Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer 73d

After 'good start,' Falcons ready for second quarter of season

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Center Alex Mack paused when asked to reflect on how his 3-1 Atlanta Falcons fared through the first quarter of the season.

"It's a good start," Mack said. "You want to win all the games at home, so coming off this loss (at home to Buffalo) is not what you want. Sucks to have that sad feeling all bye week. I think we can turn that into the positive. Every team is hard, and it's going to be a battle every week. With that knowledge going into the last three quarters of the season, it's going to be a grind every day, every week."

The Falcons and Carolina Panthers both stand at 3-1 in the NFC South. After this week's bye, the Falcons continue a three-game stretch against AFC East opponents following their loss to Buffalo with games against Miami (1-2), New England (2-2) and the New York Jets (2-2), the latter two on the road. Then division play starts with a Nov. 5 meeting with the Panthers in Charlotte, and coach Dan Quinn always emphasizes winning the division first.

"It's in the mind, and it's important that you need to win the division," Mack said. "It's a very real thing. But really, it's about winning each week. You can't control what other teams do. You can't control how everything else shakes out. If you play the best of your ability and you take care of each game each week, you'll put yourself in the best position."

The Falcons certainly have some issues to fix once they return from the week off. Here's a look back at how they fared in all areas through the first quarter of the season.

Offense: The Falcons averaged a league-best 33.8 points per game a year ago and are currently sixth at 26 points per game while going 8 for 13 in the red zone. Devonta Freeman sits third in the NFL with five touchdowns, Tevin Coleman ranks third at 6.3 yards per rush and the Falcons average a league-best 6.69 yards per play. Although reigning MVP Matt Ryan ranks in the top 5 at 8.2 yards per pass play, he has five interceptions to go with five touchdowns and has a passer rating of 87.5 -- 22nd among quarterbacks. On passes thrown 20-plus yards down the field, Ryan is 3 of 15 for 161 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a passer rating of 66.3. Julio Jones, though leading the team with 19 catches for 295 yards, doesn't have a touchdown. He is currently banged up along with Mohamed Sanu. Eleven Falcons have receptions, and nine have at least three or more. The Falcons are 13th in sacks allowed per pass attempt, which could be worse considering starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder (concussion) missed the past two games.

Quinn talked about the positives as well as areas in need of improvement with new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.

"The part that I like is the ability to utilize guys in different ways," Quinn said of Sarkisian. "I’ve loved seeing the packages where we’ve featured both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman together, creating opportunities for guys in space to make plays. I’ve been encouraged that we’ve been a really committed running game.

"For sure we want to improve on our chances when we can take some shots down the field. Sometimes that comes with a little more time, but to be at our best, that’s where some of the explosive plays happen on some of the play-action plays, so I think that part can come, but I have been impressed by his utilization of the guys."

Defense: The Falcons, without reigning NFL sack champ Vic Beasley Jr. (hamstring) the past two games, are tied for third in the NFL with 12 sacks, led by Brooks Reed with three. They ranked 13th in total defense in allowing 318.3 yards per game, down from last year's average of 371.2. Opposing teams are scoring 22.3 points per game against the Falcons, though offensive turnovers have contributed to that total. The defense has created just two turnovers, part of the reason they rank 28th in the league in turnover ratio at minus-4, with those five interceptions and a fumble lost on offense. The Falcons are tied for fourth in goal-to-goal defense and tied for 15th in red zone defense. Missed tackles have been an issue, with rookie linebacker Duke Riley being a primary culprit. But Quinn said Riley is on the same missed-tackle pace that Deion Jones had at the start of last season before finishing third in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. Jones leads the team with 27 combined tackles, followed by Brian Poole and Keanu Neal with 24 each.

Quinn assessed new defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, who installed some new red zone defensive coverages this season.

"Man, I’ve been impressed by him in game," Quinn said of Manuel. "He’s really clear-headed. The calls are in quickly, and here’s why I called it. Sometimes we’ll talk in between a series and he’s able to have good recall on what happened and here’s what I’d like to do based on that. I’ve been impressed by that so far."

Special teams: Kicker Matt Bryant is 9 for 9 on field goals, with a long of 53 yards, and is 11 for 11 on extra points. He's tied for fifth in the NFL with 38 points. Return man Andre Roberts' 181 kickoff-return yards stands sixth in the league, with a long return of 61 yards against Buffalo. He's averaging 10 yards per punt return. Punter Matt Bosher has a net average of 41.6 yards and has seven fair catches on 12 punts. Fullback Derrick Coleman leads the team in special-teams tackles.

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