By: David Schiele
Last week, free safety Ricardo Allen told me and other media members that the Falcons are the same team from last year. A few weeks before that, I wrote a column entitled “The Falcons Aren’t Good Anymore.” Hey, when you run a jet-sweep on fourth-and-goal from your opponent’s one-yard line, your credibility as a Super Bowl contender goes down the drain.
Although, after a 34-31 win over the Seattle Seahawks in week 11, Ricardo Allen’s statement may really hold some weight.
His streak of consecutive 200-yard passing games may be over, but quarterback Matt Ryan is starting to look like the MVP he was in 2016. Ryan connected with eight different receivers against Seattle and seven against Dallas a week ago. Remember, he set an NFL record last year by recording touchdown passes to 13 different receivers. So, it’s evident that the 10-year veteran quarterback is best when he spreads the ball around.
Matty Ice was also cool under pressure in Seattle (pun intended). In perhaps the NFL’s loudest stadium, the Falcons converted nine of their 14 third downs. Ryan was responsible for most of these conversions, completing passes to wide receivers, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy. He also scrambled for a first down on third-and-eight. That scramble extended a drive that ended with a touchdown pass to tight end Levine Toilolo.
On the defensive side, the Falcons are better than they were a year ago. Last year, Atlanta allowed an average of 25 points per game. Through 10 games this season, they’re only allowing 21 points per contest. It’s only a four-point difference, but in a league where most games (over 23%) are decided by three points or less, this is a big deal.
Another difference is sacks. The Falcons are currently ranked 4th in the NFL with 29 sacks. Last season, they sacked opposing quarterbacks 34 times. If the Falcons get just one sack in each of their remaining games, they’ll surpass their sack total from a year ago.
Additionally, the Atlanta defense has forced six turnovers in the past three games. They had only two in the first four games—both coming against the Green Bay Packers.
So let’s review: 2016 Matt Ryan is starting to make a reappearance and the Atlanta defense is sacking quarterbacks and forcing turnovers. It seems like the Falcons might not just be that team from last year, but better than that. And November/December is the right time to get hot in the NFL.