Atlanta Falcons: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 7

Al BruceContributor IOctober 15, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 08:  Roddy White #84 of the Atlanta Falcons against the Cincinnati Bengals at Georgia Dome on August 8, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons didn't have a game Week 6, but they did spend their bye week competing against the opponent that may be most responsible for the team's frustrating 1-4 start: Themselves. 

Injuries, red-zone inefficiency, third-down defense and poor offensive line play have plagued the Falcons through the first five weeks of the season and kept the team from living up to expectations in 2013.

After a week of self-scouting, the Falcons are hoping to restart their 2013 season against the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFC South tilt at the Georgia Dome on Sunday.

We'll start our game week coverage with our weekly look at the NFC South standings, Atlanta's injury report and where the Falcons need to improve before taking the field on Sunday.


NFC South Standings

The New Orleans Saints still have a commanding lead in the division despite their heartbreaking loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday since they're the only team in the division that's currently above .500.  Elsewhere in Week 6, Carolina notched an impressive win over the Minnesota Vikings on the road, while the Buccaneers lost their fifth consecutive game at home against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Falcons are now three-and-a-half games behind the first-place Saints, and it's tough to envision the team we saw before the bye week catching up any time soon.

Nevertheless, the Falcons' schedule does present them with an immediate opportunity to separate themselves from the Panthers and Buccaneers because they will play both teams in the next three weeks.  Atlanta may be 1-4, but the team is 1-1 in conference play. 

Since the Falcons are a long shot to win the NFC South and qualify for the playoffs as a division winner, they'll need to take care of business in their conference games so that they can be in position to win tiebreakers in the event they're able to get into the wild-card race.


Injury Report

The Falcons expect Jason Snelling to play against the Buccaneers on Sunday, but it's still unclear whether or not they'll get Steven Jackson back.  Roddy White has been hobbled all year with his ankle injury, and he hurt his hamstring against the New York Jets

If the Falcons are going to have any shot at turning their season around, they're going to need White and Jackson at full strength for the stretch run so that the offense can still create some big plays without Julio Jones.

In addition to Jackson and White, Atlanta's defense could really use the boost that Akeem Dent would provide.


What Needs to Improve

The causes of Atlanta's 1-4 start have been analyzed thoroughly, but Falcons receiver Roddy White probably identified the most pressing issue when he said that the Falcons don't have an identity in an interview last week with Atlanta sports talk radio station 92.9 The Game (via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).  That's precisely what the Falcons need to establish as they head into the remainder of their season.

Through the first couple of years of Mike Smith's tenure in Atlanta, the Falcons were a power run team that fed off of turnovers and a bend-but-don't-break philosophy on defense.  Will the Falcons return to that identity with Jones out of the lineup?

The Falcons have said all of the right things and they don't appear to have given up on this season yet, but they're going to have to figure out what kind of team they will be for the rest of the season so they can impose their will on their opponents as opposed to reacting to what other teams are doing to them.

We'll find out if the Falcons have made any progress on Sunday afternoon.