FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes the Falcons' ascent up the power rankings as well as plenty of praise for Atlanta's offense.
Week 10 power rankings:
The Falcons have climbed out of their 1-4 hole, and the national power rankings awarded them for that accomplishment. Some more than others, however, as the Falcons shot up in a couple of power rankings and only made marginal gains in others. Also, be sure to check out Matt Tabeek's Wildly Important NFL Power Rankings.
"The award for Effort Win of Week 9 goes to the gritty Falcons, who refuse to make excuses despite being able to construct their own mini- Pro Bowl team out of the players on their injury reports and injured reserve. Atlanta is getting a little healthier -- including in the standings -- because of a defense that has bent (plenty) without busting in the past couple of weeks. In Washington, Matt Ryan had his best road showing since that blowout win over the Jeff Fisher Rams two years ago.
"Of all the individual plays on Sunday, I thought a single pass to Mohamed Sanu, insignificant in terms of outcome, signified the heart of Dan Quinn's football team. Up 17 and trying to run out the clock with six minutes and change left, Ryan hit Sanu over the middle in tight coverage on third-and-7. Sanu tried to drag two defenders for the first down, only to have center Alex Mack (the center!) come running in to push the pile. All heart. Atlanta clearly hasn't given up on making the postseason as easily as all the analysts have given up on them."
"At 4-4, they are playing great on offense. Matt Ryan has been sensational. They have a chance to be a playoff team."
"The Falcons fell below expectations and started 1-4 primarily because of injuries. They currently have six starters on injured reserve, although Pro Bowl middle linebacker Deion Jones is due back in a couple of weeks. Still, the Falcons -- behind an MVP-worthy showing by Matt Ryan -- have managed to rattle off three straight wins and are back in the playoff hunt."
"And they've done it, clawing all the way back to .500 and into the playoff race. The Falcons were way too talented to fold, and our rankings reflected that even when they were 1-4."
Throughout the offseason and training camp, Steve Sarkisian and many of the Falcons' offensive players discussed how much more comfortable they were going into their second season working together. And while they weren't exactly firing on all cylinders in their season opener, the Falcons' offense has been incredible this season.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
The Ringer: The NFL's most dominant offenses refuse to be stopped
Much of the first half of the 2018 NFL season was defined by spectacular offensive play, and the Atlanta Falcons certainly belong in that category. Steve Sarkisian's unit has been humming in Year 2, and the Falcons are currently fifth in yards per game (412) and eighth in points per game (28.5). The Ringer's Robert Mays has not missed the Falcons' offensive explosion despite the team's slow start.
"At 4-4, the Falcons have a tough road to a wild-card berth in the NFC, but their 38-point outburst against Washington proves this team can score on anybody," Mays writes. "Atlanta has struggled against talented defensive fronts on the road this season (see: the total collapse against Pittsburgh in Week 5), but the Falcons offensive line was able to neutralize a Washington front four that's packed with high-end talent. Matt Ryan was sacked only twice while throwing for 350 yards and four scores. A good chunk of that production came on screens to running back Tevin Coleman (who took a short pass 39 yards for a touchdown), but Ryan had more than enough time to get the ball to his dynamic pass catchers. Most of those throws went to Julio Jones, who hauled in seven catches for 121 yards and his first touchdown of the season. I'm glad to see that my theory (that Jones can't cross the goal line without exploding) wasn't actually true."
To read the rest of Mays' piece on The Ringer, click here.
The Ringer: The Falcons offense is back. Will that be enough?
The Ringer wasn't finished talking about Steve Sarkisian and the Falcons' offense, though. In a separate piece, written by Danny Kelly, Atlanta's second-year offensive coordinator receives praise for the work that he's done in the face of scrutiny entering the season.
"But over the past month, the Falcons have overcome their injury-decimated defense, dug themselves out of the cellar, and gotten back to .500 on the back of their high-flying offense," Kelly writes. "Led by quarterback Matt Ryan, who's posting MVP-caliber numbers, and narrative-busting play-caller Steve Sarkisian, who's solved the team's red zone woes, the Falcons' offense is quietly humming along at a clip that comes close to its incredible 2016 performance. In a season that's been dominated by the NFL's most unstoppable offenses, the Falcons have put together a juggernaut of their own—and that group makes this team a dark horse playoff contender in the season's stretch run."
This is a really well-written and in-depth piece by Kelly on the Falcons' offense and how its evolved, and I highly recommend checking it out.
NFL.com: Five big questions for rest of season
With the second half of the season officially set to begin on Thursday night, it's time to assess the first half and ask some important questions pertaining to the home stretch. That's exactly what NFL.com's Jim Trotter did by posing five big questions and then providing his answers. He begins by asking a question pertaining to the NFC South: Will the division have three playoff teams for the second straight season?
"In a word: Yes," Trotter writes. "That didn't seem likely several weeks ago, when the Falcons were 1-4 and losing starters to injury as regularly as they were losing games. But they have won three in a row, with only two games remaining against clubs with a winning record. Not only that, but after putting six starters on injured reserve, they are finally getting healthy and could see top linebacker Deion Jones return from a foot injury in a couple of weeks. Equally notable is that the offense has found its rhythm in Year 2 under coordinator Steve Sarkisian. The unit was 1 of 5 in the red zone in Week 1, but has gone 17 of 21 since then. Also, its third-down conversion rate has been above 53 percent in four of the last five games, including 62 percent or higher in three of the games, with two at 73 percent or higher. That is a formula for going at least 6-2 the rest of way, and 10 wins should be enough to join division brethren New Orleans (7-1) and Carolina (6-2) in the postseason. Currently, I can't see wild-card candidates in other divisions reaching 10 victories, based on schedule, health or performance."
To read the rest of Trotter's questions, click here.
MMQB: Who answered the call? Week 9 in the NFL
Fresh off a 38-point outing on the road against the Washington Redskins, the Falcons' offense is fifth in yards per game (412.3), first in third-down percentage (53.33) and eighth in scoring offense (28.5).
After the Falcons' victory in Washington, Sarkisian called Monday Morning Quarterback's Albert Breer to discuss his unit's recent success.
"I've been doing this a long time, and you learn that it comes with the territory," Sarkisian told Breer. "You can't ride the emotional roller-coaster of one good game and you think you're the greatest and then one bad game and you're the worst. You need to find that even keel, and the steadiness, the consistency in your preparation and your work.
"For me in Year 2 it's just an overall comfort level, with our players, our style of play, to put our players in the best position to be successful."
To read the rest of Breer's piece, click here.
ESPN: Falcons finally back in the running with Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith
Atlanta concentrated on getting its run game back on track during the bye week and the early results were encouraging. The Falcons gained 154 yards and averaged 7.7 yards per carry against a Redskins defense that had held teams to just 80 yards per game on the ground. It was only the second time this season that Atlanta had gained over 100 yards on the ground. After the game, ESPN's Vaughn McClure spoke with center Alex Mack about the success the Falcons had on the ground.
"They did a really great job of making 4-yard runs turn into 20-yard runs," Mack told McClure of the backs. "They did a good job of reading the holes and setting us up. When you have a running back that can do explosive plays and make you look right, it's good for a lineman. They were able to set up our blocks. Their track, their path, how they read things can really set up our blocks and make us look good. So they did a good job of doing that."
To read the rest of McClure's piece, click here.