Stats & Info: Atlanta Falcons

Keys to victory: 49ers 34, Falcons 24

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
12:22
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What were the keys to the San Francisco 49ers’ playoff-clinching win over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night?

Kaepernick comes alive in second half
Colin Kaepernick threw for a touchdown and ran for a touchdown in the second half, and totaled more than twice as many yards as he had in the first.

This was the second game of the season in which Kaepernick threw and ran for a touchdown (Week 8 against the Jacksonville Jaguars).
Kaepernick completed all four of his passes when targeting Michael Crabtree in the second half after only completing 1 of 2 passes for 3 yards in the first half when targeting him.

Kaepernick has eight touchdowns and only one interception during the 49ers' five-game winning streak.

Play of the Game: All-out blitz comes through
The 49ers entered the day having blitzed on only 19 percent of opposing quarterback dropbacks, the third-lowest rate in the league.

They continued to sit back throughout much of this game, sending five pass-rushers at Matt Ryan only four times in his first 41 dropbacks.

But desperate times called for desperate measures, as the 49ers sent a seven-man rush at Ryan with the Falcons driving for a go-ahead score in the final two minutes. It worked, with NaVorro Bowman returning Ryan’s intercepted pass 89 yards for a touchdown that clinched the game.

It was the longest interception return for a touchdown for the 49ers since a Zack Bronson 97-yarder in 2001.

Stat of the Night: 49ers like Mondays a lot
The 49ers have won six consecutive “Monday Night Football” games, the second-longest active streak in the NFL. The only team with a longer streak is the Seattle Seahawks, who have won eight straight.

Top stats to know: Falcons at 49ers

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
11:45
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Brad Mangin/Getty ImagesThe 49ers host their last regular-season game at Candlestick Park Monday night against the Falcons.

The San Francisco 49ers will look to close out their final season at Candlestick Park in the same manner in which they often have performed there-- with a win. Here's a look at some of the top stats to know from their "Monday Night Football" meeting with the Atlanta Falcons.

1. The 49ers will clinch a playoff berth with a win, but if they lose, they will have to win or tie on the road against the Arizona Cardinals to make the playoffs. The 49ers have the NFL’s longest winning streak. They’ve won four straight games overall.

2. As Colin Kaepernick goes, so go the 49ers. Entering the week, his Total QBR in wins (85.8) ranked fourth-best in the NFL and his Total QBR in losses (17.4) ranked next-to-last, ahead of only Geno Smith.

Kaepernick has made two previous starts on Monday Night Football and posted QBRs of 97.4 against the Chicago Bears and 90.6 against the Washington Redskins.

3. Tight end Vernon Davis enters the day with a touchdown catch in five straight games. It’s the longest streak by a 49ers player since Terrell Owens had a five-game streak in 2001. The 49ers record is a 13-game streak by Jerry Rice, spanning 1986 and 1987.

4. The one thing that the Falcons have going for them: They are 6-0 on the West Coast under Mike Smith, which dates back to the 2008 season.

The biggest problem they will face on offense is trying to throw deep on the 49ers defense. The 49ers have allowed opponents to complete only 32 percent of their throws at least 15 yards downfield this season, the lowest opponents’ completion percentage in the NFL.

The 49ers are also the only team in the NFL that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in a game this season. They are allowing 99.4 yards per game on the ground (sixth-best in the NFL) and 1.2 yards after contact per rush.

5. This will be the last regular-season game played in Candlestick Park, which opened in 1960 and ranks as the NFL’s third-oldest active stadium, behind Soldier Field (opened in 1924) and Lambeau Field (which opened in 1960).

The 49ers have won 62 percent of their regular-season games at Candlestick and are 20-7 there in the playoffs, including wins in the 1981, 1984, 1989 and 1994 NFC Championships.

This will be the 36th time Monday Night Football has visited Candlestick Park, the most of any stadium. (Sun Life Stadium is next at 32.) The 49ers are 24-11 in in those games and have outscored their opponents by an average of just under 10 points per game (9.4).

Keys to victory: Saints 17, Falcons 13

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
12:23
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What were the keys to victory for the New Orleans Saints in their 17-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons?

For the Saints, it was a matter of just following up on everything that they’ve done all season.

Brees on play-action
Drew Brees was 7 for 11 for 100 yards when utilizing a play-action fake. Both of his touchdowns in this game came via play action, giving him 10 such touchdown passes for the season. That’s one shy of Peyton Manning for the most in the NFL.

