The 2012 NFL season is only three weeks old, but already the Falcons look like they’re poised for something big. Something really big. I mean Super Bowl aspirations big.
The Falcons are 3-0 and one of three undefeated teams (Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans). Two weeks ago, the Falcons defeated the Denver Broncos 27-21 in a huge Monday night showdown. The game lasted ridiculously long due to the multiple stoppages and overall ineptitude of the officials. On a short week, the Falcons headed out west to San Diego to face the Chargers, and they responded extremely well, winning 27-3.
Great teams are able to win decidedly on the road on a short week.
Great teams also have great coaches, and the Falcons hit a home run with their two new coordinators.
Dirk Koetter, the new offensive coordinator, has allowed Matt Ryan to do what he does best: operate in the no-huddle offense. Mike Mularkey, the Falcons’ former offensive coordinator for the past four years and current Jacksonville Jaguars head coach, was extremely stubborn and rarely, if at all, allowed Ryan to take the reins. Mularkey was also conservative and never changed the gameplan to cater to the players’ strengths.
Koetter is different. He knew Ryan liked to run the no-huddle, so he said Ryan would use more of it. Koetter also brings an aggressive offensive philosophy; he likes to get the ball down the field. So far, so good.
Ryan has responded well to his new coordinator. On the season, Ryan is 77/107 for 793 yards, eight touchdowns, and just one interception, good for a passer rating of 114.0. He’s completing an absurd 72% of his passes and averaging 7.4 yards per attempt. It is now Ryan’s team.
The Falcons were a run-first team under Mularkey, using Michael Turner as the workhorse on offense. Head coach Mike Smith said they would monitor Turner’s carries, and they’ve held true to that promise thus far.
The Mike Nolan hire is also paying dividends. The Falcons the best turnover margin in the league at +10. They lead the league in interceptions with seven. They’re generating a lot more pressure than last year, and this is with the nearly the same defense from last year (Brent Grimes is lost for the season, but Asante Samuel is in). Nolan is doing what former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder could not: make the defense relevant. The defense is playing with swagger, and they’re aggressive.; under VanGorder, they were the definition of “vanilla.”
This team feels noticeably different for the reasons listed above. The Falcons are knocking on the door, and this could very well be the year they blow said door up.