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The Falcons have managed to stay undefeated through six weeks and enter the bye week coming off another tough, close win. But does Atlanta have bigger problems looming ahead?
I could go on about how good teams win close games. I could explain in lengthy detail that good teams don't lose to lesser teams. I could even touch on that over-used, ever so fickle word "clutch."
But I won't, because at this point each option sounds like an excuse.
The team that marched onto the field on Sunday afternoon looked far from undefeated. Atlanta will enter their bye week on a high note of sorts, but lurking underneath the shiny team hood is an engine that could use some real tune-ups.
Wisdom burns bright within this one
Perhaps no player hit my sentiments more accurately than Michael Turner. In a post-game interview with Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Turner openly admitted that this team has not played championship-caliber football over the past three weeks:
"Yeah, a win is a win," he said. "But we’re looking at something beyond just winning right now. We’re trying to be special and special teams don’t play like that."
The Burner continues with his accurate perceptions:
"I’m not sure why it’s going like this," Turner said. "It’s great to be 6-0 and everything. But we can’t just assume we’re always going to be able to get an interception or a last-minute field goal every time. At some point we’re going to have to run the ball. We’ve got to be able to knock it in [the endzone]."
But with the offensive line relapsing to 2011 form, giving Turner 20+ carries per game may not be the best course of action these days.
Matt Ryan was unusually inaccurate against the Raiders - yet again, a team with a secondary not even close to being considered "top of the line" has given Ryan problems - but he was also pressured early and often and made three crucial mistakes because of it.
Offensive line issues are rarely corrected quickly, and for whatever reason the group continues to under-perform. Still, they are not the main reason behind this scoring stagnation.
What has happened to the Falcons offense is very simple, and all successful teams must grapple with it eventually: other teams are catching onto Dirk Koetter's new scheme.
Whatever Koetter has attempted to execute has worked (to varying degrees) through six weeks. But entering this bye week, they need a fresh approach. Healthy players, including Tyson Clabo and Michael Palmer, won't hurt.
A week back at the drawing board that adds some wrinkles in the playcalling, maybe even devises some more effective running-down packages, could be just what this team needs.
The other half was not so good, son
However, it ended up being the likes of Mike Goodson and Darius Heyward-Bey, whom combined for 79 yards on a mere five rushes, who tore the Falcons apart on the ground.
That's not to take away from the great individual efforts we saw. John Abraham tallied 3.0 sacks, effectively doubling his season total. Asante Samuel came away with a crucial interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Despite those bright performances and limiting Oakland to only 20 points through four quarters, the Falcons defense was noticeably mediocre in this contest. Carson Palmer topped 350 yards passing, and the 149 rushing yards allowed has become a rule rather than the exception.
What it comes down to again are injuries and a chance to renew. Nicholas will return welcomed with open arms, and Mike Nolan should hopefully use his extra time to gameplan for an Eagles offense that looks more than a little inconsistent.
Deserving of 6-0?
Of course the Falcons deserve every win they've attained this season. It cam down to a simple matter of execution, and more often than not Atlanta executed while their opponents did not.
But this team is also very far away from being flawless. If they realize this - which Turner's comments indicate - and can utilize this bye week to really rest and reassess the team's play and gameplanning going forward, all will be well in Falconsland. The Eagles should serve as an excellent litmus test.