The Falcons 31-17 victory of Washington this weekend capped of their first half of the regular season with a 5-3 record. In any given year in Falcons history, we would probably be ecstatic, however I feel like this team has room for improvement.
And that might not be a bad thing. I see a lot of potential in this year's team. All of that "process" junk Mike Smith has been preaching has all of a sudden become very endearing.
This team is young, and less than two years removed from the lowpoint of the franchise's notoriously comedic history. Yet, they are a focused team with something to prove. The Dirty Birds, as I must always insist on calling them still, have established a winning mentality in Atlanta.
Considering the youth, you have to feel like everything is in place for this team to improve and become one of the elite. Why do I feel that way?
Well, remember last year when General Manager Thomas Dimitroff cleaned house on offense and everyone panicked? "Crumper and Dunn are leaving? They are all we have left!"
That tragedy-- yeah, well everyone seemed to jump ship again this offseason when Atlanta did little in changing the personnell on defense.
Nine weeks into the year, and I am set in believing this defense is the strongest Atlanta has had in a while. They may not blow you away statistically, but you can tell they are very well coached. They create tons of turnovers and do their own job of getting the Georgia Dome crowd all pumped up and what not.
The defense is fun to watch, which is a fact magnified by the fact that the youth on that side of the ball was supposed to make this defense terrible.
And thus we have my midseason thesis. The Falcons are on track for a 10-6 year, but whether or not they go 9-7 or 13-3, I feel like I can sit back and be proud of this team.
I felt that way since Atlanta won up in Green Bay last year. The Falcons carry a very college-esque atmosphere with them. There always seems to be the feeling that they have a chip on their shoulder.
Yet, they show up and play fantastic, fundamental football every week. I do not care if they win or lose as much anymore, because I always appreciate the way they play.
With that, let's move into a game by game evaluation shall we?
Falcons 19-Dolphins 7
This game was all about the defense. We were all worried that Miami and their vaunted Wildcat offense was going to tear this young defense apart. Instead, additions like Mike Peterson and Brian Williams helped wreck the Dolphins and nearly shut them out. Considering the criticism the defense was receiving during the preseason, this defensive performance overshadowed the victory.
Falcons 28-Panthers 20
Had to love the old school uniforms, but thank God they did not play like the old school team. Instead, Atlanta again did a good job of executing as well as covering up for mistakes as they cruised to a comfortable win. The score and stats really did not indicate just how well Atlanta played.
Falcons 10-Patriots 26
First misstep of the season, but in New England; I'll take that. Atlanta looked very crisp on offense early on, and even was on it's way to taking a lead on the Patriots heading into halftime until Michael Turner fumbled. The defense kept bending but not breaking, until Tom Brady did his usual thing and threw a touchdown late to put the game away. Another game that was just a few mistakes away from turning the other way, but that is what football is all about.
Falcons 45-49ers 10
First game of the year where the team hit on all cylinders. Any time you can do that on the road it's huge. I got tired of listening to the FOX broadcast team just complain about how terrible San Francisco was doing the entire game. They gave no credit to the Falcons performance. Did I say chip on shoulder earlier? Suprised Singletary kept his pants on after Dre Bly did "The Deion" from his own 30-yard line. One of the most embarasing plays I have ever witnessed, however I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Falcons 21-Bears 14
This game proved to the entire nation that Atlanta has the capacity to win with defense. With their offense having a tough night, the defense forced two interceptions and made a great stand at the end. I doubt Chicago would have been anywhere near winning that game if it werent for three absolutely incredible catches from their tight ends.
Falcons 21-Cowboys 37
This was another game where Atlanta looked like the more focused team, scoring on their first drive. Atlanta really let the floodgates open in this one. Even against a good team like Dallas, this loss was a very very ugly one.
Falcons 27-Saints 35
This loss however was not an ugly one. After nearly embarasing New Orleans in the final few minutes, and coming nine points away from beating an undefeated and seemingly unstoppable team in the toughest venue in the NFL, I was actually pretty content with the Falcons resulting 4-3 record. Atlanta shot themselves in the foot a few times in this game.
