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Falcons snap counts and notes from a win over the Dolphins

Atlanta Falcons v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Another week, another win for the Falcons, who have triumphed in three of their last four and came awfully close to beating Washington. Nothing about those wins has seemed easy or stress-free, but the arrow’s pointed in a better direction and the offense continued to roll against Miami.

What can we glean from the snap counts this week? There are some big takeaways, as it turns out, including Cordarrelle Patterson spending at least one week as the lead back for Atlanta, a pair of promising young defenders gaining playing time, and the puzzle of young pass rushers not getting their turn. Let’s dive into it.

Offense

Matt Ryan: 63

Jake Matthews: 63

Jalen Mayfield: 63

Matt Hennessy: 63

Chris Lindstrom: 63

Jason Spriggs: 63

Cordarrelle Patterson: 46

Calvin Ridley: 46

Kyle Pitts: 42

Russell Gage: 40

Mike Davis: 38

Hayden Hurst: 37

Lee Smith: 26

Tajae Sharpe: 14

Olamide Zaccheaus: 12

Keith Smith: 11

Wayne Gallman: 3


My colleague William McFadden noted in a Falcoholic team conversation yesterday that the Falcons went out of their way to give Spriggs help, lining up Jake Matthews next to him on Patterson’s touchdown run and having Lee Smith and Hayden Hurst chip in as blockers outside on Ryan’s touchdown toss to Russell Gage. Spriggs had some early misadventures and Mayfield had his moments, but generally speaking this line once again did a nice job of holding up, albeit with some help from the likes of the blocking Smiths. Hopefully Kaleb McGary will be back next week against a sometimes-ferocious Panthers front seven.

Your eyes did not deceive you on the Mike Davis versus Cordarrelle Patterson split. Patterson was more involved as a ball carrier and out-snapped Davis in this one, which may have been a one-game blip or may have been a bye week adjustment and the way things will go from now on. Davis was still relied upon for a crucial short yardage carry and threw several nice blocks yesterday, so he’s unlikely to be phased out of the gameplan even if Patterson is the nominal top back. Still, it’s tough to argue that Patterson has done anything but earn more touches given his production, and he scored again on Sunday.

With Ridley and Gage back in action, Zaccheaus and Sharpe were lightly used but still combined for four grabs and 48 yards, with the sure-handed Sharpe clearly emerging as a favored Matt Ryan target when he needs quick yards.

Defense

Foye Oluokun: 73

Deion Jones: 73

Fabian Moreau: 72

Duron Harmon: 61

Richie Grant: 58

Steven Means: 56

Grady Jarrett: 56

Ade Ogundeji: 52

Erik Harris: 50

A.J. Terrell: 50

Jaylinn Hawkins: 35

Tyeler Davison: 32

Chris Williamson: 24

Marlon Davidson: 24

Jon Bullard: 19

James Vaughters: 15

Brandon Copeland: 14

Ta’Quon Graham: 14

T.J. Green: 13

Jacob Tuioti-Mariner: 7

Mykal Walker: 4

Darren Hall: 1


I puzzle over these snap counts weekly. Steven Means is essentially the team’s lone full-time player at outside linebacker, which says a lot about the trust Dean Pees puts in him and his reliability. Means has yet to miss a tackle in 2021 and is still a solid run defender, so I get it to a point.

What Means doesn’t offer a lot of is pass rushing punch, with Pro Football Focus putting him down for 8 pressures on 310 snaps. That’s third on the team, but he also has the fifth-highest snap count on the team, ahead of Grady Jarrett and Dante Fowler. In a game where Fowler was out and the team badly needed to get after the passer, Means’ snaps went up from two weeks ago against the Jets. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner (3 pressures on 63 total snaps) and Brandon Copeland (1 pressure on 47 snaps) combined for just 21 snaps on Sunday, with recently elevated practice squad linebacker James Vaughters pulling down 15. That’s not the sole reason the pass rush didn’t do much against Tua Tagovailoa, but while I’m not advocating to phase out Means at all, it’s apparent the Falcons need to try to give more time to players who have been more productive getting after quarterbacks in limited snaps.

I’d strongly consider more playing time for the likes of Tuitoi-Mariner, Mykal Walker, and Ta’Quon Graham. Ade Ogundeji was, aside from his spectacular field goal block, pretty quiet and still has his best days ahead of him.

Those gripes aside, I was encouraged by playing time changes elsewhere. Jaylinn Hawkins continues to get more run at the expense of Duron Harmon and Erik Harris, and while I think he ought to be starting, I’ll take an expanded role given that Hawkins is absolutely thriving in it. The second-year safety has topped Pro Football Focus’s weekly rankings for Falcons defenders for consecutive weeks and has had a pair of crucial interceptions over that span, so hopefully that playing time is only going to continue to grow.

It’s nice to see Ogundeji’s role expand as well, even if it took Fowler being out to get there, and to see more Richie Grant. The Falcons are going to need players like Hawkins, Ogundeji and Grant to be key pieces for the next quality Atlanta defense, and if they can continue to show promise in the here and now it helps this team go into 2022 with confidence that they’re not starting from scratch on defense.

Finally, it’s worth keep an eye on the practice squad player usage. The Falcons clearly like Vaughters and Williamson quite a bit to give them so many snaps after calling them up, especially Williamson, and it would not be stunning to see one or both elevated to the roster at some point in case of injuries or ineffectiveness.

Special Teams

Richie Grant: 20

Jaylinn Hawkins: 19

Keith Smith: 17

Mykal Walker: 16

Daren Bates: 14

Christian Blake: 14

Ade Ogundeji: 13

Chris Williamson: 13

Brandon Copeland: 13

Younghoe Koo: 12

Olamide Zaccheaus: 11

Darren Hall: 11

Wayne Gallman: 11

Dustin Colquitt: 9

Josh Harris: 9

Steven Means: 8

T.J. Green: 7

Erik Harris: 6

Josh Andrews: 6

Colby Gossett: 6

Drew Dalman: 6

Chris Lindstrom: 6

James Vaughters: 6

Jake Matthews: 6

Jason Spriggs: 6

Jalen Mayfield: 6

Lee Smith: 6

Marlon Davidson: 5

Ta’Quon Graham: 5

Jon Bullard: 5

Jacob Tuioti-Mariner: 5

Cordarrelle Patterson: 5

Duron Harmon: 3

A.J. Terrell: 3


Unsurprisingly, Bates was thrown right into the fire, and he had a special teams tackle assist on the day. The Falcons flexed him to the roster this week and may well do so again next week, given that they obviously like what he brings to the table on special teams. Chris Williamson, who was also up from the practice squad, turned in quite a few snaps himself.

It’ll be interesting to see if Grant and Hawkins continue to dominate special teams snaps as their roles on defense grow, as they’re two of Marquice Williams’ most trusted options and Grant in particular has proven to be terrific on teams. You may see more Green in particular as Hawkins slowly transitions to a starting role.

Zaccheaus, meanwhile, has quietly turned into a quality special teams contributor. His near-miss of a rolling fumble was very nearly costly, but he had a nice 17 yard punt return and a special teams tackle on Sunday, and he’ll hold down the fort until Avery Williams comes back.

It was a better week for special teams overall. Younghoe Koo wasn’t just lethal on field goal attempts but also on kickoffs, as he banged home four of his six kickoffs for touchbacks to avoid any long returns. The coverage units did the rest, limiting Myles Gaskin to a 14.5 yards per kick return average on the day as the Falcons hopefully exorcised their kickoff demons.