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11 September 2016: Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman (26) rushes in first half action of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire)
Atlanta Falcons

Falcons may be taking the next step in NFC South

(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire)

The Atlanta Falcons sit atop the NFC South standings after three weeks of the NFL season with a 2-1 record.

Wins over Oakland a week ago and against New Orleans on Monday night have put the Falcons in front of the division over Tampa Bay and Carolina, both 1-2 squads. New Orleans is now at 0-3, joining Jacksonville, Cleveland and Chicago as winless clubs.

What has changed for Atlanta this season?

It’s simple, offense. Matt Ryan and company ranked No. 7 overall last season in yards per game (374.1) but 21st in points per game (21.2). This season, the Falcons are first in the NFL in both categories through three outings with 448 yards and 34.7 points per game.

The Falcons continue to rank high in first downs per game. Last year, they were No. 3 with 22.4 per game and now they sit at the same spot with 24.0 per game through three weeks.

It’s hard not to like what this team has done the past two weeks on the road. After an underwhelming home opening loss to the Buccaneers, the Falcons offense has done some good things.

Second-year back Tevin Coleman has four touchdowns to his name on 29 touches for 160 yards. Coleman averaging 5.5 yards per play has helped the offense move the ball efficiently. He had a team-high three scores in the 45-32 win over New Orleans.

As for Devonta Freeman, he has only one receiving touchdown this season coming on Monday night, but he’s totaled 245 rushing yards on 31 carries for an impressive 7.9 yards per attempt.

Star wide receiver Julio Jones was limited to one grab for 16 yards on seven targets against the Saints, but he had a big outing against the Raiders with five catches for 106 yards and a score in Week 2. Jones will be double covered often, giving space to Coleman and Freeman — two versatile backs — as well as receiver Mohamed Sanu and tight end Jacob Tamme.

This is without mentioning Matt Ryan, who has looked very poised this season. He’s connected on nearly 71 percent of his passes for 970 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception. He already has a third of his touchdown total of 21 from last season.

“We’ve got a lot of unselfish guys, and we have a group of guys who just want to win,” said Ryan about the team’s ability to make plays despite a quiet night from Jones (quote from Atlanta Journal-Consitution), “I mean, and I’m not positive, but I think we had eight different guys catch the ball. That’s a lot of people for a defense to key in on. Our wide receivers also did a great job on seam blocking on the outside a lot to get our running backs into the secondary so they could be as effective as they were.”

It’s very early to make bold predictions, but much like the Atlanta teams of 2012 and 2010, which both won the division crown with a 13-3 record, this is starting to get a feel similar to that. Carolina has been the division royalty for three straight seasons, but Atlanta fought a lot last year and now it is clearly taking that next step.

The defense is a work in progress, but if the offense can continue at this pace there’s no reason the Falcons can’t keep rattling off victories.

A home clash with the Panthers next Sunday will tell us a lot about the 2016 Falcons.

Falcons may be taking the next step in NFC South

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