Ever since the Atlanta Falcons retooled their coaching staff early in the offseason there have been many unanswered questions. Was our biggest problem our coordinators? Can Atlanta move to a pass heavy offense? Can we get off the field on third down? How do you pronounce Koetter?
Tony Gonzalez had a great homecoming game.
After an uneven preseason we finally have some answers. Except the thing about Koetter. I have heard about five different pronunciations. Either way, Atlanta started off the regular season by traveling to Kansas City to play an underrated Chiefs squad. Sporting a young defense and mean run game under Romeo Crennel, the Falcons needed to come out hitting on all pistons.
How we looked after the jump.
1. The Matt Ryan passing attack is elite. The Falcons returned the exact same offense, short of some wide receiver depth changes, with the same starters as the beginning of last year. Seems the front office felt Mike Mularkey was the problem. It is hard to argue after dropping 40 points on the Chiefs in Kansas City.
Matt Ryan looked calm and collected at quarterback. Ice completed almost 75% of his passes for an elite 9.34 yards per attempt. With no running game Ryan put the team on his back and carved up the Chiefs with a ridiculously balanced distribution of passes: 6 catches by Roddy White, 6 catches by Julio Jones and 5 catches by Tony Gonzalez.
This is the pass offense we expected all last year and seemed to only improve throughout the game. Quite simply the Falcons murdered the Chiefs and very few teams in the league can keep pace with our pass offense.
2. The run game needs help. I felt going into the offseason we needed an upgrade at running back and that remains a huge need. Michael Turner ran 11 times for a pedestrian 32 yards and Jacquizz Rodgers put up a similar yards per carry. More concerning is the big 11 yard chunk that came from his beastly run up the middle, leaving some pretty terrible numbers on Turner's other 10 runs.
3. This defense needs some work. I was hoping for big things from Mike Nolan. He may not have a magic wand to turn around the defense but we showed some improvement against a mediocre Chiefs offense. Atlanta managed some pressure but for about a half made Matt Cassel look like a Pro Bowler. We had no answer for Dexter McCluster and had some plays that would have turned out different with Corey Peters in the lineup.
It was certainly a relief to not play Brian VanGorder's "Don't Lose the Game Gameplan that Guarantees our Loss" scheme but we did not look like a defense that took a big step forward. We managed some pressure against a quality offensive line from a range of positions (DE, DT, OLB) which was a rarity in our old scheme.
But I am not overly pessimistic. At the half Nolan made some adjustments and shut down the Chiefs offense until garbage time in the 4th quarter. Our real test may come next week against the Broncos.
Who gets the game ball: Julio Jones. Jones does things usually available only through cheat codes on Madden. He manhandles defensive backs then blows past them. His mixture of size, speed and power, and the way he put it all together today for 108 yards and two touchdowns, makes him a likely bet for multiple game balls this year.
Best offensive player: Matt Ryan. Whether Dirk Koetter or Ryan's natural progression, this is a quarterback who commanded the offense and has taken a major step, if not leap forward, since last year. Did anyone see him run? I don't think Ryan has looked that mobile since we drafted him.
Best defensive player: William Moore. This is a bit more of a toss up but Willy Mo was always ready for this game. He pulled in an interception and made impact plays throughout the game. The only time Moore was not blowing up offensive players was when he was on the receiving end of a nasty pull on his facemask.
GOAT: I wanted to give this one to Ray Edwards, who continues to disappoint me, but Michael Turner had a very poor game. No catches, one good run and a concerning case of the tippy-toes has me seriously worried about the balance of this offense.