When the bye week comes around, teams have to reassess and reflect on what has transpired over the course of the season to that point. What did the team flourish in? How did the team execute in crucial situations? Where did the team fall short most in? Why did the team struggle to make plays in these specific areas? These are oft-asked questions, one every team needs to be able to answer.
Instead of answering those questions—again, that’s for the team—this is going to be a different review with awards given to various players and moments from the beginning of the season. Aaron Freeman joined me for this fun collaboration, so let’s get started.
The Matty Ice: Offensive MVP
Aaron Freeman - Cordarrelle Patterson
The Falcons offense over the first five games has mostly been one in which checking the ball down to Patterson has been easily the most reliable and effective way of not only generating big plays, but also scoring touchdowns. Patterson has been a revelation through the early games as a versatile weapon, impacting the game at a variety of positions and roles.
Allen Strk - Cordarrelle Patteson
How can you not go with a legitimate MVP candidate? In all seriousness, Patterson has been sensational this season. Whether it’s on a stretch run, quick bubble screen, or deep shot coming off play action, Patterson has made big plays in a variety of different ways. The only thing he hasn’t done yet is what he is most known for, which is returning kickoffs for touchdowns. That is bound to happen at some point. For now, Patterson will continue to be the driving force behind the Falcons’ explosiveness and carry Arthur Smith’s fantasy team.
The Predator: Defensive MVP
Aaron Freeman - Grady Jarrett
While he is not off to a great start this year based on his usual standards, Jarrett remains the tone-setter on defense thanks to his disruptive presence upfront. A.J. Terrell was a strong contender as runner-up and might have snagged it if not for his injury.
Allen Strk - A.J. Terrell
Despite missing the win over the Giants, Terrell has been the biggest standout so far. He had two outstanding pass breakups against Tampa Bay. It prevented two big-play opportunities, where Tom Brady appeared to have found the hole in Atlanta’s Cover 2 defense.
Outside of careless pass interference against the Jets, Terrell has been performing at a high level all season. His ball skills, range, and high football intelligence make him a major asset to have in an otherwise disjointed secondary.
The Burner: Best Free-Agent Signing not named Cordarrelle Patterson
Aaron Freeman- Mike Davis
If we’re taking the obvious choice in Patterson out of consideration, then Davis probably is the next best option. While Davis hasn’t set the world on fire, he’s been a stabilizing presence in the Falcons rushing attack.
Allen Strk - Mike Davis
It’s not surprising that the Falcons have an underwhelming free agency group. They were unable to make any major splashes due to cap constraints. The most high-profile signing happens to be the best acquisition outside of Patterson. Davis has been better than the numbers indicate.
Due to poor blocking and negative game script, there is clear difficulty getting Davis involved in the game plan. It also doesn’t help his chances of making an impact when Patterson is a big-play machine. That said, Davis remains a physical presence that breaks tackles at will and runs between the tackles effectively.
The Human Highlight-Reel: Best Cordarrelle Patterson moment
Aaron Freeman - Stiff arm against Logan Ryan
There are a lot of plays to choose from, but Patterson’s vicious stiff-arm against Logan Ryan in the Giants game was the first time I really stood up out of my seat watching him this year.
Allen Strk - Third touchdown against Washington
Seeing Patterson go up and make a contested catch in a tight area near the sidelines was incredible. Remember, Minnesota gave up on him as a receiver because of his bad hands and displayed poor route-running. On 3rd and 13, he ran a slick Sluggo to get over the top and make a tremendous play on the ball to secure Ryan’s pinpoint pass. It was at that moment where everyone had to realize this is Patterson’s world, and we’re just living in it.
The Grimes: Most Surprising Young Player
Aaron Freeman - Ade Ogundeji
While I think the praise of Ogundeji can go a tad overboard given the relative desperation our fan base has when it comes to seeing any mildly competent pass-rusher, he has exceeded my expectations going into the season. He’s earned more opportunities moving forward.
Allen Strk - Jaylinn Hawkins
Hawkins is rightfully earning more snaps as each game goes on. With the defense in dire need of ferocity and playmaking skills at the safety position, the former fourth-round pick has emerged as a potential starter.
His interception against the Jets showcased his impressive closing speed and instincts. After being largely forgotten about during training camp, he is outplaying every safety on the roster at the moment.
The Duke: Most Underwhelming Young Player
Aaron Freeman - Richie Grant
While Grant is coming off an impressive performance in Week 5, yet his limited role through the first four games was underwhelming considering the expectations for him as a second-round pick coupled with generally underwhelming play from the team’s starting safeties. He has a good chance to change the narrative over the next few weeks, but up to this point, his lack of playing time had been disappointing.