Falcons 34-Redskins 17
This game was more of an exposure of how bad Washington is rather than a showcase of how good Atlanta is. But, it is good to know that Atlanta can not only win against, but dominate opponents they are supposed to beat. The Falcons are now 11-1 at home under Mike Smith. And they are saying we need to build a new stadium? Please.
Overall, I like that Atlanta's two toughest remaining opponents are coming into the Georgia Dome. There is a 100 percent chance that the Dome will be electric for the games vs. the Eagles and Saints. I'm so excited for that two week span!
Also, road games at Carolina and the New York Giants do not seem quite as tough as they did back in August. It will be huge for Atlanta to win the next two games.
Also, notice Atlanta is making two trips to the Meadowlands this season. Just an interesting tidbit.
And now for some player reviews.
Ryan continues to show that poise and calm that has so many football pundits excited. Don't know if I want to classify his performance to this point as a sophomore slump, but he has had some questionable interceptions. Also, he seems to sometimes target Tony Gonzalez a little too much. Ryan needs to remember the type of success he had with just Jenkins and White last year. He traded a wide open touchdown to Roddy against Washington for an interception underneath. But, everyone messes up a tad. Everyone still has tons and tons of faith in this guy, and he is just in his second year.
Got off to a very very slow start, but does anyone feel like Jason Snelling's performance against Dallas made Turner turn back on the burners? The Marta has rushed for over 150 yards in his past two games. He is starting to show that great combination of power and quickness that I was afraid had been lost. That was the most releiving part of the past two weeks.
Having another great year, and finding the endzone more often than before. Roddy has kind of fallen back off the radar a little bit, which is easy when he is not that all-world type of receiver (ie. Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall). But, Roddy continues to produce, and is on track for 80 grabs, 1,100 yards, and 12 touchdowns.
Two things I have learned about Tony Gonzalez this year: 1) His feet look like bricks, 2) His hands are amazing! I never realized how slow Tony G was, but man can he snag some passes! Love how dominating he can over the middle, but I do not want him to become the central part of the offense. That means the offense is closing down rather than opening up. Michael Jenkins has probably noticed that by now-- his producation has gone way down (though it would help if he would get back to where he was in 2008 and stop dropping the stinking ball).
The Predator still cannot seem to stay healthy! Great pass rusher, but not when he is standing next to the coaching staff for the entire game. That bullrush sack on Jake Long earlier this year was so epic; I think I've watched it on youtube at least thirty times.
Really starting to show up. He is a great leader aside from Mike Peterson, and runs to the ball very well.
...and on that note, we have Mike Peterson. My favorite offseason aquisition of the offseason. Peterson is an intense player, strong leader, but most importantly is the cause of that constant "POP!" sound you hear after every play on Sundays.
Where did this man come from? He is a safety, and is as skinny as a rail. Yet, DeCoud has proven to be a fiery hitter as well as a great cover man. You do not see Atlanta's safeties get beat very often.
Chris Houston -
...but we do see their corners get beat, and Houston is still topic of discussion when it comes to bad corner coverage. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel my friends.
I leapt off my couch and gave an applause to the television this Sunday when Houston, with his usual good coverage on a receiver,...
...TURNED AROUND AND PLAYED THE BALL!!! It was Christmas in November! (Wait, people with no patience usually start Christmas by now).
Anyways, I give Houston special attention because I have always felt like he has potential to be a great corner in the NFL. He does two things very well, and that is downhill tackling and covering. But, he never ever has the confidence to turn around and play the ball.
Well, he did against Washington, and the ball hit him right in the chest. Of course he dropped it, probably because he never thought turning around would serve any purpose. Later in the game he failed to turn around on a pass and the ball just about hit him in the back. Chris Houston is a 90 degree turn away from being a great staple in our defense.
And with that, I have adressed the Falcons as much as I felt necessary. I am going to be an optimist and say this team loses one more game the rest of the way. That is right, one.
12-4 record to finish the year! But more importantly, the neverending back-to-back winning season curse will finally be lifted! Go Falcons!