What to watch for in ‘TNF’: Falcons-Buccaneers

Coleman, meanwhile, dealt with injury last season, playing in 12 games. As a rookie he earned just 87 attempts, averaging 4.5 yards per tote for 392 yards and one touchdown. He didn’t display the pass-catching acumen Freeman owns, catching just two balls for 14 yards.

Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is known to ride one running back. Shanahan’s best offenses have relied on a workhorse, e.g. Alfred Morris, Freeman. He’s the man who milked 1,282 yards on 268 carries out of Steve Slaton one year.

As we noted in our Jake Matthews “Making the Leap” piece, Mack’s leadership could be the vehicle that drives Matthews to the Pro Bowl and provides more consistency up front. The Falcons had some great games offensively a year ago, but they were also pushed around significantly in others. Mack comes from Cleveland and likely still has a copy of Kyle Shanahan’s playbook. The Falcons paid him $47.5 million over the next five years to walk in and be the consummate, instant-impact professional and expect nothing less.

This team was 5-0 at one point last year, even if that was largely due to the team picking apart a laughable NFC East. Atlanta starts 2016 with three very winnable games against the Bucs, Raiders and cheap jerseys and Saints, an opening stretch that should give us an idea of how much misery carried over from the year before. These Falcons could easily win 11 games with their talent and a renaissance season from Matt Ryan, but they could also lose six games in a row like they did a year ago.

Why aren’t these teams on national television every week? The Falcons’ last four games and six of their eight contests have all been decided by one score or less, including their season-opening loss at home to Tampa Bay. The Bucs are a bipolar bunch, settling for four one-score games and three unbearable blowouts. The reason for these teams’ increased likelihood to play close contests probably has to do with the unpredictability of their defenses, which are prone to surrendering big plays at unfortunate points in the game. It may not be great football, but it sure is great TEEVEE. Tune in, sheeple!

The Falcons have a pass rush, (Shh, don’t tell anyone.) Through half of a full season, Atlanta’s defense has tallied 18 sacks, which is one behind the unit’s season-long, league-worst total from last year. The Falcons currently rank 12th in the league in sacks, 10th in picks, eighth in forced fumbles and fourth in combined tackles, Led by the youthful trio of pass rusher Vic Beasley (fourth in the NFL with 7.5 sacks), linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal, Quinn’s unit has improved mightily in his second season as coach. Their ability to correct mistakes made in the season opener, when Winston threw four scores and was not sacked even once, will say a lot about the maturity of Atlanta’s young defense and Quinn’s mettle as a coach.

Each and every year, you can point to one or two defining moments that shape the outcome of your season. The Atlanta Falcons experienced such a moment on Sunday as they shifted the balance of power in the NFC South.

Even though Atlanta entered the week with a one-game lead in the division, they had yet to make a compelling case that they were ready to challenge for a playoff spot. And while defending champion Carolina Panthers hadn’t lived up to expectations in 2016, they still had the league’s reigning MVP (Cam Newton) on offense, and a formidable defense with a stout line and the most athletic trio of linebackers (Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson) in the NFL. In fact, the Panthers’ defense was so respected, many experts were imploring fantasy owners to stash Matt Ryan on the bench because it was such an unfavorable matchup. Well, 503 yards and four touchdowns later, Ryan had the fantasy experts sending out apologies and analytics experts rewriting algorithms.

Added head coach Dan Quinn: “Roddy is one of the best competitors and warriors I have ever been around. He was one of the first players I reached out to when I was hired here, and I want to thank him for his professionalism and leadership. Although this was a difficult decision, we feel this is best for everyone as we continue to put this team together, not just for the 2016 season, but for the future as well.”

White was not shy about expressing his displeasure with Atlanta’s offense a year ago. In a moment of frustration midway through the 2015 campaign, White talked about how he had slipped below Leonard Hankerson in most progressions, leaving him as a third option for quarterback Matt Ryan.

The most vanilla team in Hard Knocks history got a shot of energy when they hired coach Dan Quinn from Seattle and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan from Cleveland. They are two of the brightest young minds in football and should bring aggression to a roster that has grown stale. General manager Thomas Dimitroff went for quantity in free agency to solve the team’s pass rush woes (Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed, O’Brien Schofield) and quality in the draft with No. 8 overall pick Vic Beasley.

You can’t solve everything in one offseason. The team is hoping that Shanahan’s scheme can solve the offensive line issues that destroyed last year’s team because it’s still not a talented group. Matt Ryan is an underrated top-ten quarterback ready to win a title now, but his organization has failed him lately. It’s starting to remind us of many of Tony Romo’s best seasons in Dallas, where he was blamed for an uneven roster around him.

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