Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
Power Rankings: Preseason: 8. This week: 9.
Where they stand: The Falcons are 5-3, but we’re still trying to figure out who they really are. So are they. The charmed life of last season is a thing of the past with the Falcons having to deal with a brutal schedule and some adversity. They’ve looked great at times, like when they went out to San Francisco. But losses at New Orleans and New England have showed they’re not quite an elite team. The potential for that is there, but lots of things have to be worked out. Michael Turner and the running game have been at their best the last couple of weeks and that’s a big stride if the Falcons can continue on that path. Quarterback Matt Ryan has had a tough time when the running game hasn’t been there, and the defense remains very much a work in progress.
Disappointments: After hitting a grand slam with his first draft class, general manager Thomas Dimitroff hasn’t looked as brilliant with his second. Top two picks, Peria Jerry and William Moore, are out for the year with injuries and that’s part of the reason the defense hasn’t shown the improvement the Falcons were hoping for. The secondary’s been a big problem spot, particularly at cornerback. With veteran Brian Williams out for the season with an injury, the Falcons have turned to Chevis Jackson, Brent Grimes and Tye Hill to go with Chris Houston. No one in that trio has really stepped forward.
Surprises: The Falcons have made the most out of what was a bad situation by sliding former first-round pick Jamaal Anderson from defensive end to defensive tackle. Anderson’s at least competent in that role and playing Kroy Biermann in Anderson’s old spot at least gives the Falcons the threat of a pass rush. With Moore’s injury, second-year pro Thomas DeCoud won a starting safety job and he isn’t likely to lose it any time soon. DeCoud has been perhaps the only bright spot in the secondary.
Outlook: We’re going to find out a lot about the Falcons in the second half of the season. The schedule doesn’t get any easier and they probably have no chance of catching the Saints in the NFC South race. But the Falcons are very much in the playoff hunt. Can they stay in it? Well, much will depend on Turner. If he can run like he’s run the past two weeks -- and like he did last season -- that’s going to solve a lot of problems. There’s no doubt Ryan has to be more consistent, but that will happen if Turner can take pressure of him. The biggest question is the defense. It’s not like this unit is loaded with talent, so Mike Smith and Brian VanGorder will have to do some strong coaching.