ATLANTA The Raiders will look across the field today at the team they aspire to be.
"They've got the right formula for winning football games," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said of the Atlanta Falcons. "They understand their personnel, they understand what they're looking for and what it takes to win. In some respects, that's a team we try to emulate."
The Raiders (1-3) are looking to get on track, having had extra time to digest a 37-6 loss to the Denver Broncos before their bye week.
Atlanta (5-0) is one of two unbeaten teams along with the Houston Texans. The Falcons have made the Georgia Dome one of the league's most difficult road venues with a 28-6 record dating to 2008.
The dominance coincides with the arrival of general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith, who form an alliance similar to the one Reggie McKenzie and Allen hope to forge in Oakland.
Coincidentally, when the Falcons hired Dimitroff away from the New England Patriots, where he was director of college scouting, one of the other candidates whom owner Arthur Blank interviewed was McKenzie, then director of operations for the Green Bay Packers.
Dimitroff's hire of Smith, a defensive coordinator with Jacksonville, created little buzz, much in the way McKenzie's choice of Allen did not inspire Raiders fans hoping for a big name.
Smith and Dimitroff shared a vision of how they wanted to run the franchise, which sounds strikingly similar to what McKenzie and Allen have said about their own alliance.
"You've got to be collaborative, and collaboration is more important than communication," Smith told Bay Area reporters by conference call last week. "Communication can be one way, and collaborating is two-way communication. Thomas is forward-thinking, very intelligent and a good talent evaluator, and it's been a great working relationship for us."
Coming in after Bobby Petrino walked out on the Falcons to take the coaching job at the University of Arkansas, the Dimitroff-Smith Falcons are 48-21.
Dimitroff shares McKenzie's philosophy of building through the draft, favoring players who have a love for football and being selective in free agency with an eye on bargains.
One thing the Falcons had that McKenzie did not were draft picks to get their program started. In the first year, Atlanta took quarterback Matt Ryan and left tackle Sam Baker in the first round, and they have added wisely each season.
Last season included a bold trade in which Atlanta sent five picks to the Cleveland Browns to select wide receiver Julio Jones, who along with wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez give Ryan one of the NFL's most formidable group of receivers.
"They play with energy, they play with passion, they enjoy playing the game, they create an up-tempo situation both offensively and defensively," Allen said. "When they play that way, it keeps the crowd into it, keeps the crowd excited. It's a good home-field advantage."
The Falcons have transitioned from a run-first team featuring running back Michael Turner into a team that primarily moves through the air with Ryan throwing to White, Gonzalez and Jones.
It is a style that plays directly into Oakland's inability to defend the pass, particularly on third down. Ryan is completing 68.3 percent of his passes, and his passer rating of 106.1 is second in the NFL.
"They're a passing team now," Raiders cornerback Joselio Hanson said. "They run those three wides and throw it all around the place. Turner is like the cherry on top."