In a game that seemed like it would be a somewhat walk in the park, the Falcons just got plain embarrassed. There's much to get into, and even after 24 hours after the loss, my head is still spinning. Now, maybe I'm overreacting a little bit, as the Falcons did only lose by one possession and even had a chance to go down to tie the game up. But that doesn't take away the fact that Atlanta's defense allowed four touchdown passes in Will Levis's NFL debut, Ridder was benched (for a concussion, as we were told), and the offense still lacked any rhythm. As always, let's get into the Falcon's 28-23 loss against the Titans and remember to take deep breaths along the way.
Starting with the defense, which again allowed four touchdown passes by rookie quarterback Will Levis. Even then, the Dirty Bird defense started so well with a fumble recovery on the very first drive of the game. But, it was downhill from there; from an OPI (offensive pass interference) miss call to blown coverages, DeAndre Hopkins found the endzone three times. The devasting blows didn't stop there, as the heart of the Falcons' defense, Grady Jarrett, suffered a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season.
As of Monday, the Falcons traded for Kentavius Street, a Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman who has yet to record a sack this season. I do think the reason this trade happened is, for one, the Falcons needed defensive line help, like bad. Secondly, Street was a New Orleans Saint last year with Ryan Neilson. With the Saints, Street recorded 3.5 sacks along with 29 total tackles. Again, this is just depth to help out with the Grady injury. I don't think a trade for Montez Sweat (Update as of Tuesday, October 31st- per Adam Schefter. The Bears sent a 2nd round pick for Sweat)) or Danielle Hunter is out of the picture. Arthur Smith, in his postgame interview, said, "We'll never turn our phones off," in regards to trade rumors. Well, hopefully, Atlanta will keep those phones on because a beef-up to the D-line is much needed. Full details are below on the Street trade.
Now, moving to the offense. Wasting no time, let's get into the elephant in the room. Desmond Ridder was benched in the second half as Taylor Heinickie took over the Falcons offense the rest of the way (we'll get into Heinickie's performance later on). Smith said in his postgame press conference that Ridder was not benched due to performance but rather the concussion evaluation he underwent at halftime. Ridder was cleared to play after he went through the evaluation. Before he was benched, Ridder completed 8 out of his 12 passes for 71 yards. He also ran for 26 yards on three attempts. However, the bad news is he was sacked five times for a loss of 36 yards and also lost a fumble after the Falcons started to put a drive together.
I said in the preview that the turnovers have to stop; in the end, no matter how good or bad a performance is, turnovers wash everything away. Ridder currently leads the league in turnover with 12 (6 interceptions, six fumbles). This team is too good to be held back by a quarterback averaging 1.5 turnovers per game. Ridder is also the 4th most sack quarterback in the league; I am not saying sacks are all on the QB, but when a QB does drop back and decides to stay in the pocket, that is on the QB. So, the question we are left with is, will Desomd Ridder be the Falcons' starting QB against Minnesota? On top of that, will the Falcons 3rd round draft pick be the franchise's future? Let's talk about Taylor Heinickie first.
Heinickie immediately took over the start as the Falcons received the second-half kickoff, and positive results immediately started to be produced. Heinickie played six more snaps than Ridder; in his 37 snaps, Heinickie finished with 175 passing yards and 12 completions on 21 attempts while also throwing for a touchdown to Scotty Miller. Heinickie also gathered 14 rushing yards on two attempts. The reason I mentioned Ridder's sacks is because Heinckie was only sacked once in the six more snaps he played. Again, sacks don't have everything to do with the QB but look below at Heinickie's athleticism.
Here's the touchdown to Scotty Miller, in case you missed it.
Alright, getting to the most critical question: who starts moving forward? Arthur Smith will announce the starter on Wednesday, per his press conference on Monday. Heinickie was also asked if he's done enough to be named the Falcon's starter; Henickie responded, "No, this is Desomdns teams." So, we got our answers, right? Yeah, not even close.
I want Desmond Ridder to be the guy moving forward, and he has shown the ability to move the ball down the field and make some tremendous throws. It would also be a challenging situation if the Falcons start moving from quarterback to quarterback, trying to find their next franchise guy. But the Falcons' offense on Sunday was different in the second half when Heinickie was under center. Atlanta scored 20 points in the second half compared to the three they scored in the first half. In all, I think you give Heinickie the chance. I'm not saying Heinickie is the guy of the future, but if he can jumpstart this Falcons' offense, it's hard to look past him, at least for this season. Heinicke was PFF's 5th highest-ranked QB last week; now imagine if he played the other half... I'll get into this more in the Falcons vs. Vikings preview at the end of the week, as we will have more answers by then. I also don't want to keep feeding my opinion, but there is QB controversy in Atlanta, and winning has to be the number-one priority.
The other positive on Sunday was Bijan Robinson, who got the first rushing touchdown of his career (third total touchdown of the year). It is very nice to see Bijan do Bijan things, especially with everything that happened against Tampa Bay. At least Robinson is someone we don't have to worry about holding back the Falcons' offense...
To end, there are still more questions that need to be answered on whether the Falcons will make a deal before the deadline (currently typing this with two hours to go) and the obvious QB situation. The Falcons will play at home this week, facing off against the Minnesota Vikings, who will be without Kirk Cousing and Justin Jefferson, so it should be a win, right? Heck, who even knows at this point what will happen? As always, the preview will be up at the end of the week, right here on Third Down Thursdays!
(I don't even have the mental state to mention anything about what this play was about)
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)