Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 10/17/11
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. The numbers paint the picture of a fairly simple story. In the Falcons' first three games, quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked 13 times. The Falcons went 1-2 in those games, as Ryan lost three fumbles and threw four interceptions. Then Falcons head coach Mike Smith promised a review of the team's scheme after a 16-13 loss to Tampa Bay and put linemen's jobs on the line. In the end, the Falcons only changed the scheme, basically by simplifying it, but not the players. The results have been stark: The Falcons are 2-1 in their last three games, allowing only two sacks, while Ryan has not lost a fumble and has cut his interceptions in half to two. "When Matt doesn't get hit," fullback Ovie Mughelli said, "we do well." With four of the five starters returning on the line for a fourth season, it was hard to make sense early of those struggles. Some observers over-emphasized the departure of former starting right guard Harvey Dahl to St. Louis via free agency. But a key factor might have been the knee injury that kept long-time starting center Todd McClure, who makes all of the calls at the line, out of the lineup for the first two games. McClure also missed the 25-14 loss to Green Bay. The Falcons are 2-1 with him in the lineup. "Well, I think the biggest thing (was) we had to evaluate and I said first and foremost was what we were doing schematically," Smith said. "It's easy to say let's say, 'OK, let's change Part A for Part B' and we are doing some things differently schematically in our protections and our guys are getting more comfortable with one another. "We've had some parts change because of injury, but in terms of the stability of the offensive line for the most part we've been able to play with the same guys. But really I think our coaching staff took a good hard look at what we were doing schematically and I think the players have stepped up their play as well." Fullback Ovie Mughelli, who had a Pro-Bowl season in 2010 because of his blocking, said the coaching staff made the decision to get back to "smash-mouth" football. "I think probably in the re-evaluation of the scheme, what they came down to was simplifying it," Mughelli told FoxSportsSouth.com. "Because they constantly talked about, Let's just focus on what we do. Let's just get really good at our basics and our fundamentals because we don't need to trick them and end up tricking ourselves.' So when we get down to it, if we know what we're running and they don't, I'll take my guys against their guys any time. "And that's how we feel, as well. I think that in order to get back to the physicality and that smash-mouth-type of offense that we had last year, we got to hang our hats on our five or ten main plays and I think that this game allowed us to get those in and we can build off that." While the Falcons have muddled through the early going, they were only one game better at this juncture last year, 4-2 instead of their current 3-3. In addition, running back Michael Turner's production is on a pace to be about what it was last season. Turner rushed for 1,371 yards in 2010 as the Falcons went 13-3. He's rushed for 499 through six games thus far a pace for 1,330. The Falcons got a lot of breaks to go 9-1 down the stretch last season a rare feat for any team. Nonetheless, is it possible they have hit their stride? "I think we are," Mughelli said. "We've just got to get off this win-loss, win-loss, win-loss yo-yo, rollercoaster train, whatever you want to call it. We've got to put a streak together and that starts with a win and we got one now. Now it's just putting two together, putting three together, putting four together and moving forward." Incidentally, this week's opponent, Detroit, which suffered its first loss to San Francisco on Sunday, allowed 203 rushing yards to the 49ers.
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