The 8-0 Atlanta Falcons aren't getting the respect they deserve from the big-time national media. It's started to grate on the nerves of Falcons fans who believe that the team has been much better that how the media is portraying them.
A good bit of that is due to the Falcons not playing anyone outside of the Denver Broncos who currently have a winning record.
However, there are 10 major truths about the Falcons that the national media just will not show.
For the first four years of the Mike Smith era, Matt Ryan was very limited in his screen-pass production because then-offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey wouldn't even call those plays. According to Pat Yasinskas of ESPN, Ryan was just 29-for-36 (80.5 percent) for 141 yards and no touchdowns between 2010 and 2011.
In 2012, Ryan is currently 14-for-14 for 145 yards and three touchdowns—and that's as of Oct. 3, with half of the season still to go (h/t Pat Yaskinsas of ESPN). It's not just throwing more screen passes, though; Ryan has thrown less downfield than last season—21 passes of 21 yards or more downfield versus 47 passes in 2011.
However, he's much more efficient in his deep ball this year. Last season, he went 11-for 47 (23.4 percent) for 389 yards, four touchdowns and one interception on passes 21 or more yards for a rating of 81.1 (h/t ESPN Player Card on Matt Ryan).
This season, he is 8-for-21 (38.1 percent) for 296 yards, three touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 105.6 on those same passes.
Under Mike Mularkey, the offense revolved around Michael Turner.
From 2008 until 2011, the Falcons were 19-15 in games in which Turner did not break 100 yards. However, they were 22-3 when he surpassed the century mark.
In that same span, they were 15-15 when Turner had less than 20 carries in a game but 26-3 when he went over that 20-carry threshold. Turner also had over 300 carries for three of the past four years, including two seasons in which he had more than 330 rushing attempts.
This season, the only two games in which Turner has even reached 20 carries have been the past two. He also has only hit the 100-yard mark twice this season. However, because the offense is no longer relying on him to have great games in order to win, he's seen his workload reduced, meaning that we should see a fresher Turner at the end of this season.
Heading into this season, it was assumed by many pundits—including myself—that Julio Jones would overtake Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez as the primary target for the Falcons this season.
Much to my surprise, White is still the most targeted Falcon with 67 attempts.
But even more surprising has been the equal distribution of passes among the three for targets. Julio Jones has been thrown to 65 times, and Tony Gonzalez has been targeted on 64 passes.
What's scarier is what their production means for Ryan.
When throwing to these three, Matt Ryan is 137-for-196 (69.9 percent) for 1,832 yards, 13 touchdowns, four interceptions and 105 first downs for a passer rating of 112.8. These three make it easy for Matt Ryan to put up MVP numbers.
Oh, did I mention that they could all block well too?
The following stats are from the first two seasons of these two running backs' careers.
Running back A: 99 rushes, 342 yards, 1 touchdown, 45 catches, 378 yards, 2 touchdowns, 11 kick returns, 26.7 yards per return, 1 fumble
Running back B: 45 rushes, 214 yards, 2 touchdowns, 13 catches, 41 yards, 0 touchdowns, 63 kick returns, 25.4 yards per return, fumbles
One of these backs is current New Orleans Saints phenom Darren Sproles. The other is current Falcons second-year man Jacquizz Rodgers. What's interesting is that Rodgers is running back A, and Sproles is running back B.
While Rodgers has proven that while he isn't the current iteration of Darren Sproles, he is still better than Sproles was early in his career. Rodgers has given the Falcons another explosive option out of the backfield and been valuable to the offense as a great change of pace for Michael Turner all year.
In 2011, the Atlanta Falcons were terrible in pass blocking early in the season. Matt Ryan was abused early and often and could never get the ball out without getting hit. The biggest difference has been in left tackle Sam Baker.
Baker is a play whom I had bashed this offseason because of poor play both in run-blocking and in pass protection. However, he has improved tremendously in 2012, allowing just 3.5 sacks, two quarterback hits and 18 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus' premium statistics.
John Abraham has been a top pass rusher his entire career. He came back in 2012 partly because of how he was to be used in Mike Nolan's new scheme (h/t Fox Sports South's John Manasso). The main reason being that the new scheme would allow Abraham to float around the formations as both a linebacker and a defensive end.
He's been impactful as a pass-rusher with seven sacks, three quarterback hits and 17 pressures in just 72.8 percent of the defensive snaps. The impressive thing is how much better he has been against the run in the new scheme.
He doesn't get blocked out of plays anymore and has made 16 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. He has been used at both inside and outside linebacker when the Falcons go to their 3-4 sets as well.
Sean Weatherspoon is a great linebacker and arguably the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL. However, Stephen Nicholas and Akeem Dent are also playing well. While Dent didn't start the season well, he has started stepping up since the bye week has rendered him with more responsibilities.
Nichols is arguably the most underrated linebacker in the NFL. He's an impact player who can get after the passer, force fumbles and even play in coverage.
Thomas DeCoud is the one player who was grossly misused by old defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder. He looked out of position and out of touch with the rest of the game, when all he was doing was filling the role that Van Gorder had him playing.
Insert Mike Nolan. DeCoud is now leading all NFC free safeties in interceptions. He also has a fumble recovery, a sack and eight stops at the line of scrimmage or behind it. What's even more impressive is the league-best 20.6 passer rating allowed (h/t ProFootballFocus premium stats).
Of the 16 passes attempted in his direction, seven have been completed for a total gain of 83 yards and long of 18. On all nine of the incompletions, DeCoud either deflected or intercepted the pass. He's been arguably the best coverage safety in the NFC this season and deserves his first Pro Bowl this year.
Yes, I said it. The Falcons have not just one of the best safeties in the NFC but the best safety tandem in the NFC. DeCoud and William Moore compare favorably to the former Green Bay Packer tandem of Darren Sharper and LeRoy Butler in terms of how they play.
Moore has been a tremendous ball hawk throughout the season, despite having just two interceptions to show for it. He's also one of the strongest tacklers on the team, forcing two fumbles on some of his vicious hits.
It's why the fans have dubbed him "C4." And like the unstable military compound, Moore explodes into ball carriers and has forced multiple drops this season to go along with those forced fumbles.
The best part of the Falcons isn't the offense or defense.
Instead it has been its almost flawless special teams. Matt Bryant has missed just three field goals all season, and he has hit three clutch field goals that either won or tied the game within the final minutes.
After a tough start early in 2011, Matt Bosher has been one of the most efficient punters in the NFL. He is averaging 46.6 yards per punt this season, and of his 30 punts, 13 of them have landed within the 20 or been touchbacks.
Another 10 of them have been fair caught due to great hang time. And of his 50 kickoffs, 26 have been touchbacks while those kicks which have been returned have yielded an average of just 22 yards per return.
When it comes to returning the ball, Jacquizz Rodgers and Dominique Franks have been smart and efficient with the ball despite not making a lot of big plays. Still both have the ability to break a long one at any time and could end up with a touchdown each by the end of the season.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and the NFL draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.