Allen Strk - Jalen Mayfield
Expectations weren’t necessarily high for the raw rookie left guard. That doesn’t mean everyone expected him to be a major liability. For all the glimpses of improvement, Mayfield continues to struggle mightily at pass blocking, particularly when handling stunts. His lack of awareness is concerning, especially when blocking for a 36-year-old quarterback that has taken significant punishment over the past three seasons.
If the Falcons had an adequate replacement at left guard, that player would have been inserted into the starting lineup by now. Mayfield needs to show more genuine progression moving forward and be half as good as Jake Matthews thinks he is.
The Glory: Arthur Smith’s Finest Moment
Aaron Freeman - The Jets Win
Taken as a whole, the Falcons’ performance against the Jets in Week 5 is Smith’s best moment to date. The Falcons needed to make adjustments given the absence of Calvin Ridley and they successfully were able to do so, suggesting that the offense helmed by Smith is not destined to remain as vanilla as it appeared in the first few games of the year.
Allen Strk - Final drive against the Jets
What a statement drive that was. Smith did a brilliant job utilizing all three of his top playmakers that were healthy in Patterson, Davis, and Kyle Pitts. It started with a play-action design on first down with Pitts running a deep inside vertical route. That is the type of aggressiveness that made him beloved in Tennessee. After a 39-yard pass play to Pitts, he dialed up a well-timed screen to Patterson on third and two to convert and put the Falcons in striking distance.
The drive was capped off by Davis muscling his way into the end zone in a definitive manner. It was the game-sealing drive that the Falcons desperately needed after the debacle against Washington. This will hopefully be the launching pad for Smith in late-game situations when the Falcons hold a slim lead.
The Pain: Arthur Smith’s Biggest Head-Scratching Move
Aaron Freeman- Short-yardage mistakes
Getting a bit more granular, Smith has made some very questionable decisions when it’s come to the Falcons trying to convert on the ground in short-yardage situations. Whether that involved running it directly at Vita Vea or the usage of wildcat plays with Cordarrelle Patterson or Feleipe Franks under center, some of his choices have made it extremely difficult to execute for an often overmatched offensive line.
Allen Strk - Short-yardage mistakes
These issues primarily stem from games against the Bucs and Giants. In short-yardage situations, the Falcons fell short in multiple situations. From running a quarterback sneak with Matt Ryan on fourth and two versus Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh to attempting a read option with Feleipe Franks versus New York’s massive front, Smith put the offense at a disadvantage with his decision-making and play-calling. It was baffling to see Davis not be involved in those situations, considering his size and ability to gain tough yards. Smith has shown improvement over the past two games in short-yardage situations. Hopefully, the new head coach won’t go back to his indecisive, questionable ways.
The Trufant: Who is the player you are most confident about elevating their game going forward?
Aaron Freeman - Matt Ryan
After three middling performances, Ryan has played well the past two weeks, and I feel reasonably confident he should be able to maintain this more recent level for the rest of the season. Hopefully, we start to see Ryan and Arthur Smith live up to the expectations we had going into the year where the latter would help “resurrect” Ryan as one of the league’s top passers.
Allen Strk - Foye Oluokun
The rising star linebacker hasn’t quite played at the level he played at last season. The exceptional run stops aren’t there. Neither are the savvy coverage plays or blistering sacks off blitzes. It would be beneficial if Dean Pees utilized him in a more creative manner. Oluokun still could do more from a performance standpoint. He’s too talented to be making only sound plays as a three-down linebacker. The game-changing, jaw-dropping plays have to happen soon.
The Beasley: Who is the player that needs to desperately step up their game the most?
Aaron Freeman - Calvin Ridley
I think Ridley’s “poor” play has been exaggerated somewhat, but it’s certainly true that he has not lived up to expectations through the early-season games. He’s on pace to finish shy of 1,000 receiving yards this year. Given that 2022 marks the final year of Ridley’s contract, the Falcons may be forced to decide his long-term future this upcoming offseason. Without a stronger play to finish this year, Ridley’s days in Atlanta may be numbered.
Allen Strk - Dante Fowler
As frustrating as Ridley has been, there is no telling what he is currently enduring off the field. It’s uncertain when he will be back. A player that is currently on the field and underperforming is one of Atlanta’s highest-paid defenders. Fowler had strip-sacks against the Bucs and Giants. Besides those two plays, he’s been largely anonymous or getting exploited in the run game. Let’s also not forget his dreadful attempt at trying to bring down Taylor Heinicke on Heinicke’s second touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin. If Fowler doesn’t start generating more consistent pressure and being more disciplined with his run gap responsibilities, he will certainly be playing on a new team in 2022.