Atlanta Falcons: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 4

Al BruceContributor ISeptember 24, 2013

Sep 22, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) looks on during the second half against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off of what may have been their most frustrating regular-season loss of the Mike Smith era, the Atlanta Falcons will attempt to regroup on Sunday night when they welcome the undefeated New England Patriots into the Georgia Dome.

In addition to protecting the football, the Falcons are going to have to score touchdowns when they get into the red zone and do a better job of defending against the two-minute drill.

Before we dive into breaking down Atlanta's matchup with New England, we'll begin by taking our weekly look at the NFC South standings, Atlanta's injury list and what the Falcons need to do to improve following the Week 3 defeat to the Dolphins.


NFC South Standings

Atlanta's loss was New Orleans' gain as the Saints now have a two-game lead over the Falcons and Carolina Panthers in the NFC South.  After facing little resistance from the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, the Saints get another home game this week against the Dolphins. 

If the Falcons don't take care of business against the Pats on Sunday, they could easily find themselves three games back in the division after next Monday night.

On the brighter side, the rest of the conference standings offer a bit of a silver lining for Atlanta since other presumed NFC playoff contenders like San Francisco (1-2), Green Bay (1-2) and New York (0-3) are also off to disappointing starts.


Injury Updates

It looks like the Falcons will have to rely on Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling until after the bye week that follows their Week 5 game against the New York Jets on Monday Night Football since Steven Jackson is expected to miss another two to three weeks. 

Robert McClain's rough afternoon got worse when he left the game against the Dolphins with what appeared to be an ankle or lower leg injury.

Sam Baker's status for this week's contest is unknown at this point, but Lamar Holmes filled in pretty well for him against Miami under the circumstances.  Could the Falcons keep Holmes at left tackle even when Baker returns?  We'll keep an eye on that situation moving forward.


What Needs to Improve 

Atlanta has held double-digit leads at some point of each game its played this season, yet the Falcons find themselves sitting at 1-2 three weeks into the 2013 campaign.  Whether it's protecting better up front, finishing drives with touchdowns in the red zone, avoiding turnovers or tightening its coverage in the secondary, Atlanta has to develop a killer instinct if this team is going to reach its goals. 

Mike Smith has to drive this point home, and Matt Ryan has to do his part to make sure Atlanta's offense keeps its foot on the pedal when it has leads.

Even with all of the injuries that they've sustained to this point, the Falcons have enough talent to compete with anyone in the league.  After a 1-2 start, the Falcons now have a three-game homestand over the next four weeks.

We'll find out if Atlanta is ready to turn the corner this Sunday night against the Patriots.