Editor in Chief of Chirp City
Member of Ball State Sports Link
My whole life I’ve been a huge sports fan. So one of the things I loved as a kid was watching my older brother play basketball. Despite the fact I’m slightly bitter to this day I didn’t get his height (he’s 6’7), I went to almost every single game of his high school career. He went to large, inner city public high school that played in the most competitive conference in the state, and the competition was fierce.
After making it to the State Championship Finals with a team full of sophomores and juniors, my brother’s high school team returned their entire roster for what would be my brother’s junior season. Expectations were sky high, and the conversation turned from not just winning a state championship but trying to compare this team to historical teams in the state of Oklahoma. After traveling to a tournament in Arkansas and winning against teams from Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, and Missouri, several websites had the team inside of the top thirty or forty ranked high school basketball teams in the country.
As March approached and the teams got into playoff basketball, my brother’s team started their march towards the history books. But in order to return to the State Tournament (in Oklahoma there are several stages of playoffs, but the final eight teams enter “the State Tournament” which is a single elimination bracket), they first had to defeat a small town school that had a history of bad teams but during the current year had posted a record of 25-1.
The small town team had height, they had players that could shoot, and they took care of the basketball. Everything on paper, including the impressive record, pointed to them being a good team. But my brother’s team paid them no attention, and easily dismissed the record because when you matched the athleticism and individual skill of the two rosters side by side, there was no comparison.
As you can probably guess by how I’m writing this, the little small town team beat my brother’s team, and sent them home well before they could fulfill the “destiny” they were already being handed by the so called “experts.” Despite all of the signs being there, no one would acknowledge what was going to happen until it had happened.
In the NFL, with four weeks worth of games in the books, there are currently five undefeated teams. But I’m here to tell you only one is going to run the table and go a perfect 16-0.
Listen up y’all, the 2015 Atlanta Falcons are going to be a thing, whether you wake up and realize it or not.So let’s all hop on board the train of football goodness, and ride all the way to at the very least a fantasy football championship, and at most maybe a Super Bowl ring.
In a season where the media and every football expert has all but fitted Tom Brady and Bill Belichick with their fifth Super Bowl ring, we’re starting to hear rumors that this Patriots team might go an undefeated 16-0 and finish what they were unable to complete in 2008.
Last season, the Atlanta Falcons finished with a 6-10 record and their defense was, in a word, terrible. They finished dead last in total yards allowed, rushing touchdowns allowed, and were 27th in points allowed. Even the analytics paint a horrible picture, with the defense ranking dead last in net yards per pass attempt, average time per drive, average number of plays per drive, and net yards per drive. And if you’re one of those guys who hates stats and numbers and having to use your brain, all you had to do was watch a game and see how teams cut through the Falcons live warm butter.
But this led to the firing of head coach Mike Smith, which subsequently opened the door for some of the best coaching hires in the NFL in recent years. If the last few year’s have taught you anything, it’s that coaching MATTERS in the NFL. It’s the least talked about and yet most important aspect in any organization. The coach is responsible for deciding what personnel makes the roster, who plays, what offensive and defensive systems and schemes are going to be run, and how the team will matchup and strategize against opponents. Look at what Bill Belichick has done in New England, I mean come on he makes superstars out of Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola and wins championships on the hands of Malcolm Butler.
Dan Quinn, the defensive coordinator and catalyst for the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” was hired away from Seattle to lead the team. Remember the guy who’s defense led the league in fewest points allowed, fewest yards allowed and takeaways in a 2013 championship-winning season? Yeah that’s the guy they got. And you think it’s just personnel? Look at this year’s Quinn-less Seahawks team which is currently 1-2 (at time of writing) and gave up 31 points to the St. Louis Rams.
