Five things you have to know about the Falcons
|09.26.13 at 9:00 am ET|
1. Their receivers are some of the best in the league when it comes to yards after the catch.
After three games, the Falcons are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to yards after the catch, tied for second with the Broncos and trail only the Lions (625 to 581). Wide receiver Julio Jones is good at a lot of things: he’s one of the strongest, fastest and most physical receivers in the game. He’s also one of the best in the league when it comes to picking up YAC. Jones has a league-high 208 yards after the catch this season (according to STATS), a significant spike from last year, when he had 69 yards after the catch through 3 weeks last season. Falcons running back Jason Snelling is also very good when it comes after YAC, as 111 of his 116 total receiving yards have come after the catch (good for 20th in the league). How do you stop that? As the Patriots offense has shown over the years, when it comes to piling up YAC, part of the key is having the quarterback put the ball in the right place. Make the quarterback uncomfortable and you can make him deliver a bad ball, which will make things tougher on the pass catcher. Then, on the other end, defensive backs and linebackers need to place a renewed emphasis on tackling. Good closing speed and making sure that the first hit takes them down — or slows them down enough that another tackler can help — will be key.
2. They start fast.
The Falcons and Chiefs are tied for the league lead in point differential in the first quarter — both teams are plus-31. Atlanta loves to get out of the gate quickly and knock a team back on its heels: they took a 10-0 first-quarter lead on the Saints in the opener, a 14-0 first quarter lead on the Rams after one quarter and a 7-0 edge in the Dolphins after one quarter. It’s tough to hang with them right out of the gate, but if you can match them score-for-score in the early going, you have a good chance with them later in the game because’¦.
3. They can’t close.
In both of their losses this year, the Falcons went into the second half with a lead — they were up on the Saints 17-13 midway through the third, and lost that one 23-17. Atlanta also led the Dolphins 20-10 in the third quarter and 23-20 in the fourth quarter before dropping that one. In the NFC title game last year, they were up on the Niners 24-14 in the third and 24-21 in the fourth, and lost that game, 28-24. Three second-half leads, three losses for the Falcons, who have scored just 10 points in the fourth quarter this season. The Patriots haven’t allowed a single point in the fourth quarter this year.
4. Matt Ryan is good at play action.
The Falcons quarterback is blessed with a steady and consistent running attack, and that’s even without Steven Jackson, who was acquired this offseason to help fill out one of the most impressive offensive rosters in the league but isn’t likely to play Sunday night. So part of his success in play action is simply due to the fact that other teams have to respect the Atlanta running game. But even without that, you get the feeling that Ryan could make it work. According to Pro Football Focus, Ryan is the best in the league when it comes to operating out of play-action. This season, he’s 23-for-29 for 272 yards, two touchdowns and two picks when operating out of play action. The completion percentage is best in the league (79 percent), and his completions are second only to Peyton Manning and his yardage is third behind Manning and Russell Wilson. (Of course, the sample size is bigger, but his accuracy slips precipitously when he doesn’t operate out of play action — he goes form 79 percent to 64 percent. Something to watch for Sunday night.
5. They are very good at run defense.
In their three games this season, the Falcons have yet to allow team to break 100 yards on the ground — the closest any team has gotten was coast week when the Dolphins ran for 90 yards. Overall, Atlanta has yielded 237 rushing yards this season, an average of 79 rushing yards a game (both are fifth-best in the league. (For perspective, the Broncos top the NFL with 130 rushing yards allowed, an average of 43.3 rushing yards per game.) Three of the biggest reasons for the success on the ground this year are defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry, all of whom have done a good job getting penetration into the backfield, clogging up gaps and allowing Atlanta’s linebackers to close up space before a back can find open space.