Brees picked on the right team. Entering Thursday, the Falcons had allowed a 91.5 Total QBR on play-action passes, the worst defensive rating in the NFL.

Graham’s record-tying day
Tight end Jimmy Graham had one of those play-action touchdowns, a 44-yard reception. Graham finished with exactly 100 receiving yards, giving him six 100-yard games this season. That tied Tony Gonzalez’s NFL record for most 100-yard games in a season by a tight end (done in both 2000 and 2004).

Those six games are tied with A.J. Green for the most in the NFL by any player this season

He now has six touchdowns on throws 15 or more yards downfield this season, and four receiving touchdowns of 40 yards or longer (combining yards on and after the catch), the most in the league.

Graham also had a career-high 26 yards after contact.

The Saints defense did its job
Matt Ryan may have completed 30 of 39 passes, but he also took a season high five sacks.

The Saints have sacked opposing quarterbacks on 9.0 percent of dropbacks. That is tied with the Rams for the highest rate in the league.

Cameron Jordan had a season-high 2.5 sacks, giving him 9.5 this season, the most he's had in any season of his career.

Entering Thursday, Ryan had been sacked on 4.4 percent of his dropbacks, the fourth lowest rate among NFL quarterbacks.

The Saints also forced their 12th fumble of the season. They had a total of 11 forced fumbles in 2013.

Top stats to know: Saints at Falcons

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
1:15
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The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons will kick off Week 12 Thursday night. The teams are heading in opposite directions.

Just a Brees
Drew Brees has been giving opposing defenses fits for years. He needs just 38 passing yards to move past Warren Moon into fifth place on the all-time passing yards list.

In 16 career games against the Falcons, Brees has passed for 4,862 yards, his most against any single opponent. However in his last matchup at Atlanta last year, he threw five interceptions and zero touchdown passes.

Less effective away from home
Brees is nowhere near as effective away from the Superdome. This season, his Total QBR at home is 78.5, but on the road, that number drops to 58.5. His completion percentage also drops from 73.5 percent to 60.7 percent.

Falcons struggling
The Falcons continue to struggle after going 13-3 last season. The Falcons are 2-8 this season and have lost at least nine of their first 11 games nine times in franchise history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s tied for the second-most in the Super Bowl era (Cincinnati Bengals are first with 11).

The Falcons defense has a defensive EPA of -88.54, second worst in the NFL. This metric looks at the impact of every play and factors in things such as field position. Last season the Falcons defense was 11th in Defensive EPA.

Elite tight ends
The Saints and Falcons have Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez, respectively, two of the top tight ends. To get the ball into the hands of these talented players, their teams use some unconventional methods.

No two tight ends have been split out wide more frequently than Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez this season. Graham has more receptions when split out wide than any Saints wide receiver.

Brees and Matt Ryan have each thrown touchdown passes to 10 different receivers this season, most in the NFL.

Jones ranks among best at catching/running

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
2:37
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Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsJulio Jones won't be making moves like this any time soon.
The Atlanta Falcons lost more than just a game on Monday Night Football against the New York Jets.

Their top receiver, Julio Jones, suffered a foot injury and ESPN confirmed media reports that Jones may be lost for the season.

That is a huge loss for the Falcons, as the numbers show.

Among the best
Jones has been among the best receivers in the NFL this season. He leads the league with 41 receptions and ranks second in receiving yards (580) and yards after the catch (248).

Jones’ 580 receiving yards are the most through the first five games of a season in team history (31 more than Andre Rison had in 1990).

Jones joins Wes Welker (2011 Patriots) and Reggie Wayne (2012 Colts) as players who had at least 40 receptions and 580 yards receiving in their team’s first five games over the past three seasons.

Jones had teamed with Roddy White to form one of the league’s most potent receiving duos.

Their 35 combined touchdown catches from Ryan were the fourth-most by a receiver pair from a quarterback of any tandem in the league.

Long-range threat
Jones has 15 catches for at least 40 yards over the last three seasons. Only two players have more in that span: Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green (16 each).

Matt Ryan had completed 16-of-26 throws to Jones when he was deeper than 10 yards downfield. The 61.5 percent accuracy rate ranked fourth-best in the NFL for a receiver on throws of that length.

Jones’ 16 receptions were second-most in the NFL and his 112 yards gained after those catches ranked first.

