Although they have had a rough start, the Atlanta Falcons are in great position to make the playoffs. They are only a game behind the New Orleans Saints and could surpass them with a strong run in their final six games. Their schedule for the rest of the season is quite favorable but in order for Atlanta to make the playoffs there are a few things they need to do:
Atlanta Can’t Settle for FGs in the First Quarter
When the Falcons score at least a touchdown in the first quarter they win. So far they are 6-1 when they have scored seven or more points in the first quarter of games. The only time they lost after scoring a touchdown in the first was against the Green Bay Packers. On the flip side of that, the Falcons have lost all three games when they failed to score a first quarter touchdown.
The Falcons Need To Make Better Halftime Adjustments
The Falcons’ worse scoring period has been the third quarter. They have scored three or less points six times in the third quarter and were held scoreless on three of those six occasions. Adding insult to injury, Atlanta’s defense has also allowed the most points to its opponents in the third period of games. Falcons’ opponents have outscored them 92-40 in the third quarter.
Atlanta’s Defense Needs to Continue Its Strong First and Fourth Quarter Play
Atlanta has only allowed one touchdown in the first quarter all season and that was in the very first game against the Chicago Bears. Of the other nine opponents they have played, five were held scoreless in the first and the other four were held to a single field goal apiece. The Falcons are 4-1 when they hold a team scoreless in the first quarter.
Atlanta’s defense starts strong and seems to finish strong as well. They have shut out six opponents in the fourth quarter and of the four teams that were able to score against them, only one scored more than seven points. The Falcons are 4-2 when they shut teams out in the fourth quarter but only 2-2 when they allowed teams to score.
Ryan Must Take Care of the Ball
There’s no way to express how important this will be going forth. Matt Ryan has thrown ten picks in ten games and is on pace to throw the most interceptions of his four year career. As expected, the Falcons have won all three games where he didn’t throw an interception but their record drops to 3-4 when he does. Ryan has got to cut down on his turnovers if they are going to make the playoffs.
Roddy Must Play Better
After ten games, Roddy White only has 54 catches on the season. At that rate he is on schedule to catch around 86 passes this year. While not bad, it’s way off his production from last season when he led the league with 115 catches. Julio Jones and Harry Douglas have played well this season which may account for his drop in numbers. Still, White should be more effective than he has been. He only has three touchdowns and his yards-per-catch is only one yard better than last season.
Douglas however has already surpassed his numbers from last season and although Jones has missed three games, he is only 11 catches shy of what Michael Jenkins gave the team last year. Jones has been as good as advertised but it’s still weird when you consider that the Falcons have gone 3-0 when Jones doesn’t play.
Run, Run, Run
Despite all of the promises to open up the offense the Falcons have not been able to deny who they really are and that is a running team. Michael Turner is on pace to rush for over 1,400 yards on the season and he already has eight rushing touchdowns. They are 4-1 when he rushes for 100 yards or more and they are 5-1 when he scores at least one touchdown. Atlanta has been way more effective over the years when they pound the ball on the ground and that doesn’t look to change anytime soon.
Take Advantage of Their Schedule Going Forth
The Falcons are 23-6 in the Georgia Dome during the Mike Smith era and have three games left to play at home. This weekend they have a home game against the Minnesota Vikings who will be without their talented running back Adrian Peterson due to an injury. Their other two home games will be against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The three teams have a combined 9-21 record.
On the road it gets a little tougher as the Falcons will play the Houston Texans, the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints in the coming weeks. The Texans are 7-3 but have lost their star quarterback Matt Schaub for the season. The Panthers are only 2-8 while the Saints are 7-3.
The San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers are looking to be locks for the playoffs which leaves only four spots up for grabs. The teams with the best shot to fill one of those slots include the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears and of course the Falcons.
There are still a few teams with an outside shot at a playoff bid but more than likely it will be among those five. The Falcons should be able to secure one of those playoff spots as long as they continue to play to their strengths and do those things I listed above. With an 0-2 playoff record under Mike Smith I guess the real question should be will they do anything once they get there?
Roosevelt Hall covers the Atlanta Falcons for Outside The Redzone. Follow him on Twitter @RHall_tpfb.