SEATTLE -- Before we ever get started, let's make one thing abundantly clear: This story is not one in which relishes or celebrates the fact that the Falcons are 0-2 to start the season. This is not a story that is excusing that fact, nor is it saying that it's OK.
What this story is meant to do is to explain the difference between last year's 0-2 start, and this year's, and why it's one that showcases maybe a little bit of hope if you'll let it.
At this time last year, the Falcons had been outscored by a margin of 80-31 by the Eagles and Bucs. Atlanta had been out gained offensively by a margin of 775-608 total yards. The defense had one turnover through two games.
Two games into 2022, those numbers look very different.
Against the Saints and Rams, the Falcons lost both games by one score, a margin of five points separates the Falcons from being 2-0 with a win over the reigning Super Bowl champions. The offense has only been out gained this year by 45 total yards between both the Saints and Rams. As for turnovers? The Falcons defense has forced four through two games.
And look, I get it: What does any of this matter if the results are still the same? The Falcons are still 0-2. There are no moral victories in the NFL. However, I will say this: If anything, these numbers (and the fact the Falcons are in these games this year) is a sign that this ship is heading in the right direction.
After talking to players and coaches all week, they feel this to be true.
"We feel a lot better where we're at offensively through two games than we did a year ago," Smith said. "I don't know if that's a good comparison, but that's just the truth."
To a certain extent, it is like comparing apples to oranges. The team is so very different after all. Heck, the defense has nine new starters, and the offense has a new quarterback. So, yes. The operation is different, but perhaps that's why things feel the way they do even in these losses. No one feels good about them - and they shouldn't - but the Falcons have shown promise, and that can't be ignored.
Asked the major difference for him in comparison from last year to this year, Smith said it's about production. The Falcons are seeing that on both sides of the ball they are producing at a clip that is more indicative of where the offense and defense want to be. Atlanta is still a very young team in spots, and that's not lost on anyone. Neither are the issues in critical situations (i.e. the red zone).
But these are fixable issues. The issues facing the Falcons after two games are not issues that are based in philosophy. They're issues based in execution. And execution can be altered and changed. A problem in philosophy is more difficult to do so.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees was asked about this very idea on Thursday: Even with an 0-2 start, do things within your unit feel different? Are you more hopeful about the group you have than perhaps a year ago?
Pees didn't hesitate - for even a second - to answer.
"No doubt," Pees said. "I can just tell the difference in the way we're playing, the style we're playing with, the way we practice. No doubt about it. It isn't close to me, on defense."
That begged the follow-up: Why?
"The players," Pees continued. "The way they practice, the way they get themselves ready to go. We're playing the same scheme. We've added a few things here and there, stuff like that, but it's their attitude."
Grady Jarrett said a couple times over the course of the preseason that he felt this team was as close as any team he's been a part of. Kyle Pitts, A.J. Terrell and Lorenzo Carter all agreed: You've seen glimpses - moments - of what this team is. You've yet to see a full game, though, and that's what needs to change.
"I think we've definitely shown flashes of what we could be, and that's pretty good, in my opinion," Carter said. "We have to keep doing it, and put it together consistently through the whole game."
Pees joked on Thursday that if you could combine the first three quarters of the Saints game and the last quarter of the Rams game, boom! There you have it: The 2022 Atlanta Falcons.
"That's what we're looking for," he said.
So, how do they get that? In Pees mind, it actually goes back to combining philosophy and execution.
"What we have to do is we have to find that personality inside of us," Pees explained. "In the first half of the Saints game, I thought we played loose, free, not worried about anything, turn it loose, let's go. We played like that. Then, all of a sudden, we tightened up a little bit and didn't' play fundamentally like we did the first three quarters. Then, this last game, it was the other way and we were down 28-3. Now, it's not like we're playing in a really tight game so all of a sudden we're playing a lot more free and I thought we played better."
"What we need to do is figure out how we can make ourselves play loose for all four quarters and let the thing go," Pees concluded.
And that is the next step the Falcons must take.
Take a look as the team puts in the work at Husky Stadium to prepare for this week's game against the Seattle Seahawks.