The 2015 Atlanta Falcons season has reached its midway point as the team’s record stands at 6-2, an impressive feat under first-year head coach Dan Quinn.
As I have done the past three years, it’s time to recognize many of the most important players for the team’s strong start in 2015, beginning with the most valuable players on offense, defense and special teams. If you’re curious, you can check out which players were honored midway through the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Offensive MVP: Julio Jones
This seems like a no-brainer in my book. While one can make the case that running back Devonta Freeman has been the team’s most consistent performer through the first eight games of the 2015 season, it’s Jones that has been the most valuable, impactful and important playmaker on offense.
The Falcons offense looked downright unstoppable at times through the first three games of the year where Jones tallied 34 catches, 440 yards and four touchdowns. The receptions total in particular were the highest any receiver in NFL history had collected in the first three games and his yardage and scoring totals were among the top 10 as well.
Since then Jones has been slowed by toe and hamstring injuries and has fallen off that pace but is still on pace to have career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns in 2015. That pace puts him at 140 catches and 1,784 yards for the season, which would be the second and third highest totals ever in their respective categories.
There’s no doubt that despite Freeman’s solid and consistent effort, it’s Jones that makes the Falcons offense go. Should he be able to get back to the levels he displayed through the first three games of the season, the Falcons offense will be poised to do even more damage in the second half of 2015.
Defensive MVP: Desmond Trufant
Unlike the offense, there is no single defensive player that represents the fulcrum of the team’s defensive success, which has been a stark turnaround from a year ago.
This year’s defense is tied for the 16th ranking in points allowed and 21st in total defense through the first half of the season. A year ago at this same point, those rankings stood at 29th and 32nd, respectively
For the defense naming a most valuable player simply boils down to naming the best player on that side of the ball and answer is clearly Trufant.
The Falcons’ third-year cornerback is among the stingiest in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s been targeted once every 10.9 snaps he’s in coverage, which is the best mark of any starting corner in the league currently. It means that opposing quarterbacks are avoiding him more often than not, learning that passes that go in his direction aren’t often completed. Pro Football Focus’ metrics indicate that Trufant has allowed just 48 percent completions on 25 targets thrown his way, which is eighth best mark in the league.
Trufant is poised to potentially make his first appearance in the Pro Bowl given his growing reputation for being a lockdown and fearsome corner should this trend continue into the second half of the year.
Special Teams MVP: Matt Bosher
Bosher has been top notch this year thanks to a booming leg and excellent hang time. His punting average of 49.8 yards is currently ranked second in the NFL through the first half of the season.
However in the case of the special teams MVP, Bosher somewhat wins by default. Kicker Matt Bryant has been marred by some uncharacteristic missed field goals in the first half of the season and return specialist Devin Hester has yet to suit up this year due to a lingering hamstring injury that will keep him out for another month. While Eric Weems has filled in ably there, he’s by no means the caliber of returner that could really challenge for this honor given his lack of big-play ability.
That is by no means to indicate that Bosher has been bad, but one thing that is noticeable is how the first half of the 2015 season has been marked by a lot of booming kicks, but not his usual pinpoint accuracy. A year ago at this point in the year, Bosher had forced 16 fair catches and placed 11 punts inside the 20-yard line. This year those figures have fallen to six and seven, respectively.
This has led to a higher percentage of punts being returned (63 percent in 2015 versus 37 percent in 2014) and allowed teams to do a better flipping field position against the Falcons. Hopefully the Falcons will do a better job pinning opposing teams deep in their own territory over the second half of 2015.