fuego Posted November 13, 2017 Share Posted November 13, 2017 This is a part of a larger article by Barnwell on “Nine contenders for six spots: Sorting through wild NFC playoff field” assessing teams’ chances of making the playoffs. Falcons are an ‘Outsider’. —————— Atlanta Falcons (5-4) Chances of making the playoffs: 25.8 percent The Falcons probably saved their season by beating the Cowboys, given that their playoff odds would have dipped below 10 percent with a home loss. Even more than the numbers might indicate, though, Dan Quinn's team showed its potential not just by winning but by how it won. Namely, its defense finally showed up to play. On SportsCenter with SVP this past Thursday, I mentioned that the hand-wringing over the Falcons' offense and its decline under Steve Sarkisian had been overstated. Heading into Week 10, Matt Ryan & Co. were second in the league in yards per possession and eighth in points per possession. Instead, Atlanta's defense hadn't put the offense in many favorable situations. The Falcons' offense faced the league's worst average starting field position, beginning its drives more than 76 yards away from the opposing end zone. The first-place Rams, for context, started their average drive nearly 10 yards closer to pay dirt. The defense's inability to get off the field or create big plays also had held the Falcons to a league-low 79 meaningful possessions through 10 weeks. The Falcons' defense struggled during the regular season a year ago before taking a big leap by virtue of increased pass pressure during the postseason. The leap didn't take -- Atlanta was 26th in defensive DVOA last season and 29th after losing to the Panthers last week, but on Sunday, it finally looked like the defense that stomped all over the Seahawks and Packers in the NFC playoffs and gave the Patriots fits for most of the Super Bowl. It was a one-man show from Adrian Clayborn, who might have earned Tyron Smith a contract extension. Clayborn racked up a staggering six sacks on Sunday, five of which came past backup Cowboys left tackle Chaz Green, who was filling in for Smith. For context, Smith had allowed a total of four sacks since the beginning of the 2016 campaign. Two of those sacks forced Dak Prescott fumbles, creating key turnovers for a Falcons team starved of takeaways. Atlanta had just six takeaways heading into the Cowboys game, or as many as it produced during that postseason run a year ago. The takeaways came at the end of each half, so the Falcons didn't really have an opportunity or reason to turn them into points, but the short fields created by takeaways are the easiest way to fix a broken offense. The offense instead showed its appreciation by doing work in the red zone. A unit that ranked 23rd in points per red zone trip heading into the game scored three touchdowns and a field goal on its four trips inside the 20, even after losing Devonta Freeman to a concussion on the offense's second snap. Ryan still left a completion here or there on the field, but when the defense held up its end of the bargain, the offense did more than enough to earn what could be a crucial win in terms of wild-card tiebreakers. Atlanta's schedule is still pretty difficult, but with five of its six division games still to come, the Falcons could quickly rise up the NFC South ranks if they get hot. No team wants to travel to Seattle, but the Falcons might be catching the Seahawks at the right time with Richard Sherman out for the season, Earl Thomas still nursing a hamstring injury, and Duane Brown recovering from an ankle injury. Clayborn just racked up five sacks against a backup left tackle, and Green is a better player than Seahawks backup Rees Odhiambo. The Falcons have a three-game homestand after their trip to Seattle, but two of those games are against the Vikings and Saints, who are among the best teams in football. It's not realistic to expect Clayborn to look like J.J. Watt after eating an invincibility star for the rest of the season, but if the defense starts looking like the unit from its playoff run of last season, the Falcons are still within shouting distance of mattering in the NFC. http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/page/Barnwellx171113/sorting-wild-nfc-playoff-field-week-10-2017-nfl-season-nine-contenders-six-spots Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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