This Atlanta Falcons team was supposed to start the season with a 1-4 record, if not 0-5.
They were handed the toughest schedule in the National Football League, and there’s a good chance their slate is living up to the hype. They got the two Super Bowl 50 teams, back to back. They had two road trips in four weeks to play a pair of AFC West teams that are a combined 8-2.
Guess who handed those teams both of their losses? The Atlanta Falcons.
When you’re outscoring everyone in the league, you’re tough to beat. The Falcons have scored a mind-blowing 35 points per game, and they put up 48 points on the Carolina Panthers. That team has only given up 70 points to the other three teams they’ve faced – combined.
And that’s why the Falcons are looking even more dangerous than the squad that started last season 5-0. Keep in mind that Atlanta started the 2015 season by scoring 162 points, or just over 32 per game. But during last year’s run, they faced three of the NFL’s five worst defenses, and only two of those opponents finished with a winning record.
Through five games, Atlanta’s young defense remains a concern, but the offense is light-years ahead of 2015. Quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown for 348 yards per game, tops in the league. He’s averaging 10.4 yards per attempt – not per completion, per attempt – and is completing 69 percent of his passes. The offense is flat-out dangerous, and that’s taking a lot of pressure off the defense.
We all know about Julio Jones, but enough can’t be said about the addition of Mohamed Sanu. In his first five games as a Falcon, the wide receiver is averaging 12.2 yards a catch, and many of those receptions have been on third down. Throw in three tight ends who can all catch the ball, and there are plenty of options for Ryan.
Perhaps the biggest X-factor has been running back Tevin Coleman, and hardly for his part in the running game, though that’s been good as well. Coleman has been making big play after big play as a receiver, and that’s something only a handful of teams can actually defend. When you have to worry about Jones, Sanu and the tight ends, who’s left on your defense to cover a speedy, physical running back with good hands? You have to have a secondary and three linebackers that are all up to the challenge, plus a defensive line that can get to Ryan.
What teams have all of those pieces on defense right now?
Finally, we can’t neglect the incredible job done by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. In all four wins, he crafted a perfect game plan that exposed the opposing defense where they’re weakest. Against the Panthers, Shanahan knew there was a mismatch between Jones and the Carolina secondary, and he went to Jones so many times that they got a man fired. Against Denver, Shanahan knew Jones would face off against two of the best defensive backs in the game, so he got everyone else involved. They went with quick passes to guys like Coleman to keep the Broncos from getting to Ryan.
Basically, the Falcons are doing all of the little things right, and if they can finish their Western road trip with a win over the Seattle Seahawks, I’ll be all-in on this year’s team.Follow @Sean_Breslin