Nowhere shy of elite

By Isaiah Joseph

Over the years, I can attest that my fidelity to the Atlanta Falcons football team can be equated to being on a rollercoaster. Ups, downs, the whole nine yards. When I first started actually getting into football years ago, the unpredictability of the rollercoaster involved with being a fan was evident.

A good regular season enticed me into believing we were capable of making runs in the playoffs only to be proven otherwise and on the contrary, large strings of poorly played games were often peculiarly followed by dominant wins against team’s no one thought we had a chance against.

Last season proved to be the most unpredictable of them all. Envision being on a rollercoaster that after escalating, sort of hit a steady plateau high above the clouds, towering over all that’s in sight. You admire the ravishing view from an elevated perspective before glancing down at the sight of others below you, observing the disarray of the rollercoasters they are on. You are entranced by this enthralling view to the extent that you forget you are still on a rollercoaster. Then suddenly, without warning and notice, you unexpectedly go plunging ferociously towards the ground.

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Faster and faster you plummet until you end up leveling out as you get to ground level. You think, “how did we possibly end up here. We we’re just up so high, feeling as if the sky is the limit, only to end up down here at what seems to be rock-bottom.” That right there described last season as a Falcons fan as we squandered a 5-0 record in the beginning of the season only to go 1-8 in the next nine weeks. We we’re sitting high above the clouds at 5-0 but forgetting that this is indeed the Falcons, we fell into the hype, thus leading to the typical vexation of being a Falcons fan.

One year later, they’re back in the same boat.

The Atlanta Falcons find themselves again as one of the premier teams in the league through their first six games, sitting at 4-2. Do not let the two losses fool you. To only lose 26 – 24 on the road against the two week rested, #1 defense in Seattle Seahawks attests to their legitimacy.  Not to mention the fact that they played at the toughest stadium in the NFL and were one blatant, missed pass interference call away from winning the game.

The team’s success during the four extremely tough road games in a five week span conveys the validity and power of this team to an even greater extent.  One thing I can say for sure is that this team is NOT the free-falling 5-0 Falcons of last year. I can unbiasedly assure you that this year’s Atlanta Falcons are as legit as it gets and different from any Falcon’s team I have spent my Sunday’s watching over the years. Furthermore, several key observations contribute to my impenetrable stance.

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For one, last year’s team benefitted from the easiest schedule in the league. They eked out a win against the Washington Redskins at home with their only dominant win being against the Houston Texans. All three other wins required second half comebacks. Through last year’s plummet, I noticed how the offensive line was dominant in run-blocking yet unreliable in pass-blocking. The offense was solely centered around Julio Jones and Devonte Freeman with a wide receiver in Roddy White that couldn’t seem to generate much space from opposing cornerbacks.

This resulted in defenses being able to shut down our offense with the emphasis being placed on those two players. Our offense simply lacked explosiveness. We turned the ball over recurrently in the red zone. Matt Ryan struggled with deep throw accuracy partly because of our offensive line, yet mainly due to the fact that Julio seemed to be our only deep threat.

If you are familiar with the Falcons, you know that offense is the heart of this team and pivotal to our success. These offensive struggles played a huge role in the collapse of the team last year on top of the fact that a new coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator would take time for a bond to come into fruition.

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Now, in the second year of head coach Dan Quinn however, I am seeing things I have never seen watching the team, thus solidifying my argument that the team is legit and a 2015 replica. For one, as opposed to last year, the team is tied with the San Francisco 49ers for the hardest schedule in the league. We have exited the toughest stretch of our season schedule with an impressive 4-2 record. We’ve beaten both Super bowl 50 teams back to back behind an offense that simply cannot be defended. The addition of center Alex Mack has solidified the offensive line which is now exceptional in both run-blocking and pass-blocking.

Matt Ryan has ample time to throw the ball which helps him find the handful of weapons he has. It is almost impossible to defend Julio Jones, arguably the best wide receiver in the league, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman who are arguably the best running back duo in the league, two extremely reliable tight-ends in Jacob Tamme and Austin Hooper, and a top-tier supporting staff of wide receivers in Mohamad Sanu, Justin Hardy, and Taylor Gabriel. Combine all of this with an elite-level quarterback in Matt Ryan and a rejuvenated offensive line and you can see why this team is nowhere shy of elite even from an unbiased perspective.

The team does not turn the ball over and is efficient in the red zone. The defense is improving drastically each week and starting to live up to their potential of the fast and physical defense Coach Quinn desires and yearns to bring from his experience as Defensive Coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks.

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When asked by the Atlanta Journal- Constitution if the team would be a repeat of last year, Quinn responded by stating, “It’s a different group. We’re a mentally tougher group than we were. We have real ability to understand how we have to reset to get ready to go right back to that process.”

This toughness that Quinn mentioned is surely displaying itself on the field as I can say that I never seen the Falcons look this good and poised for success. Each win has been dominant and decisive even more than the final scores may mislead you to think. The team is building unity and a brotherhood which is yielding efficacious results on and off the field. The team is truly thriving under coach Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as they dominate high caliber teams with ease.

As long as they’re healthy, the team should be in contention throughout the whole season and most assuredly in the postseason. I’m expecting a few losses, but I’m predicting an 11-5 record and a team well equipped to compete in the playoffs.

 

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