Raiders vs. Falcons: Is There Something Wrong with 6-0 Atlanta?

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenNFC South Lead WriterOctober 14, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 14: Asante Samuel #22 of the Atlanta Falcons returns a 79 yard interception for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders at the Georgia Dome on October 14, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Atlanta Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said he was 40 yards away from Asante Samuel when Samuel picked off a Carson Palmer pass in the fourth quarter and took it back to the house, an almost patented pick-six from the first-year Falcons cornerback.

“All I heard was ‘Hello… Hello’ and I was in deep coverage,” said DeCoud. “So, 40 yards away and I still heard him.”

Samuel’s interception and return for a touchdown, not to mention the swagger—the trademark yelling and dancing into the end zone—that he brings to the team is, well, the good part.

The missed tackles earlier in the game, along with the poor coverage that allowed the Oakland Raiders to drive the field and tie the game with 40 seconds left to play, is the bad that comes along with the good from Samuel.

Samuel is sometimes the equivalent of Jekyll and Hyde. Then again, so are the 2012 Falcons.

Atlanta breezed through the first three weeks of the season, beating teams on average by more than two touchdowns per game. Jekyll.

The most recent three weeks for the Falcons have been less than stellar. Sure, the team has won each game, but it has needed fourth-quarter heroics each time and has won by the slim margin of just four points on average. Hyde.

“They’ll watch the tape and they’ll realize they have a lot of work to do,” said head coach Mike Smith on whether it was going to be tough to keep his team focused and working hard now that they were 6-0. “I promise you, during their bye week they’ll be in there watching tape.”

The Falcons are a perfect 6-0 on the season, but have performed at anything but a perfect level of late. Sunday’s 23-20 win over the Raiders on a last-second field goal by Matt Bryant is just the latest example of the Falcons just squeaking by.

Atlanta needed a late fumble to beat the Carolina Panthers in Week 4, and a final-quarter come-from-behind victory to beat the Washington Redskins last week.

DeCoud likens it to top-dog syndrome, where a team with a perfect record brings out the best in every team it plays.

“Teams are giving us their best shot,” said DeCoud. “They’re coming out with their guns blazing and making sure they give us a run for their money. Granted we’ve had some missteps, things that we could have done better, but we’ve getting everybody’s best shot.”

While it’s hard to argue with DeCoud’s reasoning, Sunday’s close call might be more misstep than the Raiders bringing their A-game.

Take Matt Ryan’s three interceptions as an example. Ryan took full responsibility for each one—even though you can look at his first one and say Joselio Hanson undercut the route, or the second where the pass was thrown without consideration to backside help from Michael Huff.

Even Ryan’s third interception, where he was crushed as he was throwing, was a case of a controllable misstep. Ryan made three missteps on Sunday after only throwing three interceptions in the first five weeks combined.

Ryan wasn’t the only problem on the field against the Raiders. Atlanta’s defense had terrible issues with tackling on Sunday. Oakland ball-carriers were consistently adding extra yardage after bouncing off defenders who were more concerned with laying on a big hit than wrapping up and bringing it to the ground.

Atlanta’s offensive line will also take some heat once film study begins. Not only did Ryan take some considerable hits and played hurried quite a bit, but the Falcons failed to cross the goal line in the third quarter after an Oakland fumble by Palmer gave Atlanta the ball on the Raiders' 2-yard line.

Atlanta went pass, run, run, and didn’t move the ball an inch. Settling for a field goal is not what this coaching staff wanted to see after spending so much time and thought into bolstering the line in the offseason. Protection and short-yardage gains were the buzz over the summer months in Flowery Branch, and now nothing looks different from last year’s issues.

But the Falcons are still 6-0 and headed into a bye week where the coaching staff can pick apart the good and the bad from the first month-and-a-half of the season.

When Atlanta returns to the field in Philadelphia in Week 8, which team will show up? Will it be Jekyll or Hyde?


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.