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Falcons snap counts: Notes from a frustrating loss to the Saints

Of receiver snap counts, defensive line rotations, and the magic of Younghoe Koo.

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Offense

Matt Ryan: 62

Jake Matthews: 62

James Carpenter: 62

Alex Mack: 62

Chris Lindstrom: 62

Kaleb McGary: 62

Hayden Hurst: 54

Calvin Ridley: 51

Russell Gage: 49

Christian Blake: 37

Brian Hill: 26

Todd Gurley: 23

Julio Jones: 22

Luke Stocker: 16

Olamide Zaccheaus: 13

Keith Smith: 7

Ito Smith: 6

Brandon Powell: 4

Jaeden Graham: 2


What a mess. A second watch will give us a better idea of how the Falcons managed to surrender eight sacks, but the first watch told us plenty about the intersection of shaky blocking (Kaleb McGary in particular scuffled against Cameron Jordan), a lack of open receivers caused in large part by Dirk Koetter’s inability to scheme them open, and Matt Ryan’s inability or unwillingness to get rid of the ball before he was taken down. It’s never just one thing when an offense averaging 27 points per game settles for just 9, but it was an incredibly dispiriting effort.

The lack of Julio Jones was a major factor, as the Saints clamped down hard and forced Atlanta’s receivers to get open one-on-one, which largely didn’t happen. Calvin Ridley had that brilliant 46 yard grab early on in the game but otherwise had a solid but unspectacular day in his return from injury, managing just 4 receptions for 44 yards on 8 targets. Russell Gage got open plenty on shorter routes, managing a team-high 7 grabs for 58 yards on 12 targets. Every other receiver besides Jones, who grabbed both his targets for 39 yards, combined to catch 5 balls on 11 targets for a whopping 45 yards. I’m not sure personnel shuffling would have made a massive difference in that regard, but I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more of Zaccheaus given that he had been rolling of late and less of Blake, who is having a solid year but has never particularly excelled at getting open.

Otherwise, it’s just worth pointing out that Hill got more snaps than Gurley in this one, and that the ground game primarily served as a lightly-used, early down, up the middle waste of time for Atlanta even when they were actually in the game. I don’t really mind if the Falcons are one dimensional on days when the passing game is firing on all cylinders, but on a day where the threat of the run would’ve possibly made a difference, it was not a credible threat once again.

All roads converge on Dirk Koetter, as we’ve discussed so many times this year and last year, because he’s an offensive coordinator largely incapable of scheming and adjusting his way out of trouble. The Saints sacked Matt Ryan nine times last year, cranking up the pressure and daring someone to beat them in the very limited time Ryan had in the pocket, and they essentially just executed that same gameplan again Sunday. In spite of almost a full year to get ready for New Orleans, which had all the incentive in the world to try the same thing again, Koetter was not ready at all. It’s less a question of divvied snaps and talent than it is scheme.

There are surely teams with vertical passing attacks who just need a competent, steady hand at the tiller for a couple of years. Hopefully Koetter finds his way to one of those teams in 2021, because if he here’s next year I’m gonna lose it.

Defense

Deion Jones: 66

Foye Oluokun: 65

A.J. Terrell: 65

Keanu Neal: 65

Ricardo Allen: 62

Grady Jarrett: 61

Steven Means: 50

Tyeler Davison: 46

Darqueze Dennard: 43

Allen Bailey: 36

Isaiah Oliver: 25

John Cominsky: 24

Mykal Walker: 21

Jacob Tuioti-Mariner: 20

Blidi Wreh-Wilson: 17

Edmond Robinson: 10

Marlon Davidson: 6

Sharrod Neasman: 3

LaRoy Reynolds: 1


Coming into this game, our own Eric Robinson and others suggested that the best way to clamp down hard on Taysom Hill would be to pressure him constantly. Indeed, on the five plays where he was pressured, Hill was sacked three times, made one errant throw, and made one surprisingly crisp throw with a defender practically on him, which suggests the approach would continue to bear fruit. Atlanta’s pass rush was good enough in the first half, at least, to force Hill into a lot of shorter throws, something the Falcons are always trying to force. They held him to 127 yards in the first half, sacked him twice, and saw him go 9/13 through the air, which was enough to give the Saints a 10-9 lead going into halftime.

