The Falcons (3-1) are a quarter of the way through the 2010 season and find themselves tied with the New Orleans Saints for first place in the NFC South.
"We've had three really, really tough games," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "They basically all ended on the last play of the game. They've been hard fought and tight football games. But I like where we are at."
In an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Smith offered his quarterly report on how the team has performed:
Matt Ryan is behind his second-year pace.
He has completed 93 of 149 passes (62.4 percent) for 978 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. He has a quarterback rating of 86.5.
After the first four games last season, Ryan had completed 66.7 percent of his passes, thrown for seven touchdowns, two interceptions and had a quarterback rating or 102.9.
"He's done what we've asked him to do," Smith said. "He's run the two-minute offense extremely well."
Behind Michael Turner and Jason Snelling, the Falcons are fourth in the league in rushing at 144.8 yards per game.
Turner has 74 carries for 281 yards (3.8 per carry) and one touchdown. Snelling has 47 carries for 226 yards (4.8) and two touchdowns.
Both have received some bone-rattling blocks from fullback Ovie Mughelli.
"The Jason Snelling game against Arizona is probably about as fine of a game that you're going to see a running back have," Smith said. "They have really done a nice job in terms or running downhill and taking what the defense has given them. There are going to be plays and snaps where you are not going to get the positive yards like you want, but it's going to put wear and tear on the opposing defenses."
Tight end/wide receivers
Roddy White is off fabulous start. He has 32 catches which puts him on pace to have 128 receptions.
Tony Gonzalez is the team's second-leading receiver with 19 catches.
"It's been nice to see Harry Douglas have some production in this last ball game," Smith said. "I think he averaged 20 yards (actually 19.7) per reception. . . we are waiting anxiously to get Michael Jenkins back in the fold. Brian Finneran had a couple of clutch catches on third down, so far this year."
The offensive line has paved the way for the rushing attack and has only allowed eight sacks against three teams that tried to blitz the Falcons into submission.
"We've got an offensive line that continues to be productive in terms of both run blocking and pass protection," Smith said. "The guys have done a nice job of keeping Matt clean for the most part. The run blocking is evident by the fact that we are one of the top rushing teams in the league."
The Falcons have pressured quarterbacks well despite just registering eight sacks. They have sent pressure and forced quarterbacks to throw the ball before they are ready. They just have eight sacks, but are leading the league with eight interceptions by seven different players.
"One of the numbers that is so misconstrued is sacks," Smith said. "It's about affecting the quarterback and our guys have done a nice job of coming at the quarterback with speed and intensity."
The group has been stout against the run, except for the 50-yard touchdown run against Pittsburgh and the 80-yard touchdown run against Arizona.
Rookie Sean Weatherspoon played strong in his first three games before suffering an ankle injury. Stephen Nicholas started in his place against Arizona and led the team with 13 tackles.
Curtis Lofton and Mike Peterson are also playing well.
"It's good to know that we have depth and that we'll be able to get through and weather some injury issues that are more than likely going to occur during the season," Smith said.
Other than a major mix-up against the Saints that resulted in an 80-yard touchdown, the group has been effective in mixing up their zone and man coverages.
"(Our cornerbacks) have a better understanding of what we are trying to do schematically this year," Smith said. "Then our safety play, we feel like we've got three guys that can play. We feel like we've got solid depth."
Matt Bryant has made two game-winning kicks and punter Michael Koenen continues to help with field-position battles.
But the punt coverage unit and the kickoff return units have struggled. The punt coverage team gave up a 72-yard return against New Orleans. The kickoff return team has backed the offense up twice with holding penalties.
"It's been a mixed bag up until this point," Smith said of his special teams.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.