The NFL's top-ranked offense won the much ballyhooed battle versus Von Miller's swarming defense, as the Atlanta Falcons (4-1) toppled the Broncos from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 23-16 victory in Denver. Here's what we learned:
- It's a shame that football fans across the globe didn't get a chance to see the Broncos at peak form in a matchup that offered the potential to be the young season's most intriguing. Making his NFL starting debut, Paxton Lynch was a clear downgrade from starting quarterback Trevor Siemian. After overthrowing his targets early in the game, Lynch began to regress in the pocket as the offensive line made the league's most feckless pass rush look ferocious. Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley took advantage of Donald Stephenson's absence at right tackle, beating fill-in starter Ty Sambrailo for three sacks and two forced fumbles. When Sambrailo was yanked early in the fourth quarter, Beasley promptly beat Michael Schofield for another half-sack. Atlanta amassed a half-dozen takedowns after entering the game with just four on the season. As soon as Siemian's shoulder is healthy enough to play, he'll be back under center -- perhaps for the duration of the season.
- It's tempting to suggest the Falcons unveiled a blueprint for success versus the superpower Broncos: attack the inside linebackers with quicker tailbacks in the passing game, avoid the trio of star cornerbacks, keep the havoc-wreaking edge rushers honest with a devotion to the ground game and expose the right side of Denver's offensive line. To be fair, though, Sunday's result was matchup-specific against a weakened opponent.
No other team can replicate the NFL's most complementary backfield tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, now leading the league with 1,026 yards from scrimmage after accounting for 286 on Sunday. Although Freeman is the key to the chain-moving ground attack, Coleman's speed and playmaking ability are a nightmare for linebackers in space. Both backs run routes as well as wide receivers, enabling play-caller Kyle Shanahan to take advantage of mismatches while Matt Ryan distributes like an all-star point guard.
- Ryan did nothing to jeopardize his standing in the early MVP discussion. He entered the game leading the NFL in every major passing category. If not for his final pass attempt of the afternoon, he would have broken Denver's streak of 29 consecutive games without allowing a passer rating of 100 or better. As it was, Ryan finished at 98.4 -- a far sight better than the 63.9 that the last seven quarterbacks have managed collectively.
- Each of the four receivers to post a 300-yard game in the Super Bowl era has failed to follow up with 100 or more yards in their ensuing game. Due to a combination of factors, Julio Jones was held to 29 yards on six targets. He broke free from Chris Harris' jersey-tugging clenches for a pair of downfield opportunities on one early-second quarter drive, but Ryan overthrew him on both plays. The game plan featured the running backs, as the backfield accounted for 100 of Ryan's first 125 yards while Jones drew coverage away. Fantasy football implications aside, it's hard to argue with Shanahan's results.
- The Broncos will concentrate on their own rushing attack for next week's game at San Diego. After grinding out 282 yards in the first two weeks, they have averaged a meager 75 rushing yards over the past three games. Coach Gary Kubiak told the FOX broadcast crew that he planned to emphasize the running game, with rookie Devontae Booker taking on a bigger role. Booker never got a chance to inject energy with fresh legs, as the Broncos fell behind early and abandoned the ground attack in the second half.