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Vital Signs In Atlanta


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Vital signs in Atlanta

Cold, Hard Football Facts for October 12, 2008

There is life after death.

Just look at the Falcons, a team that was unceremoniously buried by fans, "pundits" and even their own quarterback and head coach last year, only to rise from the graveyard of gridiron ignominy here in 2008.

The Falcons are 4-2, and locked in a three-way battle for first place in the tough NFC South, following their somewhat miraculous 22-20 win over the Bears Sunday.

Atlanta has already matched its win total from all of 2007 and stands, today, as the story of the 2008 season.

The Falcons were an utter laughingstock less than a year ago. The organization was humiliated by its face-of-the-franchise quarterback when Michael Vick was toppled by a so-bizarre-you-couldn’t-make-it-up dog fighting scandal. Then the club was abandoned mid-season by a turn-coat college coach who found he couldn’t cut it in the pros, so he cut out.

Today they’re a legitimate threat to win the division and maybe even make some noise in the playoffs. More importantly, the Falcons appear to have the building blocks in place to be a contender beyond 2008.

There’s a lot of football still to play. And Atlanta has yet to beat a team that currently boasts a winning record. They were also handled pretty well in their two losses, by division rivals Tampa Bay and Carolina.

But to say that we didn’t 4-2 coming is an understatement. Nobody saw 4-2 coming, including you.

There are four participants largely responsible for kickstarting the heart of an organization left for dead 10 months ago.

Arthur Blank – The Atlanta owner looked so lost and ineffective last year we thought a career in politics might be in his future. Vick, a player Blank reportedly treated as a son, stabbed Blank in the back with his legal troubles. Then Bobby Petrino, the college head coach who Blank gave a shot at the big time, simply up and quit in the middle of the season, leaving the team to play out the season without a top coach or top QB.

The colossal personnel disasters gave critics plenty of reason to question Blank’s leadership. But the sudden change in fortunes in Atlanta also starts at the top. And, in this case, Blank deserves plenty of credit because he not only stopped the bleeding, he’s nursed the team back to health.

Matt Ryan – The title of savior always comes with pressure. But Ryan seemed to face a perfect storm of over-zealous expectations: the No. 1 draft pick from a relatively poor class of QBs joined a bad team with a new coach. It seemed like an impossible situation in which to win quickly. Best case, the Falcons would start to look good in 2009 or 2010.

But, at this point in the season, Ryan has performed as well as anyone could expect – and as well as any rookie in recent memory.

On a day in which the Atlanta running game was checked by the Bears (30 attempts, 75 yards), Ryan carried the team, completing a cruelly efficient and very un-rookie like 22 of 30 (73.3%) for 301 yards, 10.0 YPA, 1 TD, 0 INT and a 116.1 passer rating.

To put those 301 yards into perspective, consider that Vick produced just one 300-yard passing day in his entire six-year career (306 vs. Tampa in 2005). Ryan has just matched that mark Vick’s number of 300-yard games in his sixth NFL game.

The win over the Bears was also the third time in those six games that Ryan has averaged better than 10.0 YPA. Vick topped 10.0 YPA just seven times in his career. Ryan is on pace to match that mark as a rookie. He's hardly been consistent, but consistent excellent is rare from veteran QBs, let alone rookies.

More importantly, Cold, Hard Football Facts readers know that winning in the NFL is directly related to your ability to pass the ball well. The Falcons themselves stand as proof: the best team in franchise history, the NFC champion 1998 Falcons, was also the best passing team in history.

The very early indications are that Ryan gives the Falcons a chance to be a good passing team for years to come.

Mike Smith – Atlanta’s head coach was an anonymous as his generic name would lead you to believe when he was hired by the Falcons in January. He enjoyed some solid seasons as the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville – and was even an assistant who helped coach the legendary defense of the 2000 Ravens.

But this former CFL linebacker did little to inspire confidence from the Falcons faithful. In fact, most teams like Atlanta, desperate to make a splash in the wake of a devastating season, would have thrown a lot of money and power at Big Name Coach.

In fact, given the PR disaster the franchise suffered when it pulled Petrino out of the college ranks, you probably couldn't have blamed the team if it went with veteran Big Name Coach

Instead, Blank took a chance with a generic model coach, and so far it looks like Smith could develop into a winner.

The Falcons defense – Atlanta is not a great defensive club (though defensive end John Abraham did lead the league with 7 sacks entering the Bears game).

However, Atlanta has proved to be a team that’s played very, very efficient team-wide defense, as evidenced by its No. 6 ranking in our Bendability Index entering Week 6. Teams that rank high in Bendability are usually doing a lot of little things right on both sides of the ball, while stepping up defensively in key situations.

The win over the Bears will only improve Atlanta's standing: in the critical moment of the game, perhaps one of the critical moments of Atlanta’s season, the Falcons defense twice stuffed Chicago on 3rd and goal and 4th and goal from the 1.

When push came to shove, it was Falcons defense that did most of the shoving.

The clutch defense was yet another sign of the new-found life in Atlanta.

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Atlanta has yet to beat a team that currently boasts a winning record.
The article is wrong when it states that we've yet to beat a team with a winning record. Sure, Chicago may be 3-3 now but they were 3-2 when we beat them...

The way the reporter worded it is accurate. None of our wins are against teams that currently have a winning record (two of them are currently at .500).

I do understand your point, though, Cappy. It seems as if his wording cheapens this victory or diminishes it somehow.

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Yes, but if you feel like wording it that way, you have a tough time finding teams that have beaten teams with winning records. I mean, if we'd beaten Carolina and beaten Tampa Bay, right now they'd both be 3-3, and we'd be 6-0 without a win against a team with a winning record.

Other teams with winning records who haven't beaten a team which currently has a winning record (that's a mouthful) :






So we're definitely not alone. It's too early in the season-if you've already beaten a team at this point, it's hard for them to have a good record

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The way the reporter worded it is accurate. None of our wins are against teams that currently have a winning record (two of them are currently at .500).

I do understand your point, though, Cappy. It seems as if his wording cheapens this victory or diminishes it somehow.

Exactly. They had a winning record when we beat them. Mooch on NFL Network said the same thing about us not beating a team with a winning record. It's a lack of respect.

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Also I think TD had more to do with hiring a "no-name" coach than Blank, who if I remember correctly. wanted a Big Name Coach...


Exactly. TD had more to do with hiring Smith. Remember Blank was trying to get Pete Carroll. But Blank finally learned to let TD make all the personel moves and to just sign the paychecks.

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Can we revisit this right now? Green Bay just beat Indy to go over .500, and Chicago had a crazy win over Minnesota to top .500

So right now, Atlanta is 2-2 against teams with winning records and 2-0 against teams with losing records. Definitely makes you wonder if they can keep it going.

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