Already in his short time as an NFL head coach, Quinn to me looks like he’s going to be an all-time great coach. And just like all great head coaches, he knows his strengths and weaknesses and puts a great staff around him to boost his team. Everyone knows Quinn is mainly just a defensive guru, so Quinn turned around and made an awesome hire in Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator. Son of long-time NFL head coach Mike Shanahan, who won two Super Bowl rings in the ’90s with John Elway and the Broncos, young Kyle a few years ago became the youngest coordinator in NFL history due to his coaching genes and prodigal talent. Still only 35 years old, Shanahan has already made a name for himself by getting the best play of their careers out of Matt Schaub in Houston, RG3 in Washington, and Brian Hoyer in Cleveland.
As this great article from Jason Reid of ESPN states, it’s Shanahan’s flexibility that makes him such a genius offensive mind. His vertical passing attack allowed Schaub to lead the league with 4,770 yards passing in 2009 and the Texans had their first winning season in franchise history.
In Washington, Shanahan scratched the vertical passing game and installed a spread attack that allowed rookie RG3 to be a mobile threat, and Griffin set rookie records for passer rating and for percentage of passes intercepted en route to being selected the league’s offensive rookie of the year. The offense led Washington to its first NFC East division title in 13 seasons.
With Hoyer in Cleveland, he turned a back-up QB who had never thrown for more than 700 yards into a starter who threw for 3,326 yards passing and 12 touchdowns, finishing with a 76.5 passer rating in 14 games. Those numbers won’t set the world ablaze, but I bet Hoyer’s own family didn’t think he could’ve performed as a competent NFL starting quarterback the way he did.
Quinn made a great hire in Richard Smith as the defensive coordinator as well, stealing him from the formidable Broncos defense. But Atlanta has really found a hidden truth in 2015’s NFL, where breathing a wide receiver can lead to massive yardage and looking a quarterback the wrong way will get you ejected, the best defense you can have is a good offense.
In Quinn’s own words, “The way he can attack on offense, he is one of the hardest guys to coach against from a defensive standpoint.” Adding Shanahan’s genius with the weapons Atlanta has on offense has made them a nightmare to face. For the first time, Shanahan gets to work with a Pro Bowl quarterback in Matt Ryan, and he’s got the best wide receiver right now in the NFL in Julio Jones (sorry Antonio Brown). He’s big, he’s crazy fast, and he’s got hands that look like two catcher’s mitts dipped in super glue.
The effect of this is defenses have to sag off, and are scared to death of getting beat long by Julio on some fifty yard bomb. This is a weapon that’s becoming more and more rare and valuable in today’s NFL. The NFL’s “elite” quarterbacks (Rodgers, Brady, Manning) more or less throw all dink-and-dunk passes, and rely on accuracy and timing to slowly work their way up the field. This has created the new popular trend of defenses “stacking the box,” or placing a ton of defenders near the line of scrimmage and forcing the QB to beat you long. You can’t do it against the Falcons, and now Shanny’s got your defense stretched vertically.
For his next trick, Shanny the Magician will stretch your defense horizontally, with the use of sweeps and a lot of screen passes and horizontal passing. The star of the show is obviously Julio Jones again. Both of these techniques are seen against Philadelphia in week 1.
When the Eagles try to stack the box, and you don’t put safety help over the top, you’re gonna get burned long. If you try to bunch your linebackers, a quick flip out to the wing and the speed makes you pay. But surprisingly Julio isn’t the “key” to the offense. That would be running back Devonta Freeman, who went from chubby, slow backup in 2014 to suddenly explosive, speedy fantasy star of 2015. (Hi, I’m 2015 Devonta Freeman, and I have DirectTV! Hi, I’m 2014 Devonta Freeman, and I have cable….)
He has shown good hands to catch screen passes, and the speed to get around the end on sweeps. But now with the defense spread wide open, the power running game between the tackles is exposed and the Falcons O-line has over-performed. Both can be seen from Freeman last week against Houston.
I went ahead and pulled a screen shot from the video above video to show you the effect this offense Shanahan has cooked up in Atlanta.
It’s a thing of beauty. Five in the box and the safeties and spread wide outside the line. The safety on the right bites hard on the fake play-action fake and helps over towards Julio on the right. The line runs a trap scheme to perfection, and Freeman explodes for a thirty yard touchdown run. I mean come on, I could run through this hole. Of course I wouldn’t make it to the endzone like Freeman did and once I get hit I would probably break every bone in my body, but I could run through this parted sea for at least ten yards.
