Atlanta Falcons winning ugly, but will hit stride in December


In a press conference following the loss to the Saints, Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn spoke about the issues the team has to fix, but that he’s excited to watch the team progress and get better while fixing those issues.

“Every game that we are in, we are hoping to learn,” Quinn said. “Our team is going to keep continuing to get better. It happened after the wins we had. That’ll continue to be the case here. Everything that we are doing, we are striving to get better.”

This isn’t just coach speak, because at 6-1 now, fans should genuinely be excited for what’s to come, much like Coach Quinn himself.

Many people have complained about the way the Falcons have been playing, despite the fact they’ve won six of their first seven games. There have been issues on both sides of the ball this year, but that just gives the team a higher ceiling than where they’re currently at.

A commonly discussed issue this season has been the play of quarterback Matt Ryan. The Boston College product has thrown for 2,002 yards, with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. He’s third in the NFL in passing yards this season, and became the fifth fastest player to reach 30,000 career passing yards. But when watching the games, you notice he just hasn’t quite looked like the Matt Ryan of old, especially in the first half. 

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The good news? Ryan is a consummate professional who continues working to improve. With the run game clicking and finally with some time in the pocket, expect Matty Ice to progress and get back into elite waters by the end of the season.

Speaking of the run game, it has been stellar this season with the play of Devonta Freeman and a revamped offensive line. The Falcons o-line has been arguably the best unit in the NFL this season, and the scary part is that it will continue to improve.

With Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme, linemen get better with each passing game as they develop a chemistry with one another. This offensive line, consisting of LT Jake Matthews, G Andy Levitre, C Mike Person, RG Chris Chester and RT Ryan Schrader, has only been working together for seven weeks. If all healthy, they’ll be hitting their stride in this scheme around December.

Devonta Freeman is a player who has already hit his stride in a zone-blocking scheme tailor-made for his abilities. He leads the NFL in rushing yards (621), and rushing touchdowns (9), while also serving as Atlanta’s second leading receiver behind Julio Jones. Freeman doesn’t look to be slowing down, and as the offensive linemen build chemistry, so will the Florida State product’s rushing yards and touchdowns.

“Matt Ryan is third in the NFL for passing yards this season, and became the fifth fastest player ever to 30,000 career passing yards. But when watching the games, you notice that he just hasn’t quite looked like the Matt Ryan of old lately, especially in the first half.”

Tevin Coleman has become an afterthought in the Atlanta backfield following his ribs injury and Freeman’s emergence, but there’s a reason he was lauded coming out of college. At Indiana, Coleman rushed for 2,000 yards in his final year despite the fact that defenses keyed in on him. The rookie should improve as he continues to get accustomed to NFL culture, and he should be able to effectively spell Freeman at times, by the end of the season.

As for the defense, it’s all about the scheme. At the beginning of the season, they were missing tackles and they still haven’t figured out a way to get sacks. The unit has been steadily improving, and this is no surprise, as it takes some time for defensive players to get used to a new scheme.

This is especially true for Vic Beasley, Atlanta’s struggling DE who was taken with the eighth overall pick. Beasley’s speed rush moves are something to behold, but you won’t beat the big money NFL left tackles with just quickness. It’s taking some time, but as the rookie out of Clemson learns and develops some power moves, his play in the pros should benefit immensely.

The Falcons’ defense has truly been great at stopping the run this year, ranking fourth in the league in that category, giving up only 3.7 yards per carry. They have finally managed to take over and win a game for the birds; in fact, they did that twice in the last three weeks. This would’ve been unheard of last season, as the Mike Nolan-led unit was a major liability for the most part.

Matt Ryan, the offensive line, the defense, and Atlanta’s rookies aren’t as good as they will be come December. Despite struggles from all of them at one point or another this season (excluding the offensive line), Atlanta is 6-1 and in the thick of things in the NFC South and playoff picture.

While you want to play good football throughout the year, the main goal is to get hot at the end of the season and going into the playoffs, when the records are thrown out.

Look at the 2007 New York Giants who were a wild-card team that got hot at the right time and won a Super Bowl over the 16-0 Patriots. What about the 2011 Giants who got hot right in time to beat the 15-1 defending champion Packers in the Divisional Round, and then won it all.

The Falcons know first hand about how dangerous teams that peak at the right time can do. They saw it with the 2010 sixth seed Packers, who eviscerated the 13 win birds inside the Georgia Dome, and then went onto win the Super Bowl. These are the teams history remembers.

Come December, this Atlanta Falcons team will be hitting its stride. The schedule drastically works out in Atlanta’s favor as they won’t have to play the division leading 6-0 Carolina Panthers—who are peaking right now—until then. Get in, get hot, and who knows what could happen late in the season?

Next: Falcons report card from win over Titans

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