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Falcons snap counts from a rough loss to the Panthers

What do the snap counts tell us about the team’s struggles?

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Atlanta struggled, to put it mildly, in their loss to Carolina. One bad loss doesn’t equate to doom in the same way a few close wins didn’t equate to the arrival of Atlanta as a contender, but obviously this was the kind of effort that will shake confidence in the Falcons going forward.

What was behind the struggles? It wasn’t any one thing—you don’t typically score 13 points on a day where just one player or coach isn’t quite bringing their A game—but this morning we’ll turn to the snap counts in the hopes that they’ll help us figure out some of the team’s issues. Join us...on a snap count journey.

Offense

Matt Ryan: 53

Jake Matthews: 53

Jalen Mayfield: 53

Matt Hennessy: 53

Chris Lindstrom: 53

Kaleb McGary: 53

Kyle Pitts: 44

Russell Gage: 36

Tajae Sharpe: 36

Mike Davis: 34

Hayden Hurst: 33

Cordarrelle Patterson: 32

Olamide Zaccheaus: 21

Lee Smith: 18

Keith Smith: 6

Feleipe Franks: 5


Let’s start this off by noting that this represents fewer offensive snaps than the team has run in a game at any other point this season, and by at least 10 snaps as well. They did not do much with those plays, and while the Eagles loss was certainly more lopsided, this game was at least as dispiriting for the offense overall.

With Calvin Ridley out, Russell Gage and Tajae Sharpe operated as the team’s top two receivers, with Olamide Zaccheaus mixing in as the third guy. If Ridley is going to be away from the team for an extended period—and there’s not a timetable here—the Falcons simply can’t stand pat with this receiving corps, because Gage and Zaccheaus were only targeted once between them and Sharpe is not offering anything as a downfield threat despite his welcome reliability on shorter routes. The team clearly does not trust Christian Blake for major snaps at receiver and Frank Darby appears destined to be mothballed most of his rookie season, so this is a team that has to add talent. If defenses can simply key on Kyle Pitts and shut down this passing game they’ll do so, and as much as I like Gage and what OZ and Sharpe bring to the table, the status quo just doesn’t seem tenable without Pitts being supernatural.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, Hurst and Smith weren’t able to add much as pass catchers either. One of Ryan’s interceptions was headed Hurst’s way but Ryan missed him and hit a defender in the hands instead, but the Falcons clearly need Pitts and/or a receiver drawing significant attention for Hurst to be a factor in the passing game on a consistent basis. Hurst can make things happen with the ball in his hands and is one of the team’s few credible downfield threats, so this is still a team that needs to figure out how to get him more involved.

Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson essentially split snaps and touches again, with Davis slightly out-snapping Patterson despite the duo getting exactly the same number of touches (14). Davis put up 66 yards and was a productive, physical runner throughout the day on Sunday, while Patterson put up 72 yards and a touchdown and was once again one of the team’s few credible receiving threats. The irony of this team actually giving the running backs a fighting chance on a day where pass protection was suspect is not lost on me, but I did enjoy seeing the ground game actually go somewhere.

The offensive line hasn’t and likely won’t change composition anytime soon, but this was a concerning effort against a tough opponent. Jalen Mayfield and Matt Hennessy were shoved around a bit, and Hennessy both was called for offsides and shares blame for a botched snap with Matt Ryan in this one. That’s not even mentioning the struggles in pass protection, which included Haason Reddick handily besting tight ends and linemen alike. We knew the young guys on this line in particular were going to take their lumps, but unfortunately it’s hard to conceive of this offense being very successful if that continues, however critical this experience is for their growth.

Finally, we have a Feleipe Franks sighting! The team had parked him for a couple of weeks but tried him out as a tight end and receiver for all of five snaps. We’re still waiting for any kind of real results with Franks as a pass catcher, but it appears the Falcons will keep trying this out and hoping it pays off over the long haul.

Defense

A.J. Terrell: 74

Foye Oluokun: 74

Deion Jones: 74

Erik Harris: 74

Fabian Moreau: 74

Duron Harmon: 56

Ade Ogundeji: 55

Steven Means: 54

Grady Jarrett: 53

Jaylinn Hawkins: 44

Jon Bullard: 33

Marlon Davidson: 31

Tyeler Davison: 27

Mike Pennel: 25

Avery Williams: 22

James Vaughters: 16

Brandon Copeland: 11

Jacob Tuioti-Mariner: 10

Mykal Walker: 4

Richie Grant: 3


Nineteen points is not an awful result, but the way the Panthers got there was maddening. The Falcons appeared to prioritize playing time for players who would be considered more reliable run defenders, and it did not pay dividends. Kevin Knight wrote yesterday that some of this is just a personnel issue, and it certainly seemed to play out that way yesterday.

Up front, Vaughters once again out-snapped Copeland and Tuioti-Mariner, leading me to suspect that he might be called up from the practice squad this week because I believe he can no longer be flexed to the gameday roster after the past two weeks. Beyond Ogundeji and Means, this outside linebacker rotation is a bit of a mess with Dante Fowler out, with surprisingly small roles for a pair of players in Copeland and Tuioti-Mariner who have been able to at least deliver some pass rushing production.

Aside from Jarrett, the Falcons did quite a bit of mixing and matching on the line, with very mixed success. I thought Bullard and Davison both had standout moments, but this team would likely benefit from giving Mike Pennel more playing time period and especially more as the anchor of this line, given that the Panthers had a lot of success running right up the middle against this Falcons defense and Pennel is the biggest and most established run defender this team has. The truth is there’s no magic bullet for this run defense aside from guys just playing better.

The surprise in the secondary was that Richie Grant was once again basically on the bench. I liked what Dean Pees said last week about not wanting to put rookies and young players out there to fail and potentially wreck their confidence, but with Grant playing well the past couple of weeks, it was a surprise to see Avery Williams play more nickel than him and the Falcons choose to roll out plenty of three safety sets without any real time for Grant. The additional playing time for Hawkins is welcome, of course, but I still think this defense is better when Grant plays more.

There are obviously personnel shortcomings here that the Falcons simply can’t fix this season, but I continue to wonder why we aren’t seeing more of productive players like Grant, Tuioti-Mariner and even Mykal Walker, and worry that the team simply doesn’t have a plan to stop the run that