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Falcons FA Focus: Safety

March 8th, 2013 Comments off
F. Medina-US PRESSWIRE

William Moore

As the eve of the league’s new legal “tampering” period is upon us, it’s time to look at the final spot on the roster that the Falcons could address in free agency: safety.

The big priority for the Falcons at this position probably won’t revolve around adding a new player, but locking down a current one. William Moore is a free agent, and is interested in testing the market. At this point, I believe this preemptive negotiation period will aid the Falcons in their endeavors to re-up with Moore. If he gets away, the Falcons have a fairly large hole here.

They might try and plug it with Charles Mitchell, but it would be a tall order for him to replace Moore, who is arguably the team’s third or fourth best defensive player. Instead, if Moore departs, the Falcons probably will need to scramble to find a suitable replacement on the market.

Three strong safeties stand out on the open market: Kenny Phillips (Giants), Patrick Chung (Patriots), and LaRon Landry (Jets).

Like Moore, all three have struggled with injuries over the years. Moore has missed a combined 8 games over the past two seasons due to injury. Phillips missed 9 this past year, not long after a 2009 season where he missed 14 games. Both Chung and Landry missed 8 games in 2011, while Chung missed four more this past year.

And as in the case of Moore, those durability concerns will likely drive down their prices. None of those players are good bets to make it through a full 16-game slate healthy.

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Falcons FA Focus: Cornerback

March 8th, 2013 Comments off
Icon SMI

Brent Grimes

I know I should have posted this article over two weeks ago, but other projects distracted me. The Falcons released Dunta Robinson and now have an obvious opening at the cornerback position. The Falcons cut Robinson because of his high price tag and diminishing returns. While Robinson was able to blossom in some areas under Mike Nolan, becoming a highly valuable run defender and blitzer off the edge last year, he continued to struggle in coverage. Robinson just didn’t make enough plays in coverage, which likely means that the Falcons will want a corner with better ball skills to replace him. They have one potentially hitting the open market in Brent Grimes.

The first decision the Falcons have to make is whether or not they will re-sign him. The team is optimistic about Grimes’ return from his torn Achilles suffered on opening day last season. So it doesn’t sound like injury is going to deter them from making an offer. Whether Grimes returns really is going to come down to money. Grimes didn’t get the big contract he was seeking last year, and fresh off an Achilles tear is probably not poised to get one this year. Teams tend to get skittish about guaranteeing money when players wind up injured at the end of two consecutive years.

If the Falcons and Grimes don’t agree on a new deal, then the Falcons will have plenty of other options on the open market. While there aren’t a lot of top-level cornerbacks, there are plenty that are capable starters and role players.

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Falcons FA Focus: Defensive Tackle

February 16th, 2013 1 comment
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Randy Starks

One could argue that the Falcons need at defensive tackle exceeds that of their need at defensive end. That argument hinges on the fact that John Abraham is still productive, coupled with the presences of Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi gives the team two decent if not good options for the future. At defensive tackle, Jonathan Babineaux is entering the final year of his contract. Corey Peters has not developed into much of a pass rusher. Vance Walker is a free agent, and Peria Jerry is a bust. Right now, the only player that is a good bet to be on the Falcons roster come 2014 at defensive tackle is Travian Robertson, since Jerry and Peters are also entering contract years like Babs.

This of course could mean that the Falcons top pick this April could be an interior defensive lineman. But if they wish to explore their options in free agency prior to that point, they could find some upgrades.

The big question for the Falcons is going to be exactly what are they looking for at this position. Their run defense was porous in 2012, leading one to believe that their priority will be getting a widebody that can help there. But they also need help with the pass rush, and getting some better pressure up the middle certainly can help there. At this point, Babineaux is the only reliable guy that can get pressure up the middle, and he’s slowing down. Improving the run probably is more of a short-term goal that doesn’t require a significant investment, while improving the pass rush probably has much greater long-term value. And due to the premium teams put on quality pass rushers, it might require either a big investment in free agency or a high pick in the draft.

There really aren’t any signature free agents. Henry Melton (Bears) probably tops the list coming off a 6-sack season. Melton is an athletic player that played both running back and defensive end at Texas before moving inside for the Chicago Bears. He has flashed the ability to be a game-changer as an interior pass rusher. But I’m not sure if Melton is the next big thing in terms of interior pass rushers, as he didn’t wow me on tape. I think part of Melton’s success could do with the talent around him on the Bears front, which gives him a lot of one-on-one situations against inferior blockers. He has good quickness and is comfortable moving around the line. He played in some 3-man fronts at Texas, but has made his home as more of a 3-technique in the Bears defense. He’d have a chance to be a long-term replacement of Babineaux in the middle, as the two possess similar traits. But I’m not sure he’s the ideal candidate to be the “lead guy” on a unit, which are similar concerns I had about Ray Edwards two years ago.

