Is Atlanta's 2013 season already over before it really even began, or is there still time to right the ship and make it to where every Super Bowl contender is hoping to end up this year -- New Jersey.
Run, Run, Ridley
The Falcons came into Week 4 having been beaten like a drum by everyone through the air, but the one thing they could hang their hat on was the fact that they were only giving up 79 yards on the ground. Most analysts agreed that Julian Edelman would have a huge day against the team allowing the most receiving yards to slot receivers, so naturally, bull-head Bill Belichick decided he would run at Atlanta's top-five rush defense as much as possible.
Tom Brady, Edelman and Kenbrell Thompkins eventually turned in big performances in the passing game, but Atlanta was unable to capitalize on Brady throwing the ball a grand total of nine times in the first half of the game.
Atlanta surrendered 132 rushing yards, including getting gashed for a 47-yard touchdown run by LaGarrette Blount in the fourth quarter. Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden and Blount combined to average 5.2 yards per carry.
The Atlanta passing defense has issues. If the run D suddenly can't stop anyone, the Falcons' offense will have to start putting a lot of sixes on the board to contend each week.
Still No Steven Jackson
Jacquizz Rodgers gave Atlanta 117 all-purpose yards, but just isn't enough of a factor in the running game. Matt Ryan piled on the stats in his 421-yard performance, but getting only 58 total yards rushing from his backfield made the Falcons one-dimensional yet again.
Jackson was brought in as a free agent in the offseason to be the player to fill the void left in the offense by Michael Turner. The 30-year-old injury-prone running back has only been able to stay on the field for one game this season. Jackson suffered a deep thigh bruise in the first quarter of Week 2 and has not managed to sniff the field since.
Going hand-in-hand with the lack of a rushing game is the fact that Atlanta has been truly deplorable near the goal line this season. Atlanta went 1-for-6 in the red zone against the Patriots, including choosing to go for it on fourth-and-two instead of kicking a field goal early in the second quarter, and then ending the game by coming up short with a chance to tie during the closing minute.
Without the threat of a running game inside the twenties, Ryan is basically leaning over his offensive line before every snap and whispering to the defense that the Falcons' intend to pass the ball three straight times.
During the Falcons' final drive, New England just started blatantly pulling a linebacker from the box to double-cover Gonzalez. If there was a healthy Jackson in the backfield, defenses would not dare risk playing a man down near the line-of-scrimmage.
On the season, Atlanta has now moved to 7-for-17 in red-zone efficiency. Throw every other stat out the window; this is the one major reason for their slow start.
No one is sticking a fork in the Falcons just yet -- although I have seen a couple people trying to poke at them with plastic sporks. There have been 21 teams in NFL history that have started 1-3 and still managed to make it to the postseason. Even better news: The Falcons were one of the 21 teams to complete the feat.
In 2002, Atlanta similarly started their season with only one win over the first four weeks, yet the dirty birds were able to rebound and go unbeaten in their next eight contests to finish 9-6-1 and pull out a wild-card berth.
And 1-3 does not even mean your team's Super Bowl dreams have turned into nightmares. In 2001, none other than the Patriots themselves were able to raise the Lombardi Trophy after a miserable 1-3 beginning to their campaign. Of course, I'm not sure Atlanta has their own sixth-round savior buried on the bench, just waiting to lead them to East Rutherford.
What Must Happen for Atlanta to Contend?
Drew Brees deciding to play the rest of the season throwing left-handed wouldn't hurt.
It is not impossible for Atlanta to come back, but their 1-3 start is made even worse by their head-to-head loss against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1.
The divisional leader in the NFC South already has a commanding lead, but now gets even more separation thanks to their head-to-head advantage. The Saints have road games against the Chicago Bears, Patriots, Falcons and Seattle Seahawks still left on their schedule that must turn into losses.
The other thing that must happen is for the Falcons to get healthy. Without a healthy Jackson at running back, and a fully-functioning Roddy White at wide receiver, the Falcons' offense becomes much easier to defend. It will take any defensive coordinator in the NFL about five seconds of Sunday night's game tape to come up with this game plan: Roll coverage to Julio Jones' side of the field and double-cover Gonzalez underneath. The Falcons must get back to being one of the deepest and most talented offenses in football.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Falcons since they first started playing games inside the Georgia Dome.
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