In horrifyingly familiar fashion, the Falcons couldn’t make the winning plays when they needed to in their 34-30 loss to the Washington Football Team. Despite some excellent performances and looking like a complete football team at times throughout Sunday afternoon, Atlanta now finds itself at 1-3 and still searching for consistency and answers.
Head coach Arthur Smith and defensive coordinator Dean Pees have offered constant reminders that this is a work in progress and the goal is improvement each and every week. For the offense, there was a lot to like about Sunday’s performance. For the defense, not so much.
Let’s see whose stock is rising and whose is falling.
RB Cordarrelle Patterson
A mainstay in this series so far, there’s no reason not to include Cordarrelle Patterson while he’s on this amazing run to start the season. Sunday’s performance was his best yet as an Atlanta Falcon. A true receiving threat out of the backfield, Patterson caught three touchdown passes and gained a combined 116 yards.
There was no other Falcons player who came close to matching Patterson’s production against Washington, and while it’s great that the versatile veteran is off to such a hot start, it’s a little disconcerting that Atlanta’s other weapons haven’t given him much support. Regardless, the Falcons would much rather have Patterson than not, and he’s somehow evolved into a true offensive threat after a career making his name in special teams.
QB Matt Ryan
The doubters had been growing steadily louder throughout the start of the 2021 season, but Matt Ryan shut them down on Sunday with a vintage performance. Had it not been for several downfield drops, Ryan’s numbers would have been even greater – and perhaps the outcome would have been different – but he still finished with 283 passing yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
Ryan was the highest-graded offensive player for the Falcons on Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus, finishing the game with an elite 92.5 grade. While he only has 990 yards through four games, that has more to do with the offense than it does Ryan. More importantly, he’s got eight touchdowns to just three interceptions and it’s his game-to-game experience and leadership that will likely matter more to the Falcons during the 2021 season. In those aspects, Ryan is still extremely sharp.
CB A.J. Terrell
On a day when the Falcons secondary seemingly couldn’t contain Terry McLaurin, A.J. Terrell performed up to expectations. It was largely Fabian Moreau who was targeted by Washington’s passing attack – more on that later – but Terrell was mostly left alone, which is an indicator of a good performance by a cornerback.
According to PFF, Terrell was targeted just twice and gave up one completion for 2 yards. That’s it. After missing Atlanta’s Week 3 win against New York due to a concussion, this was an excellent return to form for the former first-round pick. Big things are expected for Terrell this season and onward, and although it wasn’t a flashy performance, this was along the lines of what fans should hope to see from him moving forward.
CB Fabian Moreau
Perhaps part of the reason why Terrell wasn’t heavily targeted by Taylor Heineke is that the Washington quarterback was having so much success going after Fabian Moreau. McLaurin is a difficult matchup for any cornerback, and he got the best of the Falcons on Sunday.
One of the most notable plays of the game was Washington’s first score – a 33-yard touchdown pass to McLaurin, who beat Moreau and caught the pass just before safety Erik Harris could knock it away or pick it off. It’s clear the Falcons were in a deep Cover 2, so Harris deserves some responsibility for that touchdown, but Moreau barely impeded the receiver on the way to the end zone. PFF recorded Moreau as being targeted seven times and giving up five completions for 80 yards. Even with McLaurin looking very sharp, it’s tough to see those numbers given up to Heineke and this offense.
CB T.J. Green
For the second consecutive week, T.J. Green’s stock is dropping. His performance against the Giants wasn’t great, but he did some good things in that game. In this one, he made perhaps the costliest play of the afternoon on very limited snaps. Green had blocked off McLaurin in the back of the end zone midway through the fourth quarter, but the Washington receiver slipped off the coverage to come back and catch a prayer touchdown pass from Heineke, who was under extreme pressure.
That touchdown cut Atlanta’s lead to two and ultimately allowed Washington to come back and win this game. Green wasn’t on the field much Sunday, but that inability to keep McLaurin walled off really hurt.
Any time a team gives up a special teams touchdown, it deserves mention. The Falcons had clawed their way to a 17-13 halftime lead, but that lead evaporated on the very first play of the second half. DeAndre Carter took the ball out of the end zone and took it 101 yards right down the pipe to put the Football Team ahead.
While Atlanta did ultimately regain the lead, and this play has kind of been forgotten as a result, every touchdown in this game has to be scrutinized. There are a lot of young players on special teams for the Falcons, and this will be a learning moment, but breakdowns in coverage like that can’t happen.