Other notable names might have to come as teams begin to cut more players. Chris Canty (Giants) and Richard Seymour (Raiders) have already been given their walking papers. Canty was an effective pass rusher as primarily a nickel specialist for the Giants. He has experience in both the 3-4 and 4-3, making him a nice fit under Mike Nolan. But he turns 31 in November, making him just a year younger than Babineaux. That means he’s probably only a short-term solution that won’t be a dominant force in the middle (3 sacks in 2012). Seymour was once a dominant 3-4 end for the Patriots that was traded to the Raiders in 2009. While he provided good veteran leadership in their locker room and a physical presence against the run on the field, his skills have declined enough that he’s more of a backup at this point in his career than a starter. His ability as a pass rusher is fairly limited. He could help improve the Falcons run defense to a degree, but unless he’s willing to play on the cheap for one year, is probably not worth the time.

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Scheme Change Unnecessary for Falcons Defense

February 13th, 2013 Comments off
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Mike Nolan

There appears to be a movement among the Falcons fan base to push for the team to move towards a 3-4 defense. While I think ultimately the Falcons could benefit from a shift to a 3-4 base defense down the road, any changeover should be gradual. The Falcons just don’t currently good 3-4 personnel.

It is clear that Mike Nolan is a 3-4 coach. While he may suggest that he is a practioner of the 4-3, for seven straight years prior to joining the Falcons he coached 3-4 units. And he quickly incorporated 3-4 principles so that for a large chunk of the 2012 season, the Falcons defense had more of a 3-4 flavor than a 4-3 one.

So it makes sense to opt for the defensive scheme that the defensive coordinator prefers. But again, the Falcons shouldn’t rush headlong into a switch. Very few of their current players would benefit from such a change.

The main argument against an immediate switch to the 3-4 is it hurts your best defensive player: Sean Weatherspoon. It’s not a coincidence that Weatherspoon’s production dropped significantly in 2012 with the shift to Nolan’s scheme versus that of Brian VanGorder’s. Under Nolan, Weatherspoon was asked more often to read and react, and have to take on and shed blockers. That is not where he is best at. Weatherspoon is a guy that needs to play in space and run around to make plays. Now, that’s not to say that Spoon can’t be good in a 3-4. Arizona’s Daryl Washington possesses a similar skillset but was one of the league’s best defensive players in 2012. But Washington benefits from having a nice group of linemen up front to help allow him to flow to the ball.

At the nose tackle position, he has Dan Williams. Williams is by no means a superstar, but is an effective nose tackle that can help shield blockers off the inside linebackers like Washington. I think Corey Peters has enough ability to have similar value as Williams, but it’s by no means a slam dunk. To ensure Spoon excels in a 3-4, they must find a suitable nose tackle.

The Cardinals also benefit from having a pair of good ends in Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell. While Jonathan Babineaux and Dockett are similar players and could provide similar roles as penetrating ends, the Falcons do not possess a player like Campbell that has the capacity to dominate one-on-one matchups and draw double teams both versus the run and pass. That needs to be acquired, and as suggested before is the key to any really successful 3-4 defense.

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Falcons Needs: Safety

February 12th, 2013 Comments off
Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

DeCoud congratulates Moore

The Falcons do have some questions at safety, most of which linger around the looming free agent status of strong safety William Moore.

Moore is probably the team’s most likely candidate to land the franchise tag if it comes to that. That will carry a cap hit of roughly $6.8 million. Recent reports suggest that Moore probably won’t be too pleased to receive such a tag as it would conflict with his desire to test the market. For the sake of both the Falcons and Moore, it will work best if they can come to an agreement before the deadline of March 5, after which teams can no longer tag players.

