The Atlanta Falcons entered the 2012 season with tempered expectations after being embarrassed by the New York in last year's postseason. That started the ball rolling on a complete coordinator overhaul. Both Mike Mularkey and Brian VanGorder found employment elsewhere, and the Falcons brought in OC Dirk Koetter and DC Mike Nolan.
The Falcons now find themselves sitting atop the NFC at 5-0. While the media seems shocked at these developments, there were signs that early-season perfection could be achieved. Here is a look at the three most obvious signs:
1. Element of surprise: Usually, teams with a new coordinator may take a step back while adjusting to new schemes. The Falcons have quickly adapted on both sides of the ball and left opposing coaches in a lurch.
Coaches study film like crazy; they spend hours pouring over slow-motion frames trying to find the tiniest pattern. The Falcons defense has been, as DE John Abraham said during the preseason, "like robots" for the past four years. Mike Nolan's past few seasons would provide little help as he ran a 3-4 in Miami.
How surprised have opposing offenses been? Ask Peyton Manning.
2. Matt Ryan unleashed: Under Mike Mularkey's tutelage, Matt Ryan went from aggressive gunslinger to somewhat of a game manager. Ryan became more obsessed with ball security than making plays. Halfway through the 2011 season, Coach Mike Smith insisted on more no-huddle offense, and Ryan would go on to set a new team record for passing yards.
Who has played a bigger role in the Falcons 5-0 start?
New OC Dirk Koetter's playbook has added wrinkles that make the most of what Ryan has to offer. Ryan showed signs during the preseason of his prowess with these new tools. It should be no surprise that he has emerged as one of the top quarterbacks early in 2012.
3. Favorable home/away scheduling: It is not the who, but the where that has set the Falcons up for success. The Falcons alternate home and away every week all season long. This keeps players and coaches from falling into a routine. Routine breeds complacency, and complacency is fertile grounds for a trap game. By constantly having to change gears from home to away, the Falcons stay focused.
6-0 could happen
The Oakland Raiders are heading into the Georgia Dome on Sunday, October 14. The Raiders arrive limping in at 1-3, but they have a lot of team speed which could be a huge advantage on artificial turf. Yet, when you combine the three aforementioned elements, the Atlanta Falcons stand a very good chance of remaining unbeaten this week.