FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes why teams wouldn't want to see Atlanta's offense in the playoffs and the Falcons' biggest injury question this week.
Although the Falcons' defense has been hit hard by injuries this season, they are coming off of one of their best performances of the year. The offense, meanwhile, has been rolling pretty much all season long.
Even when they aren't firing on all cylinders, Atlanta's offense always seems just one snap away from hitting a big play, and it's cleaned up its red-zone struggles from a year ago. The Falcons are currently ranked No. 6 in red-zone percentage, No. 8 in yards per game and No. 9 in points per game.
They haven't been perfect all throughout the 2018 season, but the Falcons certainly have plenty of talent on offense. If they can play with just a bit more consistency, this would be an offense nobody would want to have sneak into the postseason, which is exactly why NFL.com's David Carr listed him among the five offenses he would least want to face in the playoffs.
"It's no question that Atlanta boasts the best receiving corps in the NFL with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley," Carr writes. "And Marvin Hall flexed his muscle on a 47-yard touchdown Monday night. With all four posing as potential deep threats, along with tight end Austin Hooper, Matt Ryan has to be licking his chops every time the Falcons line up in four- or five-wide receiver sets. Again, defenses have trouble defending all these weapons. Without Devonta Freeman, the Tevin Coleman-led run game has been just enough of a threat to open up the play-action pass for Ryan. Like the Rams and Chiefs, the Falcons have found success on play-action passes this season and continued to thrive Monday night against the Giants. According to Pro Football Focus, Ryan threw for more yards on play-action passes on fewer attempts than on all other pass plays in Week 7:
Play-action: 13-for-14 (92.9 percent), 195 passing yards, one TD, zero INTs, 142.6 passer rating.
Not play-action: 18-for-25 (72.0 percent), 190 passing yards, zero TDs, zero INTs, 93.8 passer rating.
This offense is clicking in Steve Sarkisian's second year as offensive coordinator, with Ryan playing at or above his 2016 MVP form."
To see the rest of the offenses on Carr's list, click here.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
ESPN: Biggest injury questions for all 32 teams in Week 8
Mercifully, the Falcons have reached their bye week and they have the chance to get a bit more healthy after a string of major injuries have been the prominent storyline over the first half of the season. That's why ESPN's "biggest injury question" for the Falcons this week actually involved someone who the team might get back soon, not someone they have recently lost: Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones.
"It's getting closer to that window for Pro Bowl middle linebacker Deion Jones to return from injured reserve after foot surgery," ESPN's Vaughn McClure writes. "Coach Dan Quinn said Jones is on target to return against the Cowboys (Nov. 18), which would be a much-needed boost to the depleted defense. It will likely be just a matter of Jones feeling comfortable again and being in playing condition. He has stayed mentally in the game by attending meetings and walk-throughs."
Pro Football Focus: Week 7 NFL Team of the Week
The Falcons earned a big win heading into their bye week and have now strung together back-to-back victories. Several players stepped up in Atlanta's win against the New York Giants, and the Falcons had four players make Pro Football Focus' NFL Team of the Week.
Wide receiver Julio Jones and center Alex Mack were the two offensive players selected, while cornerback Brian Poole was the lone Falcons defensive player on the list and kicker Giorgio Tavecchio was selected after a three-for-three debut with Atlanta.
"On the field for 45 snaps on defense, including 27 in coverage, Poole had a stat line that few will match this year," PFF's Gordon McGuinness writes of Poole, who received a 90 grade for his performance. "Targeted twice in coverage, he did allow a reception, but that reception went for a total of negative eight yards. He also didn't miss any tackles and registered a hurry from the seven snaps where he was a blitzer."
To see the rest of PFF's NFL Team of the Week, click here.
AJC: Falcons aren't great but, after bye, they can grind way to playoffs
Injuries have sapped what many considered to be one of the NFL's most talented rosters heading into the season, but the Falcons have persevered over the last two weeks. They enter their bye week now with a 3-4 record and, as Michael Cunningham writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, with a chance to make a push at the postseason during the second half of the season.
"In the parity-obsessed NFL the idea is to hover around break-even and look for some good luck," Cunningham writes. "That's why it misses the point to dismiss Falcons victories over the Giants and Bucs because those opponents aren't very good. It's difficult to beat anybody in the NFL, and the Falcons did it two weeks in a row, in different ways, and with different players providing key plays …
"The Falcons can help their cause by winning at Washington (4-2) after the bye. They'll go there with a top quarterback and a defense that's improving in performance and health. The Falcons aren't a great team yet this season, and probably won't be, but they still can grind their way to a postseason bid in the NFC."
To read the rest of Cunningham's piece, click here.
ESPN: Julio Jones' offseason work with Terrell Owens is helping now
Before arriving in Flowery Branch for training camp, Julio Jones made news by working out this offseason with Hall of Famer Terrell Owens. One of the most physically imposing wide receivers in NFL history, Owens knows a thing or two about winning against defenses with size, speed and skill. Now, fresh off his fourth 100-yard game of the season, it's clear that offseason work is paying off for Jones.
"T.O.'s work ethic, everything about him, what he stands for ... he was a pro for so long," Jones told ESPN's Vaughn McClure. "He played into his mid-30s. And just his regimen, it's always good to learn and keep bettering yourself."
McClure wrote more extensively about Jones' offseason work with Owens, which you can read here.