2016 Atlanta Falcons: Mirage or Reality?

September 18, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn (left) and general manager Thomas Dimitroff (right) watch warm ups before the game against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

A 4-1 start to the 2016 season by the Atlanta Falcons has surprised a great amount of people.

Myself, for one.

As well as many analysts and writers. Wins over division rival Carolina Panthers and the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos has placed the Atlanta Falcons on the tongues of every one who watches football on Sunday afternoons. A 6-1 start in 2015 hit a wall and resulted in the team ending the season 8-8 and playoff-less. With those reoccurring flashbacks of last season, many question the current state of affairs with Atlanta by asking, “Is this Falcons team for real?”

In recent seasons, the games against the better teams such as Carolina or Denver rarely went in favor of the Falcons. However, this time around, things seem different.

Things may actually seem different based on the blueprint implemented by second-year head coach Dan Quinn. His philosophy for the team is to be fast and physical as well as placing an emphasis on team football. Every man has a role, every role is important. The team is definitely faster and more athletic on both sides of the ball and the team is winning based on his imprint.

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is calling plays at an exceptional rate. His pass/run ratio during their four-game winning streak has been quite impressive: 34:29 at Oakland, 30:31 at New Orleans, 37:25 vs. Carolina, and 28:32 at Denver. The once oft-criticized coordinator has suddenly become an up-and-coming wizard. Whether he can maintain this pace remains to be seen.

The play of quarterback Matt Ryan this season has been MVP-like. Ryan is first in the league in passing yards with 1,740 and second in the league in passing touchdowns with 12. Something that many have been accustomed to over the years, Ryan has gotten off to an amazing start to erase the worst season of his career last season.

Oct 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley (44) celebrates a sack in the second half against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Falcons defeated the Broncos 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

During the team’s important victory over Denver, something described as “rare” occurred: The defense was outstanding.

Six sacks including 3.5 by edge rusher Vic Beasley and only allowed 267 total yards along with a key interception.

That type of impactful play has been coveted in Atlanta for quite some time now and I won’t jump the gun by saying that it is here to stay but it was definitely a welcoming sight.

Even with the team’s eye-opening play as of late, the question of whether this is the real Falcons or not remains. Even after defeating a Carolina Panthers team that was 15-1 last season with a roster that mostly intact outside of former starter Josh Norman at cornerback.

Even after beating a Denver Broncos team that just hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy eight months ago with a defense that is arguably the best in the league.

Whether you agree or not, those wins were convincing. Beating both Super Bowl participants in back-to-back weeks is something that most teams can’t do. This portion of their schedule was often pointed out by many and so far, the Falcons have passed it with flying colors. The tough-minded, physical Seattle Seahawks lie ahead and provide another test for this Falcons team.

As stated before, this Falcons team seems different than ones in recent years. The days of depending on 150 yards and two touchdowns from All-Pro receiver Julio Jones are a thing of the past. The team has found ways to win even if Jones is not beating a defense by himself. Maybe this Atlanta team is for real. Maybe it’s time for everyone to take this team serious.

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