Moore is one of the better players on the Falcons defense. Along with former college teammate Sean Weatherspoon, he represents the young core of the Falcons defense that is expected to succeed players like John Abraham, Asante Samuel, and Jonathan Babineaux as regular playmakers. Moore is an opportunistic run-defending safety that managed to make a lot of plays in coverage this past year. He seemed to really find a home in Mike Nolan’s defense. The two major weaknesses of Moore’s game are his struggles when facing quality tight ends and his lack of durability. Saints TE Jimmy Graham abused him so badly in the Week 10 loss this past year, that Nolan made concerted efforts to avoid that matchup in the Falcons in Week 13 win over the Saints. Moore has missed a quarter of the games in each of the past two years with thigh and hamstring injuries. He also sat out his rookie year in 2009 with a hamstring injury, and was often nicked up throughout college. Moore’s physical playing style contributes to his injuries coupled with the fact that players at his position tend to have the shortest careers of all defenders. I doubt that is a big enough issue to make the Falcons let Moore walk, but it may become an issue that may prolong contract negotiations. The Falcons may not want to pay top dollar to a player that already has a long injury history and may only be effective for just another three or four years given the nature of his position.

The Falcons drafted Charles Mitchell last year in the sixth round, probably with the mindset of having him add depth at the position but also to provide an insurance policy in case Moore walked. Well, it doesn’t seem likely that the Falcons will roll the dice with Mitchell as a starter going forward after a lackluster rookie season. But he’ll likely be expected to supplant free agent Chris Hope for the No. 3 safety position. Shann Schillinger is returning from sitting out the year with an injury and will be expected to contribute on special teams. But don’t be surprised if the Falcons look at more options in the draft or free agency to solidify their depth. Again, safety is the most injury prone position on defense, thus it pays to have good depth there. That’s what prompted the team to sign Hope last summer before camp. Hope had his moments filling in for Moore late in the year, but he wasn’t a great fit in Nolan’s scheme and probably won’t be back next year. The Falcons have featured a revolving door in terms of veteran backups the past three years, starting with Erik Coleman in 2010, James Sanders in 2011, to Hope last season. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons go for a fourth, although again it’s more likely that they will give Mitchell every opportunity to take over that spot.

When the Falcons signed Thomas DeCoud to a five-year deal last spring, the deal was structured in a way that suggested that the Falcons weren’t completely satisfied with him at free safety. The first two years of his deal had modest cap hits (both under $2.5 million), with a jump to nearly $5 million in 2014. If DeCoud is on the roster on the fifth day of the league year in 2014, $2.25 of his $4.2 million base salary will become guaranteed. The Falcons could potentially reap savings of $3 million against their 2014 cap if they were to cut him at before that point.

But DeCoud is coming off a Pro Bowl appearance, and it’s increasingly less likely that the Falcons will explore other options at the position in the near future. DeCoud would have to have a very underwhelming 2013 season in order for this upcoming year to be his last in Atlanta.

Like Moore, DeCoud really took to Nolan’s scheme. Already blessed with very good speed and range, he was much more disciplined in coverage this year allowing him to make more plays there. He’s still underwhelming in run support due to his lack of size, which will always be an issue. But he often can make up for it with his closing speed. Despite his 2012 accolades, he’ll probably never be considered one of the best safeties in the league but he can be a productive and effective starter moving forward.

The further solidify depth, the team could tinker with Dominique Franks playing here. It certainly was something they tried late in the year as they mixed in more of their dime subpackage. Franks may struggle to make the roster next year as a cornerback. He’s the biggest of the team’s corners. The Falcons may tinker with the notion of featuring more dime next year, especially as they face teams like New Orleans and New England that present matchup challenges for the Falcons personnel. Similar to Franks, that player might be styled as a big corner that can play the run effectively.

Falcons Needs: Defensive Tackle

February 6th, 2013 Comments off

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Babineaux

The first decision the Falcons will have to make in regards to their defensive tackle position is whether or not to re-sign free agent Vance Walker. Walker has been a valuable role player for the Falcons over the years. For much of 2012, with Corey Peters out of the lineup due to injury, he was the team’s second best interior presence. He’s coming off his best season as a pass rusher, and has consistently been one of their best run defenders. But given their tight cap space, the team may not be able to afford a long-term deal that satisfies Walker. Coupled with the fact that the team has Travian Robertson and possibly Micanor Regis that could take his spot.

With Jonathan Babineaux spending much of his 2012 at defensive end rather than in the interior, the need some help inside. Especially considering that Babineaux, along with Peria Jerry and Corey Peters will all be hitting free agency following 2013. Given the likelihood that several (if not all) of those guys might not be on the team a year from now, the team will likely seek to draft a young defensive tackle that can join Robertson on the roster.