Ryan will have to find a new target. His average throw was 10 yards downfield to Jones, but barely more than half that long to the other Falcons pass-catchers.

Top things to know: Jets at Falcons

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
12:35
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Getty Images
Matt Ryan’s Falcons host Geno Smith and the Jets on MNF. Both teams are trying to get back on track.

The New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons meet tonight on Monday Night Football (8:25 ET/ESPN). The Falcons are trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak since a six-game skid in 2007. The Jets are looking for their first win on the road since Week 14 last season at Jacksonville.

Here are five stats Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden might touch on tonight.

1. Despite last week's loss to the Patriots, Matt Ryan is 34-6 in his career at the Georgia Dome. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only quarterback with more wins in his first 40 home starts is Brett Favre (35).

2. The Jets will be without starting wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who injured his hamstring in last week's loss at Tennessee.

Geno Smith targeted Holmes a team-high 23 times this season but completed only 43.5 percent of those attempts, the third-worst percentage for any QB-WR duo in the league (min. 20 attempts). Smith has completed 60.2 percent of his passes to all other Jets this season.

3. Ryan completed a league-best 70.5 percent of his passes in the final two minutes of the half last season but has regressed to a 52.0 completion percentage this season. Ryan completed only half of his attempts in those situations in the first four years of his career.

4. A year after tying for the league lead with 37 turnovers, the Jets are on pace to give it away 48 times in 2013. Smith has 11 turnovers this season, second most in the league behind Eli Manning’s 14.

5. Although the Jets’ offense is in tough shape, the defense has been solid, ranking near the top of the league in many important categories.

The Jets have allowed 3.0 yards per rush this season, best in the NFL. The Jets have disrupted runs early this season, making first contact in the backfield on 25 percent of the runs they’ve faced, second best in the NFL.

Other Notes

• Matt Ryan has been sacked or put under duress on 28 percent of his dropbacks this season, up from 17 percent last season. All three of Ryan’s interceptions this season have been while under duress (threw two under duress last season).


• Matt Ryan has targeted Harry Douglas (23 targets) more than Roddy White (18) this season. Ryan and White have connected on 55.6 percent of their attempts this season compared to 65.7 percent last season.

White, who suffered an ankle injury during the preseason, was Ryan’s most-targeted receiver last year (140). This season he is being targeted on 14.4 percent of passing routes he's run, compared to 16.1 percent for Douglas.

AFC/NFC title games: Need-to-know info

January, 19, 2013
1/19/13
12:00
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Looking back at the Stats and Info Blog's coverage leading up to the AFC and NFC Championships on Sunday afternoon.

Eight stats to know: AFC championship
Notes stats and trends on Tom Brady’s home-field advantage, the value of being a No. 4 seed, and much more.

Eight stats to know: NFC championship
Notes, stats and trends on the value of being a No. 1 seed, the Atlanta Falcons past against the San Francisco 49ers, and the pair of Matty Ices.

Lewis may not have huge impact vs Brady
Ray Lewis has had a great career, but he’s done little against Tom Brady in past meetings.

Flacco finds deep-throw success in playoffs
Joe Flacco completed only 37 percent of throws 20 or more yards downfield in the regular season. He’s fared considerably better in the postseason.

Kaepernick adds more than rushing upgrade
Colin Kaepernick’s skills include the ability to get the best out of receivers like Michael Crabtree.

Falcons must contain 49ers option game
The Green Bay Packers may have been taken by surprise considering that Kaepernick hadn’t kept the ball on an option play since Week 14. The Falcons won’t be, but they’ve had their share of troubles with quarterback runs this season.

Gronkowski injury will not slow down Patriots
Rob Gronkowski is out for the rest of the postseason, but you can expect the New England Patriots to continue to use their two tight-end set.

Young running backs emerge for Patriots
A closer look at what Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen do best.

Falcons must contain 49ers option game

January, 17, 2013
1/17/13
11:08
AM ET

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe Falcons defense will be tested by the option-running game of the 49ers.
With a trip to Super Bowl XLVII on the line, the Atlanta Falcons will have to find a way to stop a San Francisco 49ers team that set several offensive records in the Divisional Playoffs, including a franchise-record 579 yards of offense, and a single-game quarterback record 181 rush yards by Colin Kaepernick.

The Falcons pass defense may be up to the test -- including the playoffs, they’ve allowed 16 passing touchdowns this season, tied with the Rams and Bengals for the fewest in the league. Their opponents have the second-lowest touchdown percentage in the NFL and the lowest in the red zone.

