The Atlanta Falcons are one of two teams left in the NFL that can brag about a perfect record. Atlanta has a win in each of its first five games—some wins came convincingly, a few needed late-game heroics.
The important statement, however, is that for the first time in franchise history, the Falcons are 5-0. Now, how do the Falcons stay perfect?
The answer to that one will be something the coaching staff focuses on every day moving forward. While they’re strategizing in Flowery Branch, let’s take a look at the state of the team as Atlanta prepares for Oakland this Sunday.
Atlanta’s offense hasn’t been a juggernaut in terms of total yardage—the team ranks 10th in the NFL, averaging 376.4 yards per game. But don’t let that fool you into thinking the Falcons don’t have one of the most explosive offenses in the game.
Matt Ryan ranks third in yardage and is on pace to throw for 4,822 yards this year, which would set a new franchise record (Ryan set the franchise record last season with 4,177 yards through the air). He’s also been incredibly efficient with a 68.3-percent completion rate, good for fifth in the league.
Ryan’s boost in completion percentage—his best season to date was in 2010, when he posted a 62.5-percent mark, and his career rate is 61.6 percent—is directly related to Ryan becoming more in tune with his receiving corps and enjoying the influence of new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
Ryan has some potent targets. The one-two punch of Roddy White and Julio Jones may be the best in the business, and tight end Tony Gonzalez—with more receptions than anyone else in the NFL—doesn’t look like a guy who’s putting himself out to pasture after the 2012 season.
Even Michael Turner, who started extremely slow, is averaging 5.6 yards per carry over the last three games. Turner’s also on pace to catch more passes this year than he ever has.
The Falcons on offense enjoy a situation where it’s nearly impossible to take away every option Ryan has to hurt the defense. Take White away and Jones shines. Take White and Jones both out of the equation—something no one’s been able to do yet—and Gonzalez steps up.
Atlanta is in good shape on offense.
At 5-0, there’s hardly any aspect of the Falcons' roster that anyone can call bad. But since there is always somewhere to improve, look at right tackle Tyson Clabo as a player who isn’t playing at the same level as the rest.
According to Pro Football Focus (paywall), Clabo ranked fifth in the league among tackles last year in pass-blocking efficiency. He gave up just four sacks and eight hits on the quarterback and was the model of protection.
This year he’s already given up five sacks (only two tackles have given up more at this point in the season) and allowed three hits.
Clabo’s rough statistics are in large part due to his brutal game against the Carolina Panthers and defensive end Charles Johnson, where he gave up three sacks and two hits. He rebounded to play a clean game against Washington, his second in three weeks.
It may take a while to completely absolve Clabo for the start to his season. But he is moving in the right direction.
In a complete reversal of roles from last season, Atlanta’s pass defense is ranked higher than its run defense.
The Falcons are allowing 203 yards per game through the air (ninth in the NFL) and 142.8 yards per game on the ground (27th in the league). If the defense can shore up its run defense, this team may look close to unstoppable.
And that may be more likely than it sounds.
Defensive tackle Corey Peters—the only piece of the defensive line that’s different from last season—is nearing the time period that he’s eligible to come off of the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. If he’s healthy enough to do so, he could spark a Falcons run defense that was very stout last year.
As happy as the Atlanta fanbase is with a 5-0 start, there’s no way expectations can become too elevated because of the recent postseason success or lack thereof.
In three of the last four seasons, the Falcons have qualified for the playoffs but have been bounced without winning a game. And it’s not always been a situation where Atlanta snuck into the postseason as a Wild Card.
In 2010, the Falcons were 13-3 and secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Green Bay destroyed Atlanta in the Georgia Dome en route to their Super Bowl run.
Fair or not, this team under Mike Smith is not only judged on regular season success—Smith has averaged 10.75 wins per season since taking over as head coach—but its inability to win a playoff game. Until the Falcons advance in the postseason, there will always be a dark cloud hanging off in the distance.
Atlanta looks like it'll be in good shape to enter its Week 7 bye with a 6-0 record. The Falcons host the Oakland Raiders on Sunday and then get some much-needed rest before a brutal stretch of four games.
Forget about the 10-9 combined record for those four opponents and focus on the fact that each poses a different and deadly threat to the Falcons. And even though the Saints have won just once, they look to be surging, and anything can happen in a rivalry game.
It’s nice to look at this 5-0 Falcons team and think elite. But it’s a little too early to truly know if the Falcons are legitimate top dogs. Check back after Week 11.