The Falcons also had issues with defending the run, so it’s likely the team could be looking for a wide-body especially if the team intends to move more towards a two-gap scheme. The Falcons featured a three defensive tackles-formation throughout the latter half of 2012, which could be potentially expanded into more two-gap concepts that are featured in the traditional 3-4 scheme. That scheme features a wide-body nose tackle that is responsible for securing both A gaps beside the opposing team’s center. While the Falcons have a few candidates already on the roster in Peters, Regis, and possibly Walker if retained, they might want to look into other options in free agency or the draft that have more experience there.

But the bigger issue facing the Falcons is improving their pass rush. Babineaux remains their best guy, but he’s beginning to slow down. Peters and Jerry, two players that were known for their disruptive abilities in college have not picked up the slack over the years. Robertson flashed quickness during the preseason to suggest he might have a future, but he’s still young and needs more time. So the Falcons could seek a pass rusher early in the draft to groom as a possible replacement for Babineaux in the near future. That player could also garner reps at defensive end similar to Babineaux, suggesting that the Falcons may be looking for a hybrid player that may be considered a 3-4 end by most. The best example of this type of player is Houston’s J.J. Watt. Now the Falcons won’t be able to find a player as good as Watt, but they could be happy with a poor man’s version of him. In Houston, Watt plays end in their base 3-man front, and then moves inside to tackle when they go to a 4-man look in their dime package (the Texans play very little nickel).

Mike Nolan’s scheme prefers versatility, and having such a presence on the defense capable of playing inside and outside, especially if they can get pressure at both positions, would be highly valuable. Such a player could supplant John Abraham at end on run downs, and then kick inside along with Babineaux on passing downs with Abe and Biermann likely lining up at end.

Scouting the 49ers: How Atlanta Matches Up

January 18th, 2013 Comments off
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Colin Kaepernick runs away, over, and through the Packers defense

As I did a week ago in preparation for the Seattle Seahawks matchup, I went back and watched several San Francisco 49ers games over the past two days. I really wanted to take a more in-depth look at the team that most of the football-watching world feels will be the NFC representative in this year’s Super Bowl XLVII.

For much of this year I have considered the 49ers to be the premier team in the NFC, even ahead of my beloved Falcons. And from watching the film, my opinion has not changed.

Yes, I’m saying the 49ers are a better team than the Falcons. But that is not the same as saying the 49ers will be a better team on Sunday, nor is it is saying they will beat the Falcons. The 49ers are a team that are very similar to the Seahawks, except probably better in a lot of the same areas. The Falcons playing Seattle last week was probably the best possible preparation for this game as they won’t have to drastically change their gameplan from a week ago due to many of those similarities between the two teams. But the 49ers do present a number of interesting challenges for the Falcons.

Much has been made about Colin Kaepernick and the read-option as he absolutely ran circles around Green Bay’s defense last week. Although I think as it applies this week, it has been much ado about nothing. This will not be the Falcons first rodeo when it comes to the read-option, unlike the Packers. The Falcons have now faced Cam Newton twice, Robert Griffin, and last week saw Russell Wilson. The Panthers, Redskins, and Seahawks did not appear on the Packers schedule this year. They were ill-prepared for what Kaepernick and that play could do against them. The Falcons will have no such excuses. Only the Dallas Cowboys have played as many games (5) against read-option teams as the Falcons. The Falcons haven’t shut down the read-option, but with the stakes this high it would be a major surprise if it’s a deciding factor in the game as it was a week ago against Green Bay.

Kaepernick is a dangerous quarterback because he specializes in big plays. He is one of the league’s best vertical passers, completing a league-high 60% of throws over twenty yards, and anybody that saw only the highlights of last week’s game knows how deadly he can be with his legs.

That is where he is most dangerous, with his legs. He is blessed with deceptive speed due to his long strides. If he can get to a corner, your defense is going to be in trouble because he’s going to run right by you. Often times watching the 49ers on tape, he’s 10 or 15 yards downfield before the defense can even react to him. The Falcons employed a lot of zone against the Seahawks last week due to the fact that they wanted most of their defenders to keep their eyes on Russell Wilson, to try and defend against his scrambling ability. Wilson presented similar challenges, but not all running quarterbacks are built the same.

