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Early Bird Report 10/31: Falcons get empathy from unexpected place; the weird NFC South

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Happy Halloween, Falcons fans! The players have their usual day off on Tuesday, but we are still here to bring you some of the more interesting news about the team from around the country. Enjoy a fun night of trick-or-treating before turning your full attention to an important NFC South matchup against the Carolina Panthers this weekend.

Today's Early Bird Report includes a great story about Ricardo Allen's busy weekend as well as the Falcons receiving empathy from a very unexpected place.


FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY Allen plays every defensive snap days after birth of second child

Ricardo Allen has become one of the leaders and most important pieces of the Falcons' defense. He helps get his teammates aligned and identifies reads prior to the snap, but near the end of last week, the starting free safety was needed elsewhere. Allen's wife, Grace, gave birth to their second child, Lennon Grace Allen, on Thursday night, and he spent over 14 hours by her side during that time. Despite the crowded schedule, Allen didn't miss a snap in the Falcons' 25-20 win over the Jets. He spoke with ESPN’s Vaugh McClure about the experience.

"I was in there at the hospital from 7 p.m. on Thursday until about 9:30 the next morning," Allen told McClure. "I was there to see the baby. I was there to be with the baby. By the time we got to the room, (Grace) told me to just go to sleep.

"Coach Q (Dan Quinn) told me to come in later Friday, so it was cool. I practiced, but I didn't go to the meetings. They know I know my stuff. I film study. I was ready to roll. I just had to get my sleep."

Pro Football Focus: Player grades from Falcons' win

Unlike some of the other grades assigned to players and units after games, the ones from Pro Football Focus are based on close analysis of in-game performances. Those at PFF strive to look at games in a way more similar to a scout or analyst than a fan or beat writer, so their grades should be slightly more refined and substantive. After the Falcons' win on Sunday, PFF announced its five highest-graded players from the game for Atlanta.

Here are the top 5 grades:

  • DT Dontari Poe: 82.8
  • LB De'Vondre Campbell: 82.8
  • DE Adrian Clayborn: 81.9
  • RT Ryan Schraeder: 80.9
  • QB Matt Ryan: 80.8

This is what PFF had to say about the Falcons' starting quarterback: "Whisper it quietly, but have we seen the return of the 2016 Matt Ryan? This was his best performance passing the ball of the year and that it came in such tricky conditions made it all the more impressive. Botched exchanges were the big negative on a game where his stat line would have looked much better if not for an uncharacteristic six drops, including would-be first downs and a touchdown from Austin Hooper. Still he moved the ball downfield and the accuracy there returned, with him completing all three of his attempts over 20 yards in the air, and going 9-of-11 on everything over 10 yards in the air."


*The Charlotte Observer: *Hangover, The Sequel: Panthers empathize with Falcons' season, but …

If there is a team who knows what it's like to start slowly after playing in the last football game of the previous season, it's the one the Falcons are about the face. After squaring off against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50, the Carolina Panthers started their next season 1-5 and finished 6-10. The Falcons haven't been that bad to start this year, but that hasn't prevented people from mentioning a potential hangover. Ahead of this Sunday's NFC South matchup, Joseph Person of *The Charlotte Observer *spoke with some Panthers players about the familiar situation.

"When you come off a season like (2015), it ain't going to be given to you next season," Panthers defensive end Mario Addison told Person. "You've got a target on your head. So you've really got to start over from scratch and build from the ground up."

Tight end Greg Olsen seems to expect the Falcons to get things turned around, he just doesn't want it to happen against the Panthers.

"I'm sure they'll be fine. Last year there was a lot of circumstances (with the Panthers). I don't feel like they've been injury-ridden. I still think they have their guys out there," Olsen told Person. "It's just a matter of finding their stride. Hopefully they don't find their stride for another couple weeks.

"We know how talented they are and we know what they're capable of. You just never want to be the team that they find it against."


The Ringer: Why the NFC South has been the NFL's weirdest division

The NFC South has a history of bucking preseason beliefs – from 2003-09, the division's last-place team finished in first place the following year a total of six times – and this year is shaping up to be no different. It's not just that the expected contenders find themselves in the lower half of the division standings, but the apparent strengths and weaknesses of the teams have caught most people off-guard. In a piece for The Ringer, Danny Heifetz explained why the NFC South has been the league’s weirdest division.

He starts by mentioning that the Saints (5-2) aren't in first place because their offense has resumed the dominant form it's had for much of the last decade, but because they've suddenly developed a defense to be reckoned with. The Panthers (5-3) once again have a strong defensive unit, Heifetz writes, but it's been hard to pinpoint just how good they are, as their play has been very inconsistent. The Falcons (4-3) still possess a ton of talent, he says, but they've yet to perform up to their potential. And finally, in just eight weeks, the Bucs (2-5) went from NFC dark horse to the division bottom-feeder that has drastically underperformed.


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