Are Falcons NFC's best? Check the stats

November, 29, 2012
11/29/12
10:58
AM ET

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Quarterback Matt Ryan has helped the Atlanta Falcons to an NFC-best 10-1 record this season, leading the NFC in Total QBR. The Falcons host the Saints on Thursday night.


Each week, Stats & Information has a point-counterpoint discussion on an NFL topic of note. This week, two of our stat analysts weigh in on whether the Atlanta Falcons are the best team in the NFC.

Yes
As their record states, the Falcons are the best team in the NFC this season. They are one of three NFL teams still unbeaten at home and the only NFC team with five road wins.

The Falcons are led by quarterback Matt Ryan, who leads the NFC with a career-high 75.4 Total QBR.

Ryan is only four yards behind the NFL leader in passing yards and ranks second with a career-high 68.5 completion percentage. Under- and overthrown passes have been no issue with Ryan’s pinpoint accuracy, as his on-target throw percentage of 87.8 also ranks second in the NFL.

The high-flying Falcons lead the NFC in yards gained after the catch and boast talented receivers in Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. Jones is a legitimate home run threat and leads the NFC with eight receptions of 30 yards or more.

Julio Jones
Jones
The defense is just as fierce, with a Total QBR allowed of 22.4 when it sends five or more defenders to rush the passer. No NFC defense has a better mark when bringing added pressure than the Falcons.

The Birds have also protected air space on the deep ball with 15 defended passes on throws that traveled 15 yards or more downfield, which again leads the NFC.

-- Dan Riccio

No
The Falcons’ 10 wins should not be overlooked, but they need to be taken in context.

Entering Week 13 the Falcons have had the lowest strength of schedule in the NFL by a wide margin and the third-lowest strength of victory in the NFC. Only two of their 11 games have been against teams that currently have a winning record (Broncos and Buccaneers).

The biggest issues for the Falcons when they face stronger opponents will likely be uncovered in the ground game on both sides of the ball.

Michael Turner
Turner
Michael Turner ranks 38th out of 45 qualified running backs in yards per rush this season and isn’t getting yards after contact like he used to. Turner averaged 2.0 yards per rush after contact from 2009 to 2011 but just 1.6 this season.

Part of Turner’s struggles can be attributed to weak offensive line play. Turner has been contacted in the backfield on 22.6 percent of his rush attempts this season, behind only LeSean McCoy for the highest percentage in the NFL (minimum 100 rushes).

It gets even worse on the defensive side of the ball.

The Falcons are among the NFL’s worst at stopping the run. As the chart on the right shows, the Falcons give up first downs on the ground at a high rate and have trouble bringing down ball carriers at the point of contact.

With a quarterback like Ryan and receivers like Gonzalez, White and Jones, the Falcons should be in most games down the stretch. However, the Falcons could have a hard time getting past teams like the Giants, Bears, Packers and 49ers in January. Getting past the Saints on Thursday might be tough enough.

-- Marty Callinan

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