Due to Wilson’s shorter stature, he struggled throwing from the pocket. It was important for the Falcons defense to try and contain him to the pocket. That is really not the same challenge that Kaepernick presents. If you confine him to the pocket, he’s going to pick you apart because that is not where he struggles. He’s very tall and has no issues locating throwing lanes unlike Wilson. Surprisingly, getting Kaepernick outside the pocket seemed to work well for defenses from what I saw on tape. His shoddy footwork and mechanics causes him to struggle to reset his feet and square his shoulders when throwing on the run, resulting in a lot of off-target passes. So there’s a bit of a risk-reward. If you can flush him, it can make him into a much less efficient passer, but also it increases the risk he gets to the outside and uses his legs for a big gain.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Mike Nolan tries to deal with that. I don’t think you can really mush rush Kaepernick quite like you could with Wilson. While you definitely don’t want to get out of your lanes with him as he can easily step up and run for big yardage, I do think you want to make a much more concerted effort to get pressure on him. Against the Rams and Seahawks, it seemed like edge pressure really gave him fits at times. John Abraham is sporting a bum ankle, and there’s no doubt that he will play in this game. But there’s also no doubt that he won’t be at full strength. Basically you’re crossing your fingers at this point that Abe pulls a gutsy performance and manages to make an impact in this game basically on one leg.

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Scouting the Seahawks: How Atlanta Matches Up

January 11th, 2013 Comments off

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Marshawn Lynch is the foundation of the Seahawks attack.

I’ve watched quite a bit of Seahawks games on NFL.com’s Game Rewind to prep myself for this preview. I watched how they fared against New England’s and Buffalo’s offenses. I wanted to see how they did against a top quarterback with weapons (something they haven’t seen much of this year) and a dynamic wideout in Stevie Johnson who brings similar tools to the fold as Roddy White. I also looked at their Week 12 loss against the Dolphins, to see how the Dolphins pulled off that victory. I also wanted to see what the New York Jets did in Week 10 to cause Russell Wilson to have one of his worst games of the year. And of course I looked at their matchup last week against the Washington Redskins.

What I discovered was a very good Seahawks team that plays a style that is going to be a difficult matchup for the Falcons.

The key to Seattle’s success is their strong running game helmed by Marshawn Lynch and Tom Cable’s zone-blocking scheme. Lynch is one of the best after contact runners in the league, and the Falcons defense has struggled throughout this year with their tackling. If they aren’t swarming to the ball and Lynch gets too many one on one situations with our linebackers and safeties, the Falcons could be in for a long day.

Lynch’s running is the foundation of their offense. With it, they utilize a lot of play-action and read option with Russell Wilson. The Falcons have been fairly solid against those two, but have had their lapses. They’ve faced Carolina (twice) and Washington, both of whom utilized a lot of read option, so they will be prepared. However neither Carolina nor Washington used much of it in their early matchup. The only time the Falcons have seen a lot of it (and I suspect Seattle will use it quite a bit) was in their Week 14 loss to Carolina. During that game the Falcons did give up a pair of long touchdowns on read option on a Cam Newton run and a screen pass to DeAngelo Williams. But I feel somewhat confident that Mike Nolan may have fixed many of those kinks in the subsequent weeks.

If the Falcons can contain Lynch, it will be difficult for the Seahawks to overcome it because it might force them into playing a way they don’t want to play, which is a dropback passing game. Russell Wilson’s short stature has made it difficult for him to be your typical pocket passer at this level. He likes to get out on the move, using his legs and throwing downfield. In fact, it reminds me quite a bit of the Falcons circa 2002 with Michael Vick. It’s what makes Seattle so dangerous since Wilson is prone to breaking some long runs. The key for any defense against them will be to contain him to the pocket and force him to use his arm, not his legs. The former has not quite developed, and he still is prone to making some youthful mistakes against the blitz, similar to Vick.
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Falcons’ Second Season Begins

December 31st, 2012 Comments off

It is called the postseason or second season in many circles, because the month of January kicks off a brand new season in the NFL. It is one where who or what you were in the regular season is meaningless and trivial, a small footnote. Teams will be tested purely off their own merit, not their regular season achievements. Whether you finished with a 9-7 record or 13-3, you’re all the same when the second season begins: 0-0.

The Falcons have struggled in the second season, as it has been been seven years since they have won a game there. They are winless under the leadership of Mike Smith. What has been disheartening to Falcon fans is that each of those losses have gotten progressively worse. The Falcons intend to turn the tide this year, as they sport the best offense they’ve had in the Mike Smith Era, and a defense that has routinely stepped up in big games.

