Here’s a closer look at who appears to be #risingup and who appears to be trending down as we head into the Bengals matchup.
QB Matt Ryan
Ryan is capable of catching fire like he has over the last two weeks, and it’s always a delight. He’s simply firing on all cylinders right now, having thrown for seven touchdowns against the Panthers and Saints and running for two more against the Panthers, which puts him at nine in his last two games. His throws have been orders of magnitude better than they were in Week 1, and despite some adventures in pass protection from the line and the lack of a ground game in Week 3, he’s dealing.
Heading into Week 4, the chief concern for Ryan is the effectiveness of his ground game and offensive line. The Bengals quietly have a quality secondary, but Ryan should continue to dominate so long as he stays on his feet.
WR Calvin Ridley
We’re actually at risk of overhyping Ridley, because he’s in the midst of a magical two game stretch that probably isn’t going to stretch out over the rest of the season. Ridley has been every bit as good as advertised over the last two weeks, reeling in four touchdowns and about 200 yards through the air and running crisp, difficult routes with aplomb. There will be weeks where he fades into the background, but he’s the second option in this passing game, and should be for a long time to come.
Before the season I was cautious about projecting too much from Ridley, who came NFL-ready but figured to have to scrap for targets with Mohamed Sanu, Austin Hooper and the running backs. Now that he’s taken his role and run with it, though, I’m all-in on the Ridley train. Choo choo.
LB Duke Riley
Riley has been under as much pressure as any Falcon to begin the year, and stepping into the middle linebacker job against Carolina and New Orleans in back-to-back weeks was never going to be easy for him. He faltered badly against Carolina, but he legitimately played better against New Orleans in a tougher matchup, which was encouraging.
In this game, Riley was constantly around the ball, and despite the looseness of his game at times he managed to make some good tackles and stay in the play. It’s not earth-shattering, but the arrow’s pointing up, especially with Foye Oluokun now nursing an injury.
Riley’s never going to be Deion Jones, and he may never even turn into an above average starter, but he’s making some strides. The Falcons need him to keep it up if they’re going to stay afloat on defense, and if he’s even a passable starter from here on out it’ll be a help.
S Damontae Kazee
It wasn’t all sunshine and form tackles for Kazee, but he showed the open field tackling ability and physicality this defense sorely needs when he wasn’t missing some tackles himself. Kazee is going to be heavily relied upon with Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal out the rest of the way, and I think there’s no question he has the talent to be a very good player. The Falcons unfortunately need him to be one immediately.
Kazee is the best safety on the roster at the moment, though, and perhaps the surest tackler at the position. Expect him to pile up the tackles and hopefully make some big plays going forward.
OL...All of them
Not every offensive lineman played poorly against the Saints, but as a unit, there were scuffles in pass protection that are very concerning given who is coming to town this weekend. The Bengals arguably have a better, deeper pass rush than the Saints, who got a handful of key sacks on Matt Ryan.
They also have a solid run defense up front, and the line did not block well at all for Tevin Coleman in Week 3, if we can be honest. Coleman did himself few favors, but this line has to block better for the Falcons to remain balanced.
S Jordan Richards
I hope to be putting Richards in Arrow Up next week. I really do.
The fact of the matter is that Richards, despite some impressively physical tackling and solid run support in his limited Falcons snaps to this point, has not impressed at all in coverage. In fact, he’s had his adventures there, as he has throughout his career, and took some notably bad angles in the Panthers game. Now he’s looking like the full-time starter for at least a short stint, with Sharrod Neasman lurking in the background, I guess.
Against teams committed to running the football, Richards is likely to be less of a liability, and he may even be an asset. Against teams like the Bengals who are committed to throwing the ball, Richards is going to be tested and is going to need to erase doubts about his ability to handle those assignments. If he can, Dan Quinn and company will look like geniuses, but it’s fair to say we haven’t seen enough from Richards thus far in his career to suggest he will.
Arrow down until proven otherwise.
DE Vic Beasley
It’s incredibly painful to keep putting Beasley here. He’s one of the team’s good guys, he’s two seasons away from leading the league in sacks, and there are those moments where you watch him absolutely whip by a tackle and think this is it. But those moments have been far too few and far between for a while now.
Against the Saints, Beasley picked up the game’s lone sack, but also found himself getting tangled up off the edge and failing to make some crucial tackles, most notably on Taysom Hill’s embarrassing long rumble. Getting Takk McKinley back this week will help and finding more playing time for Jack Crawford should as well, but this line has no hopes of being great if Beasley isn’t.