Atlanta allowed a Total QBR of 51.7, 10th-best in the NFL and lower than the league average (54.8).

But the rush defense has struggled.

Excluding kneel downs, the Falcons allowed 4.9 yards per rush in the regular season, (fourth-worst). There was improvement last week -- they held the Seahawks to 4.4 yards per rush.

The big trouble area for Atlanta’s rush defense has been quarterbacks. The Falcons have allowed 339 yards on 38 rushes this season to quarterbacks (excluding kneel downs). The 8.9 yards per rush allowed on those plays is last in the NFL.

Option plays sparked the 49ers running game last week, accounting for 176 yards on 16 rushes (both single-game highs for the 49ers this season).

The Packers may have been taken by surprise considering that Kaepernick hadn’t kept the ball on an option play since Week 14. The 49ers used those plays only 12 times in the last three games of the regular season.

The Falcons, at the very least, will have experience on their side. Only the Saints have faced more option runs than the Falcons this season and the Seahawks ran 12 such plays against them last week.

Where Atlanta has succeeded defending the option is limiting how often the quarterback runs.

Quarterbacks kept the ball on 14 percent of their option runs against the Falcons this season (league average is 35 percent). In the Divisional Playoffs, Russell Wilson didn’t keep the ball on any of the Seahawks’ 12 option runs.

When quarterbacks have kept the ball on option runs against Atlanta, they’ve gained 20.7 yards per rush, compared to 3.9 yards per rush when handing it off.

Kaepernick has kept the ball 34 percent of the time this season and has averaged a league-best 10.9 yards per rush when he keeps it on the option.

Eight stats to know: NFC championship

January, 15, 2013
1/15/13
9:28
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Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMatt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez are hoping to repeat the celebration from their last win over the 49ers.

The Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers will meet in the first of the two conference championship games on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET. Here are eight notes, stats and trends to know heading into this contest:

Looking out for No. 1
No. 1 seeds are 6-0 in conference championships in the past seven postseasons (2005 to 2011). The last to lose was the 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost to the New England Patriots 41-27.

The Falcons are streaking
The Falcons have won four straight games against the 49ers, including two with Matt Ryan as their starting quarterback (45-10 in 2009 and 16-14 in 2010).

The Falcons' last loss to the 49ers was a 37-31 setback in 2001, one of two overtime losses they suffered against the 49ers that season.

Back so soon
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is the fourth coach to reach the AFC or NFC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons as an NFL head coach.

The other three are George Seifert, Barry Switzer and Rex Ryan.

Ryan is the only one from that trio who did not get to the Super Bowl at least once.

Kaepernick’s impact on the ground
Colin Kaepernick has averaged 8.7 yards per rush, best of any quarterback with 30 rushes (including playoffs) this season.

Including the playoffs, the Falcons have allowed 8.9 yards per rush to quarterbacks this season, the worst rate in the NFL (excluding kneel-downs).

The Falcons twice got shredded by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who ran for 202 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries in two meetings this season.

Kaepernick's legs have helped him to an 82.8 Total QBR the past nine weeks, the best in the NFL in that span.

The value of Michael Crabtree
Since Kaepernick became the starting quarterback in Week 11, Michael Crabtree ranks fifth in the league with 50 catches, fourth with 714 receiving yards and tied for second with seven touchdowns.

In Weeks 1-10 Crabtree tied for 41st in the league with 59 total targets.

Home is sweet for Ryan
Combining regular season and the playoffs, Matt Ryan is 34-6 in home starts in his career. His .850 winning percentage currently ranks second best among quarterbacks whose careers began in the Super Bowl era.

The only quarterback better: Tom Brady of the Patriots (86-15, .851).

One other stat to watch on Ryan: He's completed 70 percent of his passes in the final two minutes of either half this season.

Ryan had completed only 50.0 percent of those passes in his first four seasons.

Matty Ice isn’t just the quarterback
Should the game come down to a field goal, Falcons kicker Matt Bryant should be up to the challenge of trying to make it.

Bryant made the game winner in the final seconds of the NFC divisional win over the Seattle Seahawks.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Bryant was 17-for-18 in regular-season games on go-ahead or game-tying field goal attempts in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime in his career.

That includes a game-winning 43-yard make with two seconds remaining in the last meeting between these teams on Oct. 3, 2010. Bryant’s 94 percent success rate is the best of anyone with at least 15 such attempts in the NFL since 1970.