Do I need to spout off that Devonta Freeman is the first running back since LaDanian Tomlinson in 2006 to run for three touchdowns in back-to-back games? All the Tevin Coleman talk? Staaahhhhp it. Do I need to tell you the stereotypically “pass happy” Atlanta offense ran more running plays (34) than passing plays (27) this week??
Right now the Atlanta offense is a masterpiece, and I want every piece of it I can get in fantasy. Julio Jones, best WR in the league. Devonta Freeman, top ten running back the rest of the way. Matt Ryan, every week starter. I even want Leonard Hankerson on my team just because the WR2 in this system has value. And make no mistkae, right now Hankerson is the #2 receiver over the ghost of Roddy White. What the heck happened to Roddy White?? Bueller……Buelller……Buelller……
Wins mean positive game scripts for all fantasy weapons, and a defense that’s passable but not too good. If they had a shut down D then they’d blow every team out and the starters would be on the bench in the second half. This defense is still going to give up enough points to keep things interesting, making your fantasy weapons so much more valuable.
But before you go writing off the team because “their defense sucks,” think about the culture Dan Quinn has installed. The effort is incredible, and this team wins games in the fourth quarter. Every close one they’ve been in so far they’ve pulled out, and the defense has made the stops whenever called upon.
So I’ve made my case why the Falcons are a legit contender this year, and a really good football team. But really Matt, 16-0??
Yes, really, and how dare you question me. It’s really a matter of schedule. To be honest, this team plays a really soft schedule, and are in a weak division. Before you go saying this is going to doom them in the playoffs, how ’bout you take a look at the Colts for the last say 5 or so years. Their division is a JOKE, and they’ve had plenty of postseason success.
The next five games for the Falcons: Washington (2-2), New Orleans (1-3), Tenesse (1-2), Tampa Bay (1-3), and San Francisco (1-3) might be against five of the six or seven worst teams in the entire NFL. So not only is 9-0 a possibility, I’d say it’s fairly likely.
Then they get their toughest test in the Colts, but are we sure the Colts are good this year? Their defense has made the Titans and Jags look all-world, and the O-Line is made of paper mache. Not to mention the game is in Atlanta, and you have to figure if the team enters the game 9-0, by then the fans will be going crazy and the atmosphere will be electric.
If the Falcons can get past Indy, four of the final six games are cupcakes (Minnesota, New Orleans again, Tampa Bay again, Jacksonville). The other two are against Carolina, who currently sits at 4-0 and may be seen at this point as a tough opponent.
But I can’t seem to figure out how a team with no running game (J Stew? J Who?) and the absolute worst wide receiver corps in the league is going to be an elite team. Their four wins come against really really bad teams, and by weeks fourteen and sixteen when they play the powerhouse Falcons, I think they will have been depleted and exposed for what they are, a below-average team.
So in my boldest prediction yet, I, Matt Craig, aka The Redcoat, am predicting that the Atlanta Falcons could finish this season a perfect 16-0. All of this of course comes with the stipulation that Atlanta doesn’t have any serious or long-term injuries to any of the key players. I realize that’s asking a lot but come on it’s not really fair for me because I can’t predict when freak injuries are going to occur.
If you can’t see it by now, the Atlanta Falcons are like the small town team from my first example. They have all the weapons, and despite their record no one believes in them, because they don’t have the pedigree or tradition of a perennial powerhouse. But this new culture instilled by Dan Quinn, and masterful offense implemented by Kyle Shanahan, has me incredibly excited.
For all you fantasy owners out there, you’ve been warned. You’re like the owners of land in the Western United States in the early 1900s. I just told about the concept of oil under the ground for the first time. So my friends, wake up and invest! And share some of the black gold with me when you win your leagues!!
Please Comment Your Opinions Below!!
By Matt Craig
AKA The Redcoat