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3 Up, 3 Down: Not much to celebrate in an ugly Falcons loss

Keeping track of which Falcons are rising and falling throughout the 2021 season.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Well, one week after I declared Younghoe Koo is the eternal holder of the No. 1 spot on this list, he missed his first kick of the season. That’s not enough for his stock arrow to be shifting downwards, but let’s just hope that his final kick of the game – an impressive 53-yarder – is a sign of things to come.

Koo wasn’t the only player a little bit off on Sunday, as it was a really poor showing by the Falcons in their 19-13 loss to the Panthers. This was the worst performance of the season for the team since its Week 1 loss to Philadelphia, so let’s dive on into it.

Up

WR Tajae Sharpe

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

This spot should probably go to the one receiver who actually scored a touchdown for the Falcons, but we already know how good Cordarrelle Patterson is. Instead, it was Tajae Sharpe who impressed me on Sunday. This was a lackluster performance from Atlanta’s passing attack with Ridley out, but while many were looking to see if Russell Gage would fill that void, it was Sharpe who stepped up.

He led the Falcons with five catches for 58 yards, including a few tough catches over the middle in traffic. Matt Ryan didn’t have a ton of time to push the ball downfield throughout the afternoon, but Sharpe proved a reliable option when he got chances. His ability to make those catches should hopefully help this offense become even more versatile and unpredictable moving forward.

CB A.J. Terrell

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t exactly beautiful on the defensive side of things for Atlanta, but I got the opportunity to watch this game in person and I locked in on A.J. Terrell. I was not disappointed. He truly does appear to be playing with a level of confidence that was apparent last season but is fundamental to his game in 2021.

He did not back down from any play, shooting up to make short-field tackles and gliding with receivers downfield to prevent Sam Darnold from pulling the trigger. According to Pro Football Focus, Terrell gave up just two receptions for minus-1 yard. If this season does turn out to be a wash, the emergence of Terrell is a massive silver lining for the future.

CB Fabian Moreau

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Miami Dolphins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Darnold finished his afternoon with only 129 passing yards. On any other day, that low level of production would be enough for a parade down Peachtree Street. Instead, both corners will have to settle for a spot in this weekly feature.

Moreau was also really strong in coverage, and while the Panthers aren’t exactly the Greatest Show on Turf, it’s notable that most of Darnold’s damage came on the ground. Moreau didn’t allow a single reception in his coverage, per PFF, showing a level of comfort with his role in this defense. He’s not a flashy player, but Moreau quietly handled his business opposite of Terrell and both of the team’s starters outside have been in the zone of late.

Down

TE Hayden Hurst

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The same week it was reported teams had been inquiring about Hayden Hurst’s availability only to be waved off by the Falcons, he was again pretty much a non-factor on the field. Hurst’s role had slowly been growing in this offense, but that wasn’t the case Sunday even though Atlanta was down a weapon in the passing game.

He caught just two passes for 4 yards against the Panthers, who have struggled at times against opposing tight ends this season. Hurst still affords Arthur Smith flexibility with his offense, which has been important for Atlanta this season, but he has not produced to the level people expected at the start of the team.

Pass protection

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

It’s difficult to single out any one offensive lineman, honestly. Pass protection involves the tight ends and running backs as well, and this was a failure across the board for everyone on Sunday.

Atlanta has done an excellent job protecting Matt Ryan this season, but he was constantly under duress, and it showed. Ryan threw two interceptions, and pressure played into those to some capacity, and he was on his back far more than his teammates would like. The path to victory for Carolina was always going to involve its pass rush, and three sacks keyed their win on Sunday.

Edge Steven Means

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Means is a very popular player within the organization, and for good reason. He is a high-energy guy who brings it every practice and is durable and reliable, so it’s no surprise he’s worked his way into the starting lineup over time. Means is a good run defender who sets the edge very well, but he isn’t offering much in terms of pass rush.

Given that it’s a significant part of his job, that’s important. Means had just one hurry on Sunday, per PFF, and he only has two quarterback hits so far this season. The pass rush couldn’t contain or pressure Sam Darnold often in the loss, and Means, unfortunately, gets the call-out.