Although the Falcons have escaped the last three games with wins, one of their trademarks has been absent in those recent close victories.
Starting fast on defense and offense has been a calling card of Mike Smith's Falcons since he took over the franchise in 2008. Since that season, the Falcons lead the NFL in points scored on their first offensive possession, scoring 193 points in those situations. They have a 37-9 record in games when they score first and this season Atlanta ranks third in the league with 20 points on their opening possessions.
This characteristic was present in the first three weeks of the season, when the Falcons scored on the first drive of each of those games. Since then, they've struggled to find the endzone or split the uprights to begin the game and in Week 6 against the Raiders, quarterback Matt Ryan tossed an interception in the game's first possession.
The Falcons have been equally successful on defense to begin the game. Since 2011 the Falcons are one of only four teams to allow two or fewer first-possession touchdowns. The touchdown they allowed the Panthers on the opening drive in Week 4 was only the second time they've given up a TD to begin the game in the last 23 games. In two of the Falcons' six opening possessions on defense this season they've forced a turnover.
Starting quickly on either side of the ball is obviously nothing new to the Falcons. While it would be benefit them to start that way against the Eagles this Sunday, it's not really anything new to them.
"It's important every week," Ryan said. "That's one of the areas we need to improve. We haven't done a great job of that the last couple of weeks. Smitty talks about it all the time. We want to start fast and maintain that throughout the game. Regardless of what they have going on, I think that's a point of emphasis for this week."
Although it's an emphasis every week, because of some of the situations that will present themselves in Philadelphia, a fast start is perhaps more important than usual, especially since it's something they haven't been able to accomplish as frequently recently. Add to that the fact that Atlanta is on the road in Philly, against a team that at 3-3 is not meeting expectations and coming off a bye, a break after which they have historically won, and it makes a fast start seem essential.
If the Falcons start with the ball they'll be facing a defense that is working under a new defensive coordinator; the previous one, Juan Castillo, was fired during the bye week. If Atlanta can start early, the tenuous straw that is the Eagles' back could break.
On the other hand, if Atlanta begins on defense, the Falcons will be facing a dangerous QB in Michael Vick, but also a QB that is responsible for 13 of his team's 17 turnovers this season through six weeks. There are whispers that Vick's job as the starter is in jeopardy and behind him sits a rookie.
Smith, on Wednesday, added another factor that says a fast start is important. The Eagles themselves aren't too bad at jumping out of the gate quickly either.
"I think it's very important for us this week," Smith said. "...They're a fast starting team historically the way that coach Reid puts together his scripting of the first 15 plays. They're usually fast paced. They've done a very good job in scoring in the first quarter, historically. I don't think this year it's been as good as it's been in the past though."