Too close to call
Our friends at AccuScore ran 10,000 simulations of this game and they gauged it a toss-up. The 49ers won 50.1 percent of the time. The Falcons won 49.9 percent.

Key to Falcons win: Thwarting DB blitz

January, 13, 2013
1/13/13
5:30
PM ET

Kevin Cox/Getty ImagesA clutch kick from Matt Bryant put the Falcons into the NFL Championship Game.
Score one for Matt Ryan. Finally.

Ryan tied the Falcons single-game postseason record for touchdown passes (3), previously set by Chris Miller and Chris Chandler in netting his first postseason win in four tries. The three matched the total number of touchdown throws he had in three previous playoff games.

The story of the game for Ryan was this:

In the first quarter, the first time the Seahawks sent a defensive-back blitz at Ryan, he threw an interception.

Entering Sunday, when the Seahawks blitzed a defensive back, opponents completed only 47 percent of their passes, threw one touchdown and netted five interceptions.

The Seahawks would blitz a defensive back eight more times during the game, but Ryan picked that defensive approach apart. He was 7-for-8 for 111 yards and a touchdown against it the rest of the way.

That included a pair of completions to Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez for 41 yards on the final drive to set up the winning score.

Instead of one of the most epic collapses in NFL postseason history, the Falcons got one of their most remarkable wins. Let’s take a look at some of the other statistical highlights.

He’s Also Matty Ice
Matt Bryant has made his last 10 field goal attempts of at least 49 yards, combining regular season and postseason.

It was Bryant’s second go-ahead field goal of at least that length in the final minute this season. He also had a 55-yard game-winner against the Oakland Raiders in Week 6.

Bryant is 10-for-11 on field goal tries of 49 or more yards dating back to when he joined the Falcons for the 2009 season (the second-most accurate rate of any kicker with at least 10 attempts in that span). He was 5-for-13 on tries that long with other teams from 2005 to 2008.

Going, Going Gonzalez
This was the first time in Tony Gonzalez’s career that he played on the winning team in a playoff game. Gonzalez’s first quarter touchdown catch was his third career postseason touchdown catch.

That gave him 100 fewer touchdown receptions than he has in the regular season.

Wilson valiant in defeat
Russell Wilson broke the longstanding NFL rookie record for passing yards in a postseason game, throwing for 385 in the loss. The mark of 335 was previously set by Sammy Baugh for the 1937 Washington Redskins.

Wilson had an 86.4 Total QBR. Ryan finished with an 85.4 Total QBR. It was the second playoff game in the last five seasons in which a quarterback from each team had a Total QBR of 85 or better (Drew Brees vs Matthew Stafford last season).

Wilson also became the first quarterback with 385 passing yards and 60 rushing yards in a postseason game.

Zach Miller gave Wilson significant help, with 142 receiving yard, one shy of the Seahawks single-game postseason record.

Miller became only the second tight end this season with at least eight targets and a perfect catch percentage (Jason Witten was 13-for-13 against the Chicago Bears earlier this season).

Had the Seahawks won
If the Seahawks had won, they would have been the fourth team to overcome a 20-point deficit to win a postseason game. The three that have are the 1957 Detroit Lions, the 1992 Buffalo Bills and the 2002 San Francisco 49ers.

Looking ahead
The Falcons and 49ers met once in the postseason, with the Falcons beating the 49ers, 20-18 in the 1998 NFC Divisional Playoff round. The Falcons have won four straight regular-season games against the 49ers, with the last win coming in Week 4 in 2010.

4 reasons why Matt Ryan is ready to win

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
9:51
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Dale Zanine/USA TODAYMatt Ryan is still looking for his first career playoff win.
Matt Ryan is 0-3 in his playoff career and is looking to avoid becoming the first quarterback since the merger to lose his first four postseason starts.

Ryan has never thrown for 200 yards in a playoff game, and his 28.3 Total QBR in the postseason is second-worst among quarterbacks with at least two playoff starts since 2008 (Andy Dalton, 16.6 Total QBR).

Despite his struggles, Ryan has made big strides this past season that could indicate he’s ready for his first playoff win. Below are four factors that show how Ryan has improved:

2-MINUTE DRILL

The Atlanta Falcons were 7-2 in games decided by eight points or fewer this season and Ryan’s clutch play late in games was a big reason why.
In Week 4 against the Panthers, Ryan led the Falcons on a 77-yard game-winning drive with under a minute to play.

