but have also been much improved in the passing game, including stretching the field more effectively to the outside receivers. QB Matt Ryan is on pace to set career highs in nearly every single passing category, and that only bodes well for this offense. That side of the ball looks more decisive and more potent than we have seen every before. Plus San Diego and Denver have very good defenses, so it makes us feel even better about the direction of that side of the ball.
The greatest change for the Falcons is on the defensive side of the ball. There were some solid players on that defense, including rising star Sean Weatherspoon and an outstanding cornerback trio. But I was really concerned about the pass-rush, as John Abraham had been the one man generating pass-rush the past couple seasons. How on earth would new DC Mike Nolan be able to pressure the quarterback and play coverage with only 11 men on the field? I just wasn’t sure it was possible, especially after watching Brian Van Gorder call Cover-2 play after play and give up ungodly numbers on defense and especially on third down.
Nolan has worked wonders for this defense. They have shown ability to consistently get after the quarterback, and while they haven’t had boat loads of sacks, they are in the top-10 in that category, and do a good job of disrupting the pocket. They are outstandingly athletic, fast, and strong at the linebacker level, and Nolan has used them very effectively. Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas have been outstanding, and both are stepping up as big time leaders for the team. And the secondary is playing great as well. The injured Achilles of Brent Grimes seemed like it might be the death knell for the Falcons, but in two games without him the Falcons have given up only 24 points and the secondary is playing better than ever before. The corners are playing fast, physical, and good coverage, and the safety play is the biggest difference on the defense.
For right now, there is just about nothing but good things to feel about this Falcons team. The offensive and defensive coordinators are using their schemes to maximize the massive talent potential on this team, and its making all the difference in the world. The Falcons were a very good team from 2008-2011, but something was missing that prevented them from being great. Now they have that something, aggressive coordinators, and Atlanta is making that step to being a great team.