At best, most fans likely thought the Atlanta Falcons would be 2-2 through the first four weeks of the season. But it has been a remarkable and perfect first month for a team that did not have high expectations.
Well, the fans probably didn’t have high expectations, at least before the season. That has all changed now. A flawless record through the first quarter of the season will make a fan base start to dream a little bit.
Is it too early to call Sunday’s game with the Washington Redskins a trap game? It is possible to wonder if the Falcons could overlook this team, thinking they are at home and they win a lot of games at the Georgia Dome and possibly looking ahead to the Thursday night matchup with the enemy in the NFC South.
That’s the New Orleans Saints, for all who didn’t know. The good thing is, all of Atlanta’s new coaches and new players might not understand how big a game, or how big a rivalry Atlanta has with New Orleans until the game is played. So maybe they’ll be grounded enough to not look past an improving Redskins team.
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The RG3 (or Robert Griffin III) saga is apparently over in Washington. Kirk Cousins has settled in as the starting quarterback and brought some stability to a team that has needed it for years. Cousins is solid, and the Falcons will need to perhaps finally do something they aimed to do before the season but have really failed thus far in doing -- rush the passer.
Washington’s run game is the best in the NFL so far, at 139.5 rushing yards per game. But can they do well against an improving front seven for Atlanta?
The Redskins are not only good at running the football, but also against stopping the run. Washington has the second-best rush defense so far in the NFL, and they’ll face a Falcons team with the 13th-best rush offense in the league.
That rush offense is a big reason the Falcons are undefeated. Tevin Coleman started off strong before hurting his ribs in Week 2 against the Giants. But Devonta Freeman has taken over and been even better, becoming a threat at both running the ball and catching passes.
When the Falcons started their great run in 2008, quarterback Matt Ryan had running back Michael Turner as a great complement. When Turner left and the elderly Steven Jackson took over, the running game collapsed. It’s not a coincidence the Falcons’ record did, too.
But with Freeman (and, when he returns, Coleman) doing well, the Falcons now again have that balanced attack. How much tougher is it to worry about wide receiver Julio Jones when you also have to be concerned about a running back doing damage?
It’ll give defensive coordinators nightmares, as they already know they likely don’t have anyone that can adequately cover Jones. But for the Falcons to have that running game back makes them again credible.
And with every team the Falcons play, you must ask the question: Do they have anyone who can control Jones? Atlanta got up so early last week they didn’t even need Jones, but he could be needed Sunday if Washington contains Atlanta’s run game.
It’s easy to look ahead a bit. Should the 4-0 Falcons beat the 2-2 Redskins at home Sunday? Yes. Should they have a great chance to beat the 1-3 Saints, who are at Philadelphia on Sunday? Yes. Then they have a road game in Nashville against the now 1-2 Titans followed by a home game against Tampa Bay. Are those all winnable games, at least going by what we’ve seen this team do the first four weeks? Yes.
But first things first: The game with Washington will not be easy. It’ll be a good test for an Atlanta team whose expectations are rising with each and every win.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.