The problem was that Hill got much more comfortable after the half, and even though he threw for just 106 yards he went 9/10, was sacked just once, and made mostly crisp. unchallenged throws. That keyed a pair of touchdown drives where Hill ran it in himself. As you’d expect there is no one culprit to point the finger at here, but the snap counts do tell a few stories.

The first is that the Falcons probably picked a bad time to give Tyeler Davison his season high in snaps. I’ve argued that Davison was a solid run defender last year but that it’s plainly evident that this defense has been better with Allen Bailey, John Cominsky, Steven Means, and others chewing up the majority of his snaps because he’s offering nothing as a pass rusher and is not such a superlative run defender that he needs to be in there. Ultimately the Saints had a fine day on the ground and Davison did not impact the quarterback in any way (at least on my initial watch), making that somewhat of an odd decision.

Of course, it’s unfair to just pick on Davison, who was involved in a handful of key run stops. The Falcons defense was good enough to win a game where the offense was remotely competent, but the pass rush did fall a bit short and the run defense let up a few too many long gains along the way. It seems the Falcons will get Hill again the next time, and they’ll have to figure out a way to get the right personnel and the right plan in place to rattle him much more effectively next time.

The other big snap counts note? The Falcons are letting A.J. Terrell play every snap, as they should, but they’re heavily rotating their other cornerback options, with Dennard getting a ton of snaps and Wreh-Wilson, Sheffield, and Oliver picking up what sure looks like a true rotation. We’ll see how effective that is the rest of the way, but I didn’t notice any of them being regularly picked on which feels like...progress?

Special Teams

Sharrod Neasman: 21

Jacob Tuioti-Mariner: 17

Keith Smith: 16

Edmond Robinson: 16

LaRoy Reynolds: 16

Olamide Zaccheaus: 14

Luke Stocker: 13

Jaylinn Hawkins: 11

Kendall Sheffield: 10

Christian Blake: 9

Brandon Powell: 9

Steven Means: 9

Mykal Walker: 9

Jaeden Graham: 8

Isaiah Oliver: 8

Josh Harris: 8

Sterling Hofrichter: 8

Deion Jones: 7

A.J. Terrell: 7

Foye Oluokun: 7

Grady Jarrett: 7

John Cominsky: 7

Blidi Wreh-Wilson: 7

Younghoe Koo: 7

Tyeler Davison: 6

Allen Bailey: 6

Jake Matthews: 3

James Carpenter: 3

Justin McCray: 3

Chris Lindstrom: 3

Kaleb McGary: 3

Matt Gono: 3

Brian Hill: 2

Keanu Neal: 2

Charles Harris: 1


A few special teams notes:

  • Sharrod Neasman is an essential player, with a couple of nice special teams tackles on Sunday against the Saints. He should not have any trouble finding a role with the new regime, especially if they elect to bring Bernie Parmalee back as the special teams coach.
  • Younghoe Koo is on fire of late, hitting from all distances. His 96% field goal accuracy in 2020 through 25 attempts is second only to Norm Johnson’s 96.3% on 27 attempts, and I wouldn’t necessarily bet against Koo beating him out given how well he’s performed to date.
  • We’re starting to see Sterling Hofrichter’s leg really show up, as he averaged 50 yards per punt against New Orleans. The only shame was that one of those punts could’ve been a killer coffin corner and instead rolled into the end zone.
  • The Falcons are still searching for a long-term option at returner, in my humble opinion, because Powell does not appear to be that guy. He’s chipped in effectively on offense in his limited opportunities, but his kick return average is 16th (second-to-last among qualifiers) and his punt return average is a solid but unspectacular 9.2 yards per, and he’s chiefly only getting to do anything on relatively shallow kicks in the first place. I like Powell, but I’m hoping Chris Rowland is the guy in 2021.