Ryan had struggled in two-minute drill situations in years past. Entering 2012, Ryan had 11 interceptions and had never completed more than 51 percent of his passes in a season in the final two minutes of either half.

In the same situations this season, Ryan had the second-best completion percentage (69 percent) and the most attempts (65) without an interception.

DOWNFIELD PASSING

Entering this season, Ryan was a league-average passer when throwing more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. From 2008 to 2011, Ryan completed 47 percent of those attempts (37 percent in the postseason) and cracked 50 percent in just one season, his rookie year of 2008.

This season Ryan has found his touch, completing 56 percent of his attempts more than 10 yards downfield, fourth-best in the NFL.

SCREEN GAME

One big addition to the Falcons offense this season has been the screen pass.
Ryan has attempted 67 screen passes this season, second-most in the NFL. In 2010 and 2011, Ryan attempted 36 total screens, none in the postseason.

Not only have the Falcons been attempting more screens, they have also gotten a lot out of them.

The Falcons have averaged 7.2 yards per screen pass this season (seventh) and have the most touchdowns on such plays.

THE FALCONS “BIG 3”

Although Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez all played for the Falcons last season, the trio has become even more important for Ryan this season.

The Falcons were one of three teams this season to have a trio of receivers finish with 100-plus targets (White 138, Jones 126, Gonzalez 123).

When all three were on field together this season, Ryan threw an interception once every 62 pass attempts. When at least one of the three was off the field, Ryan threw an interception once every 20 attempts.

Seahawks-Falcons: Eight notes to know

January, 9, 2013
1/09/13
8:04
PM ET
The NFC Divisional round continues on Sunday at 1 ET when the No. 1 seed Atlanta Falcons host the Seattle Seahawks, fresh off their win over the Redskins in the Wild Card round.

Here are eight notes, nuggets and numbers you need to know heading into the matchup:

FIRST-YEAR PHENOM
With Seattle’s win over the Redskins in the Wild Card round, Russell Wilson became just the sixth rookie quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game. Of the previous five, only Mark Sanchez (2009) and Joe Flacco (2008) were able to win a second playoff game that season.

HOME SWEET HOME
Including the postseason, Matt Ryan is 33-6 in his career at home as a starter. The Patriots (36) and the Ravens (35) are the only teams in the NFL with more home wins since he entered the league in 2008.

No. 1 CURSE?
The Falcons earned the No. 1 seed in the playoffs for the second time in franchise history (also 2010), but that hasn’t been a good thing in recent years. The NFC’s No. 1 seed has lost in the Divisional round in four of the last five seasons after going a perfect 17-0 in the Divisional round between 1990 and 2006.

ROAD WARRIOR
Russell Wilson has six touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last four road games including one in Seattle’s Wild Card win over the Redskins (3-1 W-L). Wilson had four touchdowns and eight interceptions in his first five games on the road (1-4 W-L).

NO-FLY ZONE
The Falcons have lost four straight playoff games since defeating the Rams in the 2004 Divisional round and are just 6-11 in the postseason all-time. Only the Bengals (.313) have a lower winning percentage than the Falcons (.353) in NFL playoff history.

SERIES SWITCH
The Falcons have won three straight games against the Seahawks after going 2-8 in the first 10 meetings between teams all-time. Sunday will be the first meeting in Atlanta since the 2007 regular season finale on December 30, 2007, a game won by the Falcons, 44-41.

BEAST MODE CLIMBING RECORD BOOKS

Marshawn Lynch tied a Seahawks postseason record with 132 rushing yards in the Wild Card round against the Redskins. It was his fifth straight 100-yard game and 11th such game of the season, one shy of Shaun Alexander’s single-season franchise mark of 12 set in 2005. That season, the Seahawks advanced to the Super Bowl before falling to the Steelers.

PLAYOFF PREDICAMENT
Since Mike Smith and Matt Ryan joined the team in 2008, the Falcons have the NFL’s second-best record in the regular season (56-24) but are 0-3 in the playoffs. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that with a loss Sunday, Matt Ryan will join Y.A. Tittle as the only QBs in NFL history to lose each of their first four postseason starts.

Johnson sets record, but Ryan stands tall

December, 22, 2012
12/22/12
11:50
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Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMatt Ryan has been on his game all season for the Falcons.
Matt Ryan was plenty at home on the road on Saturday night, and now his reward is home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Calvin Johnson garnered most of the attention by breaking Jerry Rice’s single-season record for receiving yardage but Ryan’s near-record performance produced a very important win over the Detroit Lions.

This marked the third time that the Atlanta Falcons have won at least 13 games in a season (they also did so in 1998 and 2010) and the first time that they’ve ever won three straight games against the Lions.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers behind this game:

Ryan dominates start and finish
Ryan completed 12 straight passes to open the game. Combine that with the 10 straight completions that he had to end his last game and he wound up with a 22-completion streak, two shy of the NFL record set by Donovan McNabb in 2004.


The second of two first-half touchdowns that Ryan threw to Roddy White came on a screen pass. It was Ryan’s NFL-best sixth screen-pass touchdown this season.

Ryan tied his career-high for touchdown throws in a game with four and matched the team’s single-season record for touchdown passes (31), set by Steve Bartkowski when he threw in 1980, with his fourth-quarter touchdown throw to Michael Palmer.

Ryan has three of the top five seasons for touchdown throws in Falcons history.

The strength of Ryan’s game on Saturday was his work on play-action. He was 7-for-7 for 109 yards and three touchdowns on play-action throws. The three play-action touchdown throws was a career-best.

Ryan entered the game with a 71 percent completion rate on play-action this season, third-best in the NFL.

He only made three off-target throws (passes either underthrown or overthrown) all game.

That’s a good number for Ryan, who entered with an off-target rate of only 14 percent this season, best in the NFL. In each of the previous four seasons, he rated no higher than 16th-best.

And for those who point to Ryan as being a quarterback who is only good at home, consider this stat. He had a Total QBR of 67 or higher in all eight of his road games in 2012, including a 96.7 in this contest.

Record-tron
Rice’s record wasn’t the only mark that Johnson broke or matched in this game.

Johnson broke the NFL record for most consecutive 100-yard receiving games with his eighth straight by halftime.

He also matched Michael Irvin's 1995 record with his 11th game this season with at least 100 receiving yards.

This was Johnson’s fourth straight game with at least 10 catches. He’s the first player in NFL history with a streak that long.

Johnson finished with 225 receiving yards, the second-most he's had in any regular-season game in his career, with 100 yards (his most in the a game in the last five seasons) coming after the catch.

Johnson's four games with at least 200 receiving yards are one shy of the NFL record held by Lance Alworth.
Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Day
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford broke an NFL record as well.

He threw for 443 yards without throwing a touchdown pass. That's the most passing yards in a touchdown-free game, surpassing the mark of 441 set by Joe Montana for the 1986 San Francisco 49ers.

Johnson's 225 receiving yards were tied with Bernie Casey (1966 49ers) for the second-most in a game without a touchdown catch. Keenan McCardell had 232 receiving yards without a touchdown for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996.

Newton's legs are key in grounding Falcons

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
10:43
AM ET

Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsCam Newton posted one of the highest QBRs this season in the Panthers win over the Falcons.
As a reminder, Total QBR is a quarterback rating that takes into account all of a QB’s significant contributions (passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, penalties) to his team’s scoring and winning and summarizes them into one number on a 0-100 scale, where 50 is average. Since 2008, the team with the higher QBR has won 86 percent of the time.

Cam Newton posted a 97.0 Total QBR in the Panthers win over the Falcons, the second-highest by any player with at least 40 action plays in a single game this season and the highest by any Panther over the last five seasons.

The difference between Newton and the other players on the list on the right is that he did much of his damage with his legs.

Newton rushed for a career-high 116 yards and a touchdown and was the only player on that list to post a perfect 100.0 QBR on his rushing plays in their given game.

According to NFL passer rating, Newton’s game Sunday (119.3) was the 15th-best performance by a QB this season because that metric does not account for rushing contributions (min. 40 action plays).

QUICK HITTERS
• Jay Cutler had a 20.8 Total QBR in Sunday's loss to the Vikings, his lowest against Minnesota since joining the Bears in 2009. Cutler had posted a QBR of at least 65.0 in each of the previous five games against the Vikings including four of at least 75.0.

• Colin Kaepernick had a 64.1 Total QBR in Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins, including a perfect 100.0 in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick has a 99.2 fourth-quarter QBR since his first start in Week 11, best in the NFL over that span.

• Andrew Luck had a season-low 18.4 Total QBR on 44 action plays against the Tennessee Titans, the lowest for any player with at least 40 action plays in a win this season.

• Aaron Rodgers posted an 82.7 Total QBR in Sunday night’s win over the Detroit Lions. It was his 17th game with a QBR over 80 in the last two seasons, tied with Drew Brees for the most in the NFL over that span.

• Matthew Stafford’s fourth-quarter Total QBR was 84.5 from Weeks 1-8, the fourth-highest in the NFL over that span. Since Week 9 his fourth-quarter Total QBR is 18.4, the fourth-lowest in the NFL, including a 14.1 on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers.

TOTAL QBR AND WINNING
Total QBR can be used to quantify just how important the quarterback position has become to winning in the NFL. Looking back to previous years, the team with the higher Total QBR has won 86% of regular season games since 2008 (as far back as Total QBR goes). That is higher than the comparable mark for teams with the advantage in total yardage, turnover differential, and NFL passer rating.

Falcons thwart what Brees does best

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
12:52
AM ET


New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has had a lot to enjoy from past games against the Atlanta Falcons, winning 11 of his first 13 meetings, and setting the single-season pass yardage mark against them last season. But Thursday night was anything but enjoyable. Let’s review his performance and the Saints' defeat.

The history
In addition to having his record touchdown streak come to an end (as noted in the image atop this article), Brees matched a couple of ignominious marks.

He became the first quarterback in Saints history with a no-touchdown/five-interception game and the first quarterback to have such a game against the Falcons.

His five interceptions tied a Saints record for interceptions in a regular-season game. Peyton Manning’s father, Archie Manning, set the mark with five against the Falcons in 1973 and then matched it in 1979 against the Los Angeles Rams.

Brees’ five interceptions tie a record for most in a game against the Falcons, shared with Bob Berry (1966 Minnesota Vikings), Manning and Jim Hart (1980 St. Louis Cardinals).

Brees is the third quarterback in the Super Bowl era to throw for at least 325 yards, with no touchdowns and at least five interceptions in a game. The other two were Joe Namath (1968 New York Jets) and Mark Brunell (1996 Jacksonville Jaguars).

Brees was the most notable player to have a streak come to an end in this game. But another continued a streak.

Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez reached 70 catches for the 13th time in his career. He matches Jerry Rice for the NFL record for most seasons with at least 70 receptions.

Gonzalez also scored his 102nd career NFL touchdown, passing Steve Largent for 18th-most in NFL history.

How the Falcons won
There were two keys to this Falcons victory. One was the defensive work against Brees. The other was what Atlanta was able to do on the ground.

The Falcons set the tone for this game by scoring on their first drive. Their 26 touchdowns on opening drives are the most by any team over the last five seasons.

Atlanta ran the ball inside repeatedly and the Saints could do little to stop it. Running backs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers had seven rushes between the tackles for 95 yards in the opening quarter. Six of their seven first-quarter runs between the tackles went for first downs.

The Falcons gained 122 of their 126 total rushing yards (not counting kneels) between the tackles.

Brees’ biggest struggle
Brees typically fares very well on play-action passes, but on Thursday, he had all sorts of issues.

Three of his five interceptions came on play-action passes. He completed 5-for-11 for 42 yards.

Entering the day, Brees had completed 62 percent of his play-action throws, with 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions.

Also of note: Brees was 2-for-6 on throws that traveled more than 30 yards in the air. He had two interceptions on those passes, both of which came on balls that were judged by video review to be underthrown.

Those were Brees’ first passes of that length all season judged to be underthrown. He entered with the most completions on 30-plus yard passes (10) of anyone in the NFL.

It was part of a day in which Brees finished with a Total QBR of 23.4, his second-worst Total QBR in a game in the last five seasons.

What’s next for Brees and the Saints?
The last time Brees threw no touchdowns in a game was Oct. 4, 2009 against the New York Jets. It was actually the second straight game that Brees went touchdown-less. He had none against the Buffalo Bills the week before.

But the next game after the Jets game was a good one -- 369 yards and four touchdowns in a win over the New York Giants.

The Saints need wins and likely some help to make the playoffs. They’ve started 5-7 and made the playoffs once before, in 1990. That team is one of five since 1990 to lose seven or more of its first 12 games and make the postseason.

Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Game
Matt Ryan set the Falcons record for most passing yards in a calendar month. His 1,572 in November broke Steve Bartkowski's franchise record of 1,494, which had stood since November 1981.

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