Early Bird Report: Falcons on a fourth-down tear

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The Falcons have been on a fourth-down tear of late. After an 0-for-4 start to the season on fourth down, Atlanta has converted 8-of-10 fourth-down attempts in its previous five games.

Just as Atlanta's failure to pick up a fourth down in its season opener wasn't indicative of what the team's performance on that down would become, its recent success isn't guaranteed to continue. A fact that offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter knows well.

"You gotta let it play out," Koetter said. "When you go for 3-for-3, it looks good, and when you go 0-for-3 in a game, it doesn't look good. That's going to average out over the course of the year."

Jason Butt took a deeper look at Atlanta’s fourth downs of late in a piece for The Atlanta Journal-Constituion, explaining why they were particularly effective in the Falcons' first win of the season against the Vikings.

Morris auditioning for another head job

After earning the Falcons' interim head coach label, Morris told the media that he wasn't thinking too much about the "interim" part of his title and that his job was to go 1-0 for the next 11 weeks. Following an impressive victory against Minnesota, Morris now has 10 weeks remaining to accomplish that goal. With previous head coaching experience in this league, Morris has learned plenty of lessons along the way that have put him in this current position. Courtney Cronin wrote about the opportunity ahead for Morris in a piece for ESPN.com.

"Since 1960, the win-loss record for interim head coaches in their first game was 31-60-1. Morris bucked that trend, too, and looked impressive on the way to victory. Sure, the Vikings are in the midst of a lost season and put together a disastrous performance, but the Falcons managed to dismantle Minnesota in a way that reflects well on Morris. And unlike in previous weeks when the Falcons jumped out to a strong start, they didn't give away the lead on the way to a 40-23 victory."

NFL power rankings after Week 6

Atlanta's performance in Week 6 was certainly refreshing and the type of game this team was always capable of putting together. But does it signal a true change for the Falcons' season?

Only time will provide the answer to that question, but Atlanta played up to its potential while earning its first win of the year. The Falcons are no longer among the winless teams in the NFL, and The Ringer's Danny Kelly believes, at the very least, they will be a tough out for the remaining opponents on the schedule.

"It's getting harder and harder to find nice things to say about the teams in this part of the rankings, but the Week 6 slate did offer some slight optimism for the Falcons, who finally got into the win column with a 40-23 blowout of the Vikings," Kelly writes. "With Raheem Morris as their new interim head coach, Atlanta picked off Kirk Cousins three times and rediscovered their mojo on offense. Quarterback Matt Ryan seemed happy to get a healthy Julio Jones back into action, too, and found the veteran pass catcher for touchdowns twice. It's tough to say whether Atlanta turned the proverbial corner under Morris or simply beat up on a bad team in Minnesota, but this was definitely the type of offensive performance that could make the Falcons a tough out for opponents the rest of the year."

Falcons plan to build from breakthrough

In his first games as interim coach, Raheem Morris got exactly what he wanted from the Falcons. The team started fast, created turnovers and capitalized on offense. But the work is just beginning for Morris, who has 10 games remaining to convince owner Arthur Blank that he's the right person to lead this team on a permanent basis. As D. Orlando Ledbetter writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta plans to build on this foundational win moving forward.

"Getting the ball to start the game and getting the ball at halftime was a lot of fun," Morris said Monday. "The offense going down to score right away, that's what we kind of talked about last week to start the week off and it kind of played out that way. It was awesome."

What we learned from Week 6

The Atlanta Falcons earned their first victory of the season on Sunday, beating the Minnesota Vikings 40-23 in Raheem Morris's first game as interim head coach.

It was an inspiring performance for Atlanta, which looked explosive on offense and stingy on defense. For a defense that has been the subject of much scrutiny for the first five weeks, Sunday was noteworthy. In his recap of the game, Nick Shook made a point to discuss the improvements on defense.

"Raheem Morris took over for the fired Dan Quinn as interim head coach, and his defense responded emphatically," Shook writes. "Atlanta forced three turnovers -- all on interceptions of Kirk Cousins -- helping the Falcons build an early lead and undercut any offensive momentum the Vikings were attempting to build. Their greatest display of pure effort and desire came with the Falcons owning a 10-0 lead but backed up on their goal line early in the second quarter. Atlanta promptly denied Minnesota on four attempts to reach the end zone, with Foye Oluokun stuffing Alexander Mattison for a loss of one on first and goal from Atlanta's 2, Deion Jones diving to knock a would-be reception out of Irv Smith hands two plays later, and Atlanta combining to stonewall Mike Boone on fourth down from a yard out. The unit played inspired ball all afternoon and complemented Atlanta's offense for the first time in 2020, producing the win."

NFL Week 6 grades

It's been a tough start to the season for Atlanta, which has not led to any favorable grades from CBSSports.com's John Breech, but that all changed this weekend. After their showing on Sunday, the Falcons earned the highest possible grade from Breech, an "A+," and plenty of praise.

"Getting rid of Dan Quinn appeared to work wonders for the Falcons because they came through with their most impressive performance of the season," Breech writes. "The Falcons came up with big plays in all three phases of the game. Defensively, the Falcons were able to hold on to an early 10-0 lead after pulling off a goal-line stand in the second quarter where they stopped Minnesota two times from the one-yard line. Offensively, Matt Ryan caught fire, throwing for 371 yards and four touchdowns. Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris had a strong debut and proved that things are going to be run differently now that he's in charge. Not only did he have the Falcons go for it three times on fourth down, but they converted all three times and the crazy part is that two of those conversions went for long touchdowns (40-yard pass to Julio Jones on fourth-and-3 and 35-yard pass to Hayden Hurst on fourth-and-1)."

Falcons – Team Raheem – get dominant first win

On paper, the Falcons always appeared to have the personnel in place to produce a result like the one on Sunday. Everything finally clicked against the Vikings, giving Atlanta a dominant victory. In his review of the game, Steve Hummer reflected on the Falcons’ performance after a trying week for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"The past week was a hectic one for the Falcons," Hummer writes. "They purged leadership. Shuffled staff. Shut down their practice facility for a day while dealing with a small COVID bloom. And sometime, without announcing the experimental procedure to anyone, underwent a full personality transplant.

"Who were those guys in Minneapolis Sunday? Souped-up in all three phases. Taking a lead and holding on to it like a stray dog would a soup bone. Daring on offense, damaging on defense. Playing as if utterly uninterested in drafting Trevor Lawrence. And, yes, winning."

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