Having the best regular season record and the No. 1 seed is meaningful only in the sense that it means the Falcons will be playing at home. Two of their three postseason losses have come on the road, where the team has struggled throughout the Mike Smith Era. But that has changed this year. While the Falcons have a better record at home (7-1) than on the road (6-2) this year, the Falcons offense is better by 51.0 total yards per game, 3.4 points per game, and about 0.7 yards per play when traveling. The story is the opposite for the defense, surrendering 24.4 less yards per game, 3.4 less points per game, and about 0.4 less yards per play at home rather than on the road.

In past postseason games, the defense has struggled to get stops, create turnovers, and not surrender big plays to opposing teams. Mike Nolan will have this year’s unit charged to change that.

But the onus will likely rest on the team’s offense to play better at home than it has for much of the year. The offensive line has struggled when asked to play indoors for the most part this year. The lone exception being an outstanding performance against the New York Giants a few weeks back. They have also been able to generate some of their big plays at home, with a total of 25 explosive pass plays (for 20 or more yards) at home, while only 21 on the road.

If the Falcons intend to reverse their fortunes in this year’s second season, it will likely require them to be able to pass protect Ryan effectively in order to generate those big explosive passing plays. While it won’t be a tall order, it is something the Falcons have been inconsistent with during the regular season. But the beauty of the second season is that all gets thrown out the window. The Falcons will have their opportunity to showcase an explosive offense and opportunistic defense in the playoffs. What they did before won’t matter. It is all up to what they do going forward.

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A Complete Performance by Falcons

December 17th, 2012 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas DeCoud celebrates

The Falcons have faced their fair share of criticism this year. It all stems from the main question that hovers over their 2012 season like a specter: whether or not the Falcons can win a playoff game. Well, the Falcons appeared to exorcise that ghost with a dominant 34-0 shut out of the New York Giants.

The Falcons have been accused of taking advantage of a very weak schedule this year. The Giants represent one of only four opponents on the Falcons slate that currently has a winning record. The others: the Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins, and Dallas Cowboys were all beat by the Falcons. They have won a number of close games against cellar-dwelling opponents. That all culminated with an embarrassing 10-point loss to the Carolina Panthers. Coming off a thrilling win over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night the previous week, the Falcons looked unfocused and lethargic against the Panthers. Questions were raised about whether this team had the focus to change their postseason fortunes.

But the Falcons provided answers Sunday afternoon with their beatdown of the New York Giants. The Giants are a team that has built a reputation in recent years as one capable of turning on “the switch” at the opportune time. A switch that suggests when their backs are against they wall, they play their best football. After all, they had done so a year ago with a strong finish on their path to a Super Bowl victory. A path that went right over, through, and under Atlanta in the playoffs.

But on Sunday afternoon, the Falcons returned the embarrassment as the Giants were outright throttled by the Falcons. After two lackluster offensive performances against the Saints and Panthers, the Falcons offense rebounded with a brilliant effort against the Giants. The Falcons 34-point effort was their biggest of the season since the 40 points they scored in Week 1 mashing of the Chiefs. Their defense was able to create three turnovers and shut down the Giants three times on fourth and short, guiding the Giants to their donut on the scoreboard.

A week ago the Falcons appeared to be limping towards the top seed in the NFC. This week, they are going to be among the most feared teams in the NFL. The Falcons defense had appeared to be in “playoff mode” since their win over the Saints where Brees was picked off five times. The offense not so much…until yesterday.

The offensive line, which had been whipped by the Giants last January performed marvelously against the vaunted Giants front. Matt Ryan was sacked only once and saw little pressure. So little that Ryan seemed to hardly break a sweat as he completed 82% of his 28 attempts for 270 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Falcons gained 129 yards on the ground, their second best effort of the season.

The defense continues to build its reputation for strong play against top quarterbacks. It marked the Falcons sixth game where the defense forced at least three turnovers. Eli Manning adds his name to the list of top quarterbacks who have suffered that fate alongside his older brother Peyton, Philip Rivers, and Drew Brees.

The Falcons now sit 12-2, atop the NFC and likely to finish with home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They will hope and plan to use this Giants victory as a springboard to change their fortunes from the last time they had such an advantage, back in 2010. Then, they lost to the Green Bay Packers in an embarrassing fashion. They were unable to force a single punt all game long. This year, Mike Nolan has the defense firing on all cylinders, ready to eradicate that memory from the minds of Falcon fans and Defend the Dome. Now, it finally appears that the offense is now caught up and ready to go as well.

UPDATE: Forgot that the Cowboys also sport a winning record.

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