Wayne Larrivee's Packers-Falcons pregame primer I: About Atlanta

Wayne Larrivee's blog
Wayne's pregame primer I: About Atlanta
Wayne's pregame primer I: About Atlanta
Wayne's pregame primer I: About Atlanta
Posted at 12:01 AM, Oct 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-28 01:01:07-04

The Falcons are off to a tremendous start this season, offensively leading the league in both scoring (32.7 per game) and yardage (433.6 per game).

They have accomplished those numbers despite having played the top two defenses in the league on the road, at Denver and at Seattle which makes those numbers all the more impressive!
Atlanta dropped its opener at home to Tampa Bay 31-24 (they’ve lost 2 of 3 home games so far), then reeled off four straight wins, followed by back to back losses at Seattle and at home last week in overtime to San Diego.  
I had an opportunity to see the Falcons in person last week while broadcasting for Westwood One national radio. They are a talented but relatively young team that is still trying to find its way.
Philip Rivers, the “greatest competitor” at quarterback in the game today, literally “willed” his Chargers to an overtime victory.
The Atlanta defense is a work in progress, but along the second and third levels they have great speed and young talent. Up front they are old ,and have to scheme to get pressure on the quarterback.  
This Falcons offense is kind of hard to get a feel for.  Quarterback Matt Ryan is having a sensational season statistically, but in each of the last two games, his interceptions eventually led to defeat.
Julio Jones is the best receiver in the game today. He dominates, but the Falcons don’t have anyone else who scares you.
The offensive line is mediocre, at best and while they have been blessed with one of the better “one-two” running back tandems in the league, half of that tandem went down in the third quarter against the Chargers when Tevin Coleman left with a hamstring injury.
His status for this week is highly questionable.  This tandem has combined for 1,241 yards and nine touchdowns from scrimmage that’s tops in the NFL.  
That having been said, the running backs are not going to beat you, but the passing game is more than capable.
Ryan looks to be very comfortable in his second season running Kyle Shanahan’s offense. He is a classic drop back passer who is best in the pocket and not nearly as effective when flushed.
Most of his mistakes and interceptions come when he is “flushed.” He’s only been intercepted four times this year, but as stated above ,two of them have come at crucial times and turned potential wins into defeats.
Ryan has been very accurate especially downfield. He has completed 33 passes of 20-plus yards which leads the league, and the Falcons lead the league at 9.6 yards per pass attempt.
Jones is the ultimate “bail out” receiver because of his leaping ability; catch radius, speed and route running.  He makes Ryan’s game look better than it really is.
Pro Football Focus had this to say about "Matty Ice" this week:
“Right now, the Falcons’ quarterback owns an overall grade of 84.9, which is only good enough for ninth in the league. This time a season ago, that mark was 84.3—pretty much the same. In a world that deals in black or white absolutes, Ryan has always been the definition of shades of gray. He has never really threatened to elevate himself into the true elite echelon of QBs, but neither has he ever really flirted with true mediocrity. Ryan has always been a “good,” top-10 quarterback prone to some very bad mistakes. He is just as capable of winning a game for his team with an outstanding drive or two late in the contest as he is losing it with a key and costly mistake."
"Week 7’s game against San Diego was typical Ryan. It wasn’t any one thing—there were some fantastic throws in there, and some disastrous ones, including one that effectively threw the game away late. It was also an unusually good example of Ryan being slightly off, and Julio Jones, primarily, bailing him out, making the QB look a little better than he really deserved from the passes he threw.
This is extremely high-level stuff, and most quarterbacks can’t do it consistently. But it’s also what separates the Tom Brady’s from the Matt Ryan’s. And Julio Jones making a run of those plays for him is what creates a skew in the statistics that suggests Ryan is playing a lot better this season than last year, when really we are looking at the same player making the same throws and just getting slightly different results.”
Say what you will, whether “Matty Ice” is better or not, his offense is much better than the Falcons unit that ranked 21st generating 21.2 points per game last season, and that’s all that matters.