There are only two undefeated teams remaining in the NFL and the Oakland Raiders have the honor of travelling to face one of them Sunday. The test is the Atlanta Falcons, who are almost unbeatable at the Georgia Dome, which is where Sunday’s contest will take place.
The Falcons have won by being among the best in the league at passing and defending the pass. Matt Ryan is completing 68 percent of his passes and has already thrown for 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns through five games. He is second in the NFL with a quarterback rating of 106.1 and his completion percentage is fifth in the league among quarterbacks. Ryan ranks third in passing yards and second in touchdown throws. To put it lightly, this team knows how to pass the football successfully.
The key to success in the passing game is the three big targets Ryan has to throw to. Julio Jones has 26 catches and four touchdown grabs for 313 yards. Tony Gonzalez grabbed 39 passes for 388 yards and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, the star of the group, Roddy White, has 31 receptions, three touchdown catches and 481 yards. That puts all three of them in the top-30 pass catchers in the league by yards and top-25 in receptions. Gonzalez leads all tight ends in catches and yards and is tied for the lead in touchdown receptions. There is a significant drop off after that, but having three big targets is helpful to any quarterback.
The issue is the running game which ranks 27th in the league this season. The problem isn’t Michael Turner with his 324 yards and 4.4 yards per carry average. The real trouble is Atlanta does not run the ball as much as other teams. Turner has three touchdown carries and is still in the top-half of the running backs in the league according to rushing yards. If teams start to hone in too much on the pass, Turner can still be a game changer, but the Falcons have not needed to use him as such so far.
On defense, Atlanta is quietly having a pretty good year. The Falcons rank eighth in scoring defense and 17th in total defense, which is better than the New England Patriots and New York Jets. The defensive is led by linebackers Sean Witherspoon and Stephen Nicholas, who both have more than 35 tackles. Witherspoon also has three sacks to go with the 8.5 sacks from the defensive line. Atlanta’s defensive line has struggled with the run, giving up 142 yards per game, which ranks 27th in the NFL. The line does put great pressure on the quarterback, which poses problems for many teams.