The Atlanta Falcons are 2-0 for the first time since 2017, and the football world is starting to take notice. ESPN moved the Falcons up a whopping-11 spots in their Week 3 NFL Power Rankings.
The Athletic took it a step further by elevating the Falcons into the top 10 at No. 7.
That the Falcons are much improved may be a big surprise to many around the NFL, but it’s not the biggest surprise of the young season according to ESPN.
A recent ESPN+ article took on the task of picking the biggest surprise for each team and then trying to predict if it was sustainable or not.
For the Falcons, ESPN beat writer Michael Rothstein took a look at the No. 8 scoring defense in the NFL.
“The verdict: Real. Atlanta spent a lot of money on its defense in free agency, bringing in new starters at safety (Jessie Bates III), linebacker (Kaden Elliss), edge rusher (Bud Dupree) and defensive line (Calais Campbell and David Onyemata),” wrote Rothstein on ESPN+.
“They’ve made a marked difference. Add in more depth at every position and an aggressive style with first-year coordinator Ryan Nielsen, and the Falcons defense looks more formidable than the last two seasons, when Atlanta struggled to get off the field. The Falcons are allowing conversions on 34.8% of third downs compared to 45.9% last season.”
The biggest question coming into the season was how effective Desmond Ridder could be as the starting quarterback. Arguably the second-biggest question was how quickly the Atlanta Falcons’ defense could gel with all the new faces.
So far, so good.
Bates was the NFC Defensive Player of the Week in his first start as a Falcon, and Onyemata is Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) No. 2 ranked defensive tackle.
The Falcons will face a bigger challenge this week in Detroit. The previous-two quarterbacks Atlanta faced had two career starts between them when they played Atlanta (both by Jordan Love).
Detroit has the No. 3 scoring offense in the NFL after two games. Jared Goff has thrown for almost as many yards (596) as Bryce Young and Love combined (695).
Of course, Goff has yet to face the Falcons defense. However, half of Young and Love’s starts have come against Atlanta’s improved unit.
Are the Falcons and their defense for real?
Sunday against the Lions in Detroit will provide their biggest test to date.