No Atlanta Falcons football this past Sunday; even though this team causes a lot of pain, I still enjoy waking up and watching Falcons football. However, this is a perfect time to hit the refresh button, catch up on everything that has happened in the first part of the season, and then discuss what needs to happen for the Falcons to finish on a strong note and sneak into the playoffs. So, find your favorite snack, and wrap yourself in a blanket because we have much to get into. Let's go!
Who Gets the Nod at QB the Rest of the Way?
The answer to this question is another question. Who gives the Falcons the best chance to win games? For me, it's got to be Desmond Ridder. Yes, Taylor Heinicke had an impressive half against the Titans, where he came in and replaced Ridder, but in the two games he started, Heinicke didn't do anything that Ridder hadn't shown. Now, Ridder has had issues with turnovers, which is a red flag, but if he can control the ball, he could help the Falcons sneak into the playoffs. Also, Ridder came into the game last Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals after Heinicke was taken out of the game due to a knee injury. Ridder gave the Falcons a chance to win that game by driving the offense down the field and scoring himself.
If Ridder is named the starter by Arthur Smith for the rest of the season (which I think he will), I would like to see him use his legs more on quarterback-designed runs. I'm not saying he needs to run the ball ten times a game due to the risk of injury, and Smith wouldn't want to take carries away from the RBs. But let Ridder create plays with his legs, use all his talents, and evaluate him from there. Heck, what do the Falcons have to lose anyway...
(The answer is a lot, like an NFC South title, to be exact)
Breaking Down The Rest of the Offense
Continuing on the offense, Arthur Smith needs to find a way to put constant points on the board. An offense that is 24th in the league in points will only find you on the couch in January. Atlanta has the talent on offense, and it's time to use it to its full potential.
Starting with Bijan Robinson, Robinson put up impressive numbers in the game against Arizona. He touched the ball 23 times and recorded 106 yards and one touchdown. That's 4.6 yards per touch on Sunday for the Falcons rookie. Bijan continues to show his impressive playmaking ability with every touch he has. Hopefully, Arthur will keep the touches to Bijan going and find ways to put him in space. Here's Bijan's touchdown on Sunday, and just look what he can do when he's in the open field.
Moving on to Bijan's backfield mate Tyler Allgeier, who currently has one more touchdown than Bijan does. The funny thing is that Allgeier and Bijan have the same amount of carries (125), but Bijan is averaging more yards per carry than Allgeier at 4.9 versus Allgeier's 3.2 yards per carry. The point I am trying to get to is Atlanta has two very good running backs, arguably the best backfield in the league. Atlana's rushing attack ranks 7th in the league, something they've built on since Smith became head coach. However, I've noticed Atlanata's rushing attack has started to become predictable, especially last week. It was a lot of outside zones on 1st down and then an inside gap run on 2nd down that would usually lead to a 3rd and medium. I'd like to see some diversity in Atlanta's run game moving forward, which brings me back to my last point of using Ridder's legs. Call the option more, Arthur!
Atlanta's number-one receiver has recorded 474 yards and two touchdowns in nine games this season. If you recall, London missed the game against Minnesota a few weeks back. The second-year receiver is having a very similar season to his rookie campaign. London only averages a tenth of a yard less per reception than last year at 11.9 yards. He's also averaging the same amount of receptions per game as last year at four. There's no question that London needs to get involved more; he has more targets than any other Falcon at 61 and is averaging 52.7 yards per game, again more than any other Falcon. However, it would be pleasing to see those numbers elevated a little more, especially in the red zone- somewhere the Falcons have had issues. Time will tell how much more we can see, but throw that one-on-one ball a little more to the 6'4" receiver.
Kyle Pitts and Jonnu Smith
Because the Falcons use two tight ends so much, I've included Jonnu and Pitts in the same section. Some have been a little frustrated that Jonnu has stolen some targets away from Pitts, but they both have the same amount of receptions (35), Pitts has 13 more targets than Jonnu, and both are averaging the same amount of yards per reception at 12. Like every other Falcons fan, I would like to see the 2021 1st round pick involved a lot more, but I think it's impressive that Atlanta has two TEs who can be playmakers on the field. Let's see these two more involved in the second half of the season!
To wrap up the offense portion, I want to reiterate that Atlanta has the talent on offense; it's just a matter of using them to their full capacity. The Falcons have yet to score 30 points in a game during this season and are only 15th in total yards; Atlanta will need a consistent passing attack, limit the turnovers, and get the playmakers involved if they want any chance to rebound their season.
Dirty Birds Defense, Where Art Thou?
Atlanta's defense started really well at the beginning of the season, keeping them in games they were bound to lose but still being able to get out of sticky situations. However, Atlanta has fallen in the defensive ranking as they now sit 18th in points and 8th in yards. All the blame shouldn't go to the defense, as they've been put in challenging situations when the offense would turn the ball over; Atlanta is currently 24th in turnovers lost. Regardless, Atlanta's defense has lacked in creating their own turnovers and sacking the QB, which has started to bring their defensive rankings down. Let's get into the positives and negatives of the Dirty Birds defense.
Some players have had positive impacts on the Falcons' defense, one of them being Jessie Bates lll. Bates is tied for the team lead in tackles (73), interceptions (3), and forced fumbles (2). Bates is a big reason that this defense has totally "lost it," Bates is impactful whether he's in coverage or stopping the run. Bates will be the player to look to elevate this Dirty Bird defense.
Atlanta has also had impressive performances from A.J. Terrell, Nate Landman, Kaden Ellis, and David Onyemata—all of whom are on top of the Falcons' total tackle leaderboard. Terrell leads the team in passes defended at eight (look below on Terrell's week ten performance), and Onyemata is tied for the team lead in sacks at 3.5. It's kind of like the offense, right? Atlanta has the talent, but it just seems to be not enough. So, what has been holding them back?
Well, it's simply the pass rush, as Atlanta is ranked 24th in sacks. Grady Jarret is ruled out for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles after leaving early in the game against the Titans. The current Atlanta defensive line consists of Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, and Kentavius Street. Yeah, it doesn't blow anyone away. But Atlanta has to start finding ways to pressure the quarterback, which will turn into turnovers.
To end, Atlanta will start the second half against their top rival (and my least favorite NFL team), the new New Orleans Saints. New Orleans and Atlanta are now battling head-to-head for the top spot in the NFC South after Tampa Bay's loss this past Sunday. Also, while writing this, Ian Rapport confirmed that Desmond Ridder will start the rest of the Falcons' season. Beginning with New Orleans. In hopes Arthur Smith will refresh his coaching philosophy and lead his team to an NFC South title, even if they "limp" in. A game preview will be here on Third Down Thursdays at the end of the week. Let's remember, Falcons fans, it's the second half of the season, and we all (including me) need to take a deep breath and remember the DirtyBirds aren't out till it's over!
(Photo by Mike Christy/Getty Images)