The New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins average more yards per game than Atlanta, but the Falcons average more than two points better than any other NFL offense in terms of points scored per game, as they put up 32.5 per contest. This offense is a juggernaut.
This is a balanced attack, and unlike last season, it’s not overly dependent on Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman. Atlanta is thriving in both the run and passing game and one of the best things about this group is that they can attack a defense pretty much any which way they like. They are brutal to game plan against.
What is very interesting about Atlanta’s offense is unlike many of the other teams around the league, the Falcons do not employ a high percentage of three wide receiver sets. Instead, they use heavier base personnel with either two backs or two tight ends in the game. Few offenses are in “base” as much as Atlanta.
A true blocking fullback has gone by way of the dinosaur for many NFL offenses, but the Falcons’ Patrick DiMarco, a true lead blocker, plays as many snaps as any fullback in the league. He is a downhill blocker and brings attitude to this offense.
Atlanta also features two very different running backs and there are times when both Tevin Coleman and Freeman are on the field together. Coleman is a taller upright runner without a lot of wiggle, but he does have fantastic long speed.
He has progressed very nicely in the passing game, as well, and creates a matchup problem as a receiver against most linebackers that try to cover him. Getting Coleman on Denver’s linebackers was especially effective, but it is a tactic we have seen much of this season.
Freeman isn’t the biggest back around, but he runs very hard and low to the ground. He is good as an inside or outside runner and while he doesn’t have Coleman’s home run speed, Freeman is also an accomplished receiving threat as well. But from just a traditional running back point of view, Freeman is clearly the superior player.
The Falcons have really been lacking at the tight end position since the retirement of Tony Gonzalez, but they look to have found yet another playmaker in Austin Hooper. Rarely do rookie tight ends make an impact in the NFL, but Hooper is playing better and better every week. He’s a keeper.
We all know that Jones is a superstar and ranks among the truly elite offensive players in the entire NFL, but he is no longer alone at the wide receiver position for Atlanta.
Mohamed Sanu is a tough and versatile player that has been an excellent complement to Jones in more of a possession role. Sanu has played nearly as many snaps as Jones, as this is often just a two wide receiver offense.
However, the addition of Tyler Gabriel could be changing that philosophy. Gabriel, whom Kyle Shanahan coached in Cleveland, has been such a difference maker that keeping him off the field is starting to seem foolish. Gabriel is tiny, but he plays like one of the fastest and most explosive players in the entire league.
He is the type of guy that can make fast defenders look slow, and Gabriel also shows very good vision with the ball in his hands. His addition is almost unfair, as the Falcons already had a wealth of ways to attack their opponent. He is just one more and can be used on end arounds, screens, a deep threat or even a decoy.
With the addition of Alex Mack in the middle and good health this year, the Falcons offensive line is clearly better than it was a season ago. Overall, the pass protection is rather average, but the run blocking has been superb.
However, against the Cardinals’ outstanding pass-rush, this unit performed quite well for the majority of the game, particularly early in the contest.
Matt Ryan is playing the best football of his career. Obviously, the work of this excellent and expansive supporting cast has something to do with that, but his play speaks for itself. Ryan is now in the MVP conversation, is playing about as well as any quarterback in the NFL and is excelling throwing deep downfield.
Ryan and Shanahan have a lot of weapons at their disposal and are utilizing them extremely well. Eight Falcons caught passes on Sunday. Even when Jones gets a brutal matchup like he did against Patrick Peterson this week, the Falcons still put up points. In this game, Ryan dismantled Arizona’s defense with precise short passing.
Atlanta has yet to lose more than two in a row this season and most of their losses have been by narrow margins to good teams. The Falcons are just middle-of-the-road when it comes to red zone efficiency, so there is actually some room for improvement with this offense overall. But this is a championship-level offense in Atlanta, and with a defense that is young and improving, especially from a pass-rush standpoint, the Falcons could be a very difficult out in the NFC playoffs.
The Falcons also have been very good on special teams this season and are coming off their most impressive overall team performance of the year thus far. With Seattle losing, the Falcons also could end up with a bye with an offense custom made for playing in their dome.