Perhaps overshadowed between the sensational Sunday debut of Robert Griffin III and the impressive "Monday Night Football" performance of Joe Flacco, Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryanhelped author one of Week 1's best offensive showings by taking apart the Kansas City Chiefs. The No. 10 offense in terms of yards per game in 2011, I think Week 1 showed us that Ryan and his fleet-footed teammates are about to take their high-flying act to new heights in 2012 and establish themselves as one of the truly elite offenses in the NFL.
It starts with the personnel. The Falcons can beat you in so many ways. We always knew they could run with Michael Turner and Jason Snelling, but the days of Turner getting 25 to 30 carries are done. It's the growth in the passing game that has taken the Falcons' attack to the next level.
When you have Julio Jones to complement Roddy White, whom do you double-team? That's the first question opposing coaches have to ask each week. Where do you shift the safety? Where do you compensate? Meanwhile ageless TE Tony Gonzalez remains a big body that controls the middle of the field. Add in Harry Douglas as a slot receiver, who has a good feel for how to get open and reading the defense on the move, and shifty scat back Jacquizz Rodgers and Ryan has every arrow he could possibly want in his quiver.
But it's not just the speed of those offensive assets that makes the Falcons so effective, it's the speed at which Atlanta operates. I usually like to watch a team for four games before I make an evaluation on an offense. I think it takes that long before you can get a broad template of what teams are trying to do. But Week 1 in Kansas City painted a pretty clear picture of what the Falcons want to do with the ball -- strike hard, and fast. And opposing defenses better have the oxygen tanks ready on the sideline.
The no-huddle offense is nothing new for the Falcons, but in Week 1 Ryan really took it up a notch. When I watched him operate against the Chiefs, the first thing I thought of was the Eagles game last season where Philly was dominating … until the Falcons went to the no-huddle and took over the game. This is a weapon with which the Falcons can dominate even the most talented opponents.
In the no-huddle Ryan and the Falcons not only dictate the tempo but the defensive personnel. On Atlanta's third scoring drive against the Chiefs, the Falcons went eight plays -- six passes, two runs -- and Kansas City had the same 11 players on field for every play. The Chiefs couldn't get a single body on the field. By the end of the drive they were exhausted. But it's not just about pace; it's also about deploying plays in a way that will wear down the opposition even faster than you think.
There was one package in particular the Falcons ran during that scoring drive that intrigued me. I call it the Double Bubble. In the Double Bubble, Atlanta sets up a bubble screen to both sides of the line, to Julio Jonesand Roddy White. At the start of the drive, Ryan threw it to White on the right side of the formation for a gain of 16. At the end of the drive, Ryan threw it to Jones for a 14-yard touchdown. While it was very effective in terms of moving the ball, it also was effective in terms of draining the defense.
In this play, you have a lot of big bodies on the defensive line who need to hustle to cover the screens set up on both sides of the line. Then, with the hurry-up, they need to race back to the line for the next play. In no time, they're gassed. If any defense is going to stop this, its players will need terrific conditioning.
I think this is going to be the tip of the iceberg. I think in time the Falcons will further develop the Double Bubble to give them an option in the middle of the field as well, attacking that vacated center of the formation with the versatile Rodgers -- the back the Falcons favor for their hurry-up sets -- with the run or pass. I'll be watching this with great interest the rest of the season.
So, how do defenses slow down the Falcons and their hurry-up? It's easier said than done, but the first step is to disrupt Ryan's timing. When his receivers can get a clean release at the line of scrimmage their timing is so good that they're virtually unstoppable. You need your secondary to play some press coverage and try to re-route the Falcons' receivers. Obviously there is some risk and reward there. If you whiff, you're going to give up a big play to Jones or White. But considering how effective Atlanta was in Week 1, I think it's a gamble worth taking.
Step 2 isn't exactly a secret -- teams will need to hit the quarterback. Ryan has to take a shot to get him out of rhythm, or at least anxious. As we saw Thursday night with Green Bay and Chicago, if you can get pressure on the QB, even the most talented guys will struggle. And I can assure you, no quarterback likes to get hit.
But it's one thing to plan how to halt Ryan and the Falcons. It's another to actually execute. This is a playoff-caliber offense, and I believe that under Ryan's direction, they can put their postseason hiccups behind them. It takes a special QB to run the no-huddle offense effectively. You need to have instant recall and application. You need to recognize what the defense is doing and know the proper play to attack it. Ryan exhibits those qualities.
Like some other talented quarterbacks, Ryan's lack of postseason success obscures how much he has already achieved in the NFL. Since becoming the starter in 2008, Ryan's career record under center is 44-19 -- that's a .698 winning percentage, a figure that surpasses the career mark of Peyton Manning (.679).
And it's against Manning that Ryan will look to take another strong step towards the playoffs on Monday night.
More Falcons Fodder
• Based on my Week 1 tape breakdown, Julio Jones has fine-tuned his mechanics and techniques as a wide receiver. In his releases off the ball, he showed tremendous power and speed. And by my eyes he's exhibiting a better feel and understanding for how to run routes and get open for his QB.
Take his first catch of the game: Pressed by the corner, Jones got an inside release, got back on track and made a clean cut on a dig route. He also showed good patience with his route, and as he continued up field, the safety had to respect Jones' downfield speed and dropped deep. His outstanding speed is going to demand plenty of respect.
• Atlanta clearly still wants Gonzalez (entering his 16th NFL season) to be the centerpiece of its offense and work from inside out with dominant WRs Jones and White. Ryan passed to Gonzalez on two of his first three pass attempts against the Chiefs and the TE showed that he still has some of the best hands in the NFL and the movement skills to win matchups down the field. He is the ultimate security blanket for Ryan underneath and down middle of the field, and he draws safeties inside, helping Jones and White find open space to run into.