Photo credit: Keith Allison
Author: Joey Carr
In every NFL season, there are the teams that start the year with more flare and intensity than the rest of the league. The Patriots, Packers, and any Peyton Manning led team are usually the constants of those teams, starting 3-1 or 4-0 nearly every year for the last 6 years. But there are always a few unexpected teams that are alongside them in the standings, sitting unbeaten or with one loss on the season. However, there is an unusual amount of undefeated teams this year, 6 to be exact. So which unbeaten squad has been most surprising so far? The Atlanta Falcons.
The past couple years in the ATL have been disastrous to say the least. A lot of talent was squandered due to poor coaching and a lack of execution by both the offense and defense. You could say that former head coach Mike Smith was the reason for that squandering, and you would be mostly correct. Smith didn’t use the personnel he had at his disposal the correct way, which resulted in back to back losing seasons that only accumulated 10 wins and also cost him his job. Julio Jones was being wasted in an offense that favored the run even though a lackluster Steven Jackson was the primary running back, causing a ton of three and outs and giving kicker Matt Bryant a workout most games. The offensive line wasn’t doing anything to protect Matt Ryan but the starting group remained virtually unchanged. The defense played uninspired at times and let opposing offenses walk all over them both on the ground and through the air. Enter new head coach Dan Quinn. Under Quinn, the Falcons look like an entirely different team. They’re playing with a tenacity not seen in Atlanta since the NFC Championship game run of 2012 and are playing every down like they’re playing in the Super Bowl. Rookies like Vic Beasley are stepping up tremendously and veterans such as Matt Ryan are making minimal mistakes. Desmond Trufant is proving to opposing quarterbacks that he not to be reckoned with, and Julio Jones is cementing his case that he is one of the best, if not the best, receivers in the NFL. Jake Matthews and the offensive line is performing extremely well, only allowing 6 sacks on the year so far, compared to 11 through 4 games last year. However, perhaps the most unanticipated surprise for the Falcons has been their run game and the emergence of Devonta Freeman.
Devonta Freeman was drafted in the third round of last year’s draft, and was expected to backup Steven Jackson and platoon with Jacquizz Rodgers, which is what he did. He rushed for 248 yards and found the end zone once in what was a decent rookie campaign. This year, after Atlanta let Steven Jackson walk, Freeman was thought to lead the Falcon backfield until ATL drafted Tevin Coleman out of Indiana in the third round. Thus, Freeman was thrust back into the backup role after losing the starting job in training camp to Coleman. But, just like Tom Brady and Tony Romo won their gigs, Coleman went down in the second game of the year, and Freeman got his shot. And boy did he make the most of it. In the past two games as a starter, he has accumulated 7 touchdowns and 342 total yards and made himself an instant fantasy football legend. Along with Julio Jones and Matty Ice, Devonta Freeman has been one of the main focal points on offense for the Dirty Birds. He’s
been running wild for two weeks now, and although it’s still early, the Falcons look like a legitimate threat in the NFC with a dynamic offense and capable defense.
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