Get used to the way this Falcons team wins

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws with pressure from Cleveland Browns linebacker David Bowens during the second quarter of their NFL football game in Cleveland, Ohio October 10, 2010. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

At halftime of the game between the Browns and Falcons, I was ready to start using the term “overrated” when it came to Atlanta. Before the season, many pundits said the Falcons were Super Bowl contenders, yet there they were in Cleveland on Sunday trailing 7-6 and being somewhat dominated by a more motivated Browns’ defense.

But a 20-10 win later and I’ve started to realize that the Falcons are who they are.

They’re not overrated – far from it. Are they a Super Bowl contender? Maybe, but don’t expect them to play as smooth and as fluid as the Saints did last year when they rolled over opponents on a weekly basis. Atlanta is heavy metal compared to New Orleans’ smooth jazz.

This Falcons team relies on its running game and methodical passing to wear defenses down in the second half and keep the game close. Then, when they have an opportunity to strike, they take it and all of a sudden have found a way to win.

Most teams try to have a similiar philosophy, but few pull it off like the Falcons. Thanks to Michael Turner’s 140 yards on 19 carries, Atlanta wore Cleveland’s defense out and then just when you thought Matt Ryan wasn’t going to complete a pass for more than five yards (or complete a pass period), he hit Roddy White on a 45-yard touchdown pass midway through the third quarter and the Falcons never looked back.

If you’re a football fan and you’ve watched the Falcons these first five weeks, chances are you haven’t been impressed outside of their rout of the Cardinals in Week 2. You may have even wanted to use the term “overrated” yourself.

But the fact remains that they’re 4-1, Ryan is making plays when it matters most, Turner and Snelling continue to wear teams down, White is damn near unstoppable and the defense is fast and opportunistic. (Did you see Kroy Biermann’s 41-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the game? Holy amazing play, Batman.)

Have they been fortunate a couple of times this year? Without a doubt. Garrett Hartley’s missed field goal in Week 3, Nate Clements’ fumble in Week 4 and Seneca Wallace’s (who was playing great before coming out just before halftime) injury today has all played a huge factor in Atlanta’s strong start. But it all plays into the Falcons’ makeup in some weird, twisted way.

“Winning Ugly” should be their philosophy the rest of the season.

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2010 NFL Question Marks: Atlanta Falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA - JULY 30: Chevis Jackson , Dunta Robinson  and Brent Grimes  of the Atlanta Falcons celebrate after a defensive turnover during opening day of training camp on July 30, 2010 at the Falcons Training Complex in Flowery Branch, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the Falcons, who still have some holdover questions from last year in their secondary.

When you look up and down the Falcons’ current depth chart, you don’t see a lot of weaknesses. Their offensive core of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez is outstanding and while their offensive line is comprised of five no-names (save for maybe former first rounder Sam Baker), they’re solid as a collective unit (even underrated to some extent).

Atlanta’s biggest question marks come on the defensive side of the ball, although they’re not as prevalent as some may think. John Abraham saw his sack total drop from 16.5 in 2008 to only 5.5 in 2009, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t effective. He still provided the Falcons with a steady pass rush – he just didn’t get to the quarterback as frequently as he did in ’08.

That said, the Falcons definitely need him to pick up his game if they’re going to make a trip back to the postseason this year. The good news is that he’ll have help in the form of Jonathan Babineaux (the team’s most underrated defensive player and best interior pass-rusher) and Peria Jerry (assuming he’s healthy), as well as two ends in Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury that I firmly believe will turn heads this season. Plus, if former 8th overall pick Jamaal Anderson ever lives up to the potential he displayed during his final year at Arkansas, the Falcons could have the makings of a great defensive line.

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