Mark Bradley The Falcons are 6-0, but certain other numbers don’t add up
2:32 pm October 15, 2012, by Mark Bradley
Mike Smith and Falcons VP of communications Reggie Roberts exit to check the stats. (AP photo)
There’s only one unbeaten NFL team, and it’s based in Flowery Branch. And we know, courtesy of Bill Parcells, that in the NFL you’re as good as your record says you are, which would suggest that the Falcons are flat-out great. But here’s where we run the numbers, and numbers, as we also know, can be pesky things.
The biggest number, duh, is 6-0. The Falcons have never been undefeated this deep into a season in their previous 46 years of doing business. But here’s another number: 11-21. That’s the combined record of the six teams the Falcons have beaten. Of those six, only San Diego is above .500. (And the 3-2 Chargers play Denver on Monday night.) This wasn’t entirely unexpected. The Falcons’ schedule always seemed tougher on the far side of the bye week. To look again, however, is to wonder.
We all thought Philadelphia and Dallas and New Orleans — the Falcons’ next three opponents — would be stout. The Eagles are 3-3, the Cowboys 2-3, the Saints 1-4. Check now and you’ll see that the Falcons are scheduled to play only two more games against teams that currently hold a winning record, and both of those games (against the Cardinals and the Giants) will be played here.
Yes, this is all subject to sudden change. Nobody expects the Saints to finish 4-12, and nobody expects Philly and Dallas and Detroit to sputter forever. But the 6-0 Falcons could stand a test, and it might be a while before another arrives.
Why does a 6-0 team require testing? Because, if you check the stats, the Falcons don’t look 6-0 good. They look, on paper if not on the field, not quite as imposing the 10-6 Falcons of last season.
The 2012 Falcons rank 15th in total offense, down from 10th in 2011. This team is 21st in total defense, down from 12th last season. A year ago they were eighth in passing, 17th in rushing; this year they’re 10th and 25th. Last season they were 20th in passing defense, sixth in rushing defense; these Birds are 11th and 27th. For those keeping score, the 2012 Falcons have improved over 2011 in exactly one of those six major categories.
Figure Filberts insist the most important football stat is Yards Per Pass Attempt. The Falcons have improved from 7.3 YPA to 7.4 on offense, while opponents’ YPA has risen from 7.2 to 7.6. (The offensive number ranks 15th in the league, the defensive one 21st.) On the bright side, the Falcons have improved their third-down conversion percentage all the way around: The defense ranks 21st this year, up from 28th in 2011; the offense ranks fifth, up from sixth.
If you’re looking for numbers to support 6-0, start here: The Falcons are tied with New England for the NFL lead in turnover margin, and they’ve been called for the fewest penalties of any team. (They were fifth and 10th last season.) New coordinators Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan haven’t had a transforming effect on the yardage-based stats, but the impression — and it’s borne out by these key indices — is of a better-coached team. More concrete indicators: The Falcons are scoring 3.4 more points and yielding 3.1 fewer points than they did under 2011 management.
Here we pause for an emphatic disclaimer, offered by Richard Seymour, the Oakland defensive tackle who was once a New England Patriot (and before that a Georgia Bulldog). After the Raiders outgained the Falcons 474 yards to 286 but lost 23-20, Seymour told reporters: “I’ve done a lot of different things in my career in wins where statistically it all doesn’t line up. But stats are for losers. If you want to pay attention to statistics, go ahead. The only stat that matters is wins and losses.”
That’s true. Also true is this: The 11-5 Falcons of 2008 were beaten in the playoffs by the 9-7 Cardinals; the 13-3 Falcons of 2010 were upset in the playoffs by the 10-6 Packers, and the 10-6 Falcons of 2011 were undone by the 9-7 Giants. So sometimes you aren’t quite what your record says you are.
And what does this team’s architect say? This was general manager Thomas Dimitroff, speaking Monday morning: “We’re an evolving team that is 6-0. We’re a team that has shown a lot of resilience, and that’s an indication that we’ve matured.”
It is. The nice thing about winning all the time is that it becomes second nature. At winning, these Falcons are batting 1.000.
"what if there were no hypothetical situations?"