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Falcons snap counts: Making sense of a brutal game

The Falcons rotated right tackles, never got Matt Bryant going, and still couldn’t stop the run.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

There are weeks where snap counts tell a compelling story for the Falcons. Those weeks where the team elects to play its best run-stopping defensive linemen fewer snaps and gets gashed are notable because they indicate a problem with game-planning, and those weeks where the Falcons keep a fullback active over a player who could have contributed more are frustrating in the extreme. The latter is a little true this week, but the truth is that the Falcons probably mostly had the right players out there against the Vikings. They just didn’t play very well.

Without further ado, snap counts!


Matt Ryan: 78

Alex Mack: 78

James Carpenter: 78

Jake Matthews: 78

Mohamed Sanu: 66

Austin Hooper: 62

Calvin Ridley: 61

Julio Jones: 53

Chris Lindstrom: 48

Kaleb McGary: 45

Ito Smith: 39

Devonta Freeman: 39

Ty Sambrailo: 35

Wes Schweitzer: 30

Luke Stocker: 22

Justin Hardy: 22

Russell Gage: 13

Keith Smith: 6

Jaeden Graham: 5

There are several baffling things here, starting with the fact that Matt Ryan played 78 snaps and the Falcons managed 12 points. It is now time to declare the Vikings (and, gulp, the Eagles) this team’s kryptonite, as the offense can rarely spin up a good game against them, and is not on a combined hot streak of scoring fewer than 20 points with these two teams that stretches back a few games.

I was not a big fan of the rotation at right tackle, which did not appear to bear a ton of fruit and is the sort of thing you generally reserve for preseason. I recognize that McGary wasn’t really available that often in preseason and neither was Sambrailo, but when you’re playing one of your toughest opponents of the year, it’s not really a great time to figure out what you have at right tackle. Both Sambrailo and McGary yielded quite a bit of pressure on Ryan, though Jake Matthews’ nuclear-grade meltdown at left tackle was an even bigger problem on a day when James Carpenter, Alex Mack, Chris Lindstrom, and Wes Schweitzer combined to allow very little pressure against a solid Vikings interior defensive line.

Julio’s snap count and general performance suggest, as he did in his presser before signing a new deal, that there was some kind of injury issue slowing him down a bit. In any event, none of the team’s big three receivers consistently got loose and made plays, with Julio coming agonizingly close on an overthrown Matt Ryan ball downfield and generally playing well, Sanu coming through with a couple of clutch catches, and Ridley heating up late. Hardy, who is often maligned around these parts and many others, did a great job of getting open and making tough catches on Sunday, and could be rewarded with a larger role against the Eagles for it, especially with Russell Gage potentially laid up. Obviously the Falcons need to do a better job of feeding their stars, and they should never be running a goal line look where Luke Stocker is the most compelling receiving option again.

Past a certain point, it looked like the Falcons were treating this like another preseason game, with opportunities to evaluate Ito Smith (who got as many snaps as Freeman and excelled), Russell Gage (before he got hurt), and of course the right tackle tandem. It’d be nice if things were more settled come Week 2, but I do think it’s noteworthy that there was such an even split between Freeman and Smith. If Free can’t do as well as Smith running behind the same offensive line, I’d expect Ito’s role to grow.

One final note: While Wes Schweitzer got in at right guard with Chris Lindstrom down, it’s worth remembering that Jamon Brown has a long history there and is likely to get the nod against the Eagles. Schweitzer will continue to be an incredibly valuable reserve lineman for his versatility and experience, even if no one’s particularly excited when he has to get onto the field, but Brown ought to have that job this week.


De’Vondre Campbell: 53

Desmond Trufant: 53

Keanu Neal: 50

Vic Beasley: 48

Ricardo Allen: 47

Takk McKinley: 47

Allen Bailey: 43

Grady Jarrett: 42

Isaiah Oliver: 42

Tyeler Davison: 41

Deion Jones: 33

Foye Oluokun: 23

Jack Crawford: 23

Kemal Ishmael: 13

Adrian Clayborn: 12

Damontae Kazee: 11

Sharrod Neasman: 3

The Vikings were going to run. The Falcons knew they were going to run, and attempted to roll out their personnel accordingly. They did not stop the run.

A lot of that lands on the ends and linebackers, who simply could not get the job done for long stretches of yesterday. The months-long campaign to make us feel good about Vic Beasley landed with a thud, as Beasley wasn’t awful but was largely not a factor against the run and had his adventures as a pass rusher. Takk had stretches but also struggled, Clayborn didn’t have a great day, and De’Vondre Campbell and Deion Jones just didn’t have great games against Dalvin Cook and Alex Mattison. It led to the Vikings running roughshod and throwing only ten passes, making it difficult to get a read on how good or not good the pass defense was, though Isaiah Oliver clearly struggled.

Will the defense right the ship? We’ve been believers in the talent level for a while now, and adding guys like Allen Bailey and Tye Davison who have a proven track record of being effective run-stoppers would seem to help...but largely the Vikings found success just running outside, something the Eagles will surely repeat a week from now. Davison and Jarrett were very good, but that didn’t matter all that much. Atlanta added talent and tried to tweak their defense and offense alike to try to be better running and stopping the run, and that was possibly the worst imaginable start for them. At some point, they simply need the guys who have been here for a long time to get better at the things they’re supposed to be able to do well. Beasley’s the convenient target because of his 2018 and his price tag, but he’s far from the only one who is a legitimate problem.

Anyways, rant over. The defense was not good, and it’s got arguably a stiffer challenge coming up in Week 2. It’s beyond time for everyone to stop talking about being better and deliver on the promise of yet another offseason that’s quickly turning bitter.

Special Teams

Kemal Ishmael: 23

Sharrod Neasman: 23

Duke Riley: 23

Jermaine Grace: 18

Kendall Sheffield: 18

Jaeden Graham: 17

Justin Hardy: 13

Russell Gage: 12

Foye Oluokun: 12

Damontae Kazee: 11

Kenjon Barner: 11

Not a lot of surprises here, even under a new coordinator. The guys Ben Kotwica is going to lean most heavily on are mostly the same guys that Keith Armstrong leaned heavily on, with Kemal Ishmael, Sharrod Neasman and Duke Riley leading the way despite small roles on defense. The new additions here are Jermaine Grace and Kendall Sheffield, and both figure to get real run. The coverage teams were just fine against Minnesota.

Matt Bosher stood absolutely no chance of getting his punt off, so it’s hard to blame him overmuch for that blocked punt. Matt Bryant never even got a chance to kick at all, which was...odd. I wasn’t sure past a certain point if the Falcons were simply trying to give him another rest week in an off year or if they were sincerely committed to going for 2, which didn’t really appear to improve their chances of winning all that much. We’ll see how involved he is next week.

The real surprise was how good Kenjon Barner looked. He made a questionable decision to bring one of his returns out, given the way his blocking was already disintegrating while the ball was in the air, but otherwise he showed some good wiggle and managed to be a positive force on punt returns in particular, averaging 11.5 yards per return. If the Falcons are going to mothball Brian Hill and Qadree Ollison most weeks and Barner’s going to be the third back, he’s looking like he’ll actually be pretty valuable for these Falcons.