Inquiring minds wonder about Falcons on Sunday

mlough@macon.comJanuary 9, 2013 

The familiarity is not inspiring.

In 2010, Atlanta rolled to a 13-3 regular-season record.

In 2012, Atlanta rolled to a 13-3 regular-season record.

Two years ago, Atlanta needed an opponent’s malfunction in the final minute to avoid losing to 6-10 San Francisco at the Georgia Dome.

This time, Atlanta needed an opponent’s malfunction in the final 100 seconds to avoid losing to 7-9 Carolina at the Georgia Dome.

That year, Atlanta’s losses came to three playoff teams -- Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New Orleans -- and the Falcons beat five playoff teams: New Orleans, Baltimore, Green Bay and Tampa Bay (twice).

This season, Atlanta’s three losses came to three 7-9 teams, and the Falcons played and beat the only two opponents to make the postseason, Washington and Denver.

In 2010, Atlanta scored 414 points and gave up 288 against a nice schedule. In 2012, Atlanta scored five more points and gave up 11 more against lesser competition.

And Atlanta rolled into the postseason bye week two years ago with a 31-10 win over Carolina in the regular-season finale.

Then Green Bay visited Atlanta, almost two months after Atlanta pulled out a 20-17 win over the Packers, despite Aaron Rodgers’ 344 yards passing and after giving up a fourth-and-goal game-tying touchdown pass in the final minute. The quality win was all but erased in the rematch when Green Bay cruised in and pounded the Falcons 48-21 in Atlanta.

Are we in for a rerun, against a different team but one that definitely has more momentum than Atlanta? Or will the Falcons come out with a little something extra?

Folks have hammered Notre Dame for no competition, but the Irish played four teams in the regular season that were ranked at kickoff. Alabama? It played four teams in the regular season that were ranked at kickoff and then took on Georgia in the SEC championship game.

The point is, you play who you play when you play them. And record is not solely indicative of quality. Sure, there was a 34-0 smashing of the New York Giants, and 34-0 over anybody in the NFL is impressive, but the Giants didn’t make the playoffs and bore little similarity to last season’s title winners. Does that cancel any of the losses?

It’s familiar, this regular season, except for the fact that despite so much familiarity, this not-as-good-as-13-3 Atlanta team is a chunk better than the last not-as-good-as-13-3 team.

It passes the eye test better than the 2010 version, although there are still too many issues with fundamentals, especially in the secondary.

Atlanta made huge steps up in changing coordinators and has survived some personnel changes.

The No. 1 thing that will doom Atlanta is what we haven’t seen enough of: a quality running game, courtesy of some holes.

Atlanta’s passing numbers and total offense numbers are up over the 2010 season, by 59 and 28 yards, but the Falcons run for 31 fewer yards and on 7.4 fewer rushes per game. Michael Turner averages 3.6 yard a carry, Jacquizz Rodgers 3.9.

The running game has struggled not because of Turner’s age or size but because of an offensive line that’s iffy, more called pass plays -- although not as many as you’d think, only 38 more pass attempts this season than in 2010 -- and the lack of a fullback on the field nearly enough.

Matt Ryan has improved, the Falcons have weapons galore on offense, and they are mostly solid on defense, yet it’s hard to shake the thought that a little more smashmouth is called for.

Seattle comes in on Sunday healthy -- except for Chris Clemons -- and is oozing confidence. Atlanta again is on the figurative defensive as people wait for the Falcons to do what they haven’t done.

Make no mistake, there are certainly concerns about the Falcons, and there is plenty to like, as well.

The hunch is that we’ll see the more likable Falcons on Sunday.

Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 or mlough@macon.com

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