MIDSEASON REPORT CARD
--PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus --Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has diversified the passing attack this season by completing passes to eight or nine receivers most games. All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones has been the main target with 43 receptions for 859 yards and four touchdowns. Mohamed Sanu has been a good pickup. He has caught 32 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns. Ryan has also used his tight ends and running backs. Combined, Atlanta's tight ends -- Jacob Tamme, Levine Toilolo and rookie Austin Hopper -- have made 39 catches for 500 yards and five touchdowns. None of them has dropped a pass in 2016. Running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman have been nightmares for linebackers to cover out of the backfield.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus - Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have rushed the ball effectively as the team averages 4.4 yards per carry. Freeman has 116 rushes for 543 yards and three touchdowns. Coleman, who has been slowed by a hamstring injury, had a strong seven games. He has rushed 59 times for 234 yards and five touchdowns. Terron Ward came out of the bullpen and has averaged 7.7 yards per carry in limited action. Freeman and Coleman are interchangeable in the team's outside-zone run system.
--PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- While the defense is still giving up too many yards, Vic Beasley (7.5 sacks), Adrian Clayborn (3.5) and Dwight Freeney (3) have combined to lead the pass rush. The Falcons have 18 sacks, which is 11th in the league. Last season, they had just 19 sacks for the year, which was last in the league. The coverage must improve in the second half of the season as they are giving up 285.4 yards per game, which ranks 28th in the league. The Falcons wanted to be faster in the linebacking corps and rookies Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell have had their moments. The pass defense has been hurt at times by cornerback Robert Alford, who has 10 penalties and has committed a penalty in five of the eight games. Nickel back Brian Poole, an undrafted rookie, has been solid. Desmond Trufant has been strong as he has taken on the opposition's top receiver when the Falcons play man-to-man coverage. Rookie strong safety Keanu Neal has helped with the coverage of tight ends.
--RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Falcons are giving up 93.9 yards rushing per game, which ranks 11th in the league. The defense has given up four runs of 20 yards or more, which is tied for 16th in the league. Rookie middle linebacker Deion Jones has 45 tackles. Also, Neal has been down in the box and has been strong against the run. Only three teams -- Oakland, New Orleans and Green Bay -- have rushed for more than 100 yards against the Falcons this season. The Falcons won all three of those games.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- K Matt Bryant broke Morten Andersen's franchise record for points scored. Bryant broke the record on an extra point in the first quarter following Taylor Gabriel's 47-yard touchdown reception. He now has 812 points, and has connected on 17-of-18 field-goal attempts this season, ranking him fourth in the NFL in field-goal percentage. Punter Matt Bosher is averaging 46.5 yards gross and 41.3 yards net, which is ninth in the league. He has placed 13 punts down inside the 20, which is tied for ninth in the league.
--COACHING: B -- The Falcons have fixed their problems on offense. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has tailored the attack to better suit Ryan. He is also running more no-huddle in order to keep defenses off balance. He has been able to get Jones the ball, but hasn't figured out how to break him free in the red zone. Shanahan has dazzled the opposition with an array of formations. He masterfully used 13 personnel units against the Raiders to help slow down their outside rush. The Falcons have made it a habit of going to an empty-backfield set with 21 personnel and then hitting the running backs deep down the field while in coverage against a linebacker. The defense is a work in progress. The Falcons knew it would be that way when they elected to start four rookies and three second-year players in their base nickel package. Defensive line coach Bryan Cox has done a masterful job creating a pass rush. They have resorted to blitzes and stunts to get the much-needed pressure. The hope is that the young unit will continue to improve in the second half of the season.
--OVERALL: B plus
Most Valuable Player: Quarterback Matt Ryan. He has completed 193 of 279 passes (62.9 percent) for 2,636 yards and 19 touchdowns and four interceptions. Ryan has shown that he can play just fine in Kyle Shanahan's outside zone blocking scheme. He is making it a habit to complete passes to eight or nine receivers in each game.
Most Disappointing Player: Defensive tackle/end Ra'Shede Hageman. He has been inactive for two games and has played sparingly in others. The former second-round pick has not made an impact on the defense. He was benched in favor of Courtney Upshaw, a former linebacker who's been converted to a defensive end in the base defense and a defensive tackle in the nickel. Hageman's only contribution has been on special teams where he blocked an extra point to protect a late lead against Seattle.
Most Surprising Rookie: Middle linebacker Deion Jones. Some considered the speedy and smallish linebacker from LSU to be a reach in the second round. He was an opening-day starter and has been steady and spectacular at times. His 90-yard interception return for a touchdown preserved a win over the Saints. He also had an interception against the Chargers. He has solidified the run defense and hasn't been a liability in pass coverage.