Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
The Falcons laid a 27-3 beatdown on the Chargers in Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday. They're playing pretty well.
The question is already being asked ad nauseum: could the Falcons be the best team in the NFL?
We're three weeks in, and the Falcons have already churned out three convincing wins over quality opponents. They showed promise after beating down the Chiefs. We knew they were good after intercepting Peyton Manning three times in one quarter.
But traveling to San Diego and beating the "favored" 2-0 Chargers by 24 points in their own house? That is the mark of a special team. And in spite of injuries and a couple off the field issues, the 2012 Falcons have definitively shown us that they are no run-of-the-mill football team.
And maybe - just maybe - the Falcons have an above average quarterback leading their offense as well.
"Good, But Not Great"
I've heard that phrase casually tossed out by your standard color commentator every so often for the past four years, and I'm not so sure it applies any longer.
On Sunday, Matt Ryan finished 30-of-40 for 275 yards and three touchdown passes, spreading the ball around beautifully to eight different receivers. Despite a lame duck interception in the late stages of the game - his first in 200+ pass attempts - he still posted a 107.8 passer rating on the day.
Through three games, Ryan has completed 72.0 percent of his passes on the way to eight touchdowns, one interception and a 114.0 passer rating. Call me crazy, but those numbers are not the mark of an average quarterback.
They are the mark of an MVP.
It is still very early in the season. But if Ryan can continue dissecting defenses and running this no-huddle offense with the precision he's already shown under Koetter's playcalling, he could be walking away with some serious hardware by next spring.
That's not to discredit what the rest of the offense did, of course.
The Falcons finally got Michael Turner going this season, and after some nice runs in the second half he finished the day with 14 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown. Roddy White and Julio Jones had five catches apiece, and ageless wonder Tony Gonzalez had a whopping nine for 91 yards and a score.
Ryan would be sacked twice on the day, but the amount of actual pressure he faced was significantly less than that may imply. The offensive line (again, new coach here in Pat Hill) has showed some early improvement in protecting the franchise quarterback, and Ryan's performance has really benefited as a result.
I cannot stress how well Mike Nolan has utilized DeCoud and fellow safety William Moore this season. Week after week, they are constantly put in great positions to make plays and force turnovers.
On Sunday, DeCoud forced three of four Chargers turnovers by himself (those being two interceptions and one forced fumble). He was also credited with three pass defenses. He's looking like a real bargain so far after the Falcons resigned him to a five-year, $17.5M deal.
Of course, Willy Mo couldn't help but not be ready and got in on the turnover action himself, recovering a Dante Rosario fumble late in the game. But what isn't so easy to see was the pressure he was able to get on Philip Rivers on blitzes.
In fact, the whole team got pressure on Rivers throughout the entire game. He was only sacked once, but he was running for his life for all four quarters. The Falcons held him to a mere 173 yards through the air, and kept him completely out of the end zone while forcing two interceptions.
Any time you can hold the home team - one with a pretty potent offense at that - to three points, you aren't just doing something right. You are doing everything right.
3-0, or 0-3? The Difference Is In Coaching
This is certainly not the first I've praised the new coordinators, but I cannot stress how impressive they've been through three weeks.
Dirk Koetter has begun his Atlanta career by stepping back and letting Ryan control the offense, and to great effect. Nolan has taken a soft, bend-but-don't-break defense and turned it in to a dominant, confusing blitz machine that puts its defensive backs in position to make huge plays week after week.
Both sides of the ball have taken monstrous steps forward in only one offseason. The stagnant, archaic Mike Mularkey offense is now nothing but a distant, terrible memory left to linger in the recesses of our minds
The archrival Saints are also a case study in the importance of having quality playcallers on staff. After losing Sean Payton and Gregg Williams to suspension, the reeling Saints have lost three games to open the season, including an overtime loss to the Chiefs last weekend. Their defense has given up 103 points in three games.
The Falcons are 3-0, and in a very real sense they're probably the best team in the NFL. Their performance against the rest of the NFC South in the coming weeks will tell us more about this Falcons squad.
But for now, I couldn't ask for much more from the players and coaching staff. Undefeated is hard to argue against.
For more in-depth coverage, visit our Falcons blog, The Falcoholic, as well as our Chargers blog, Bolts From The Blue. And for more news, notes and analysis from around the league, visit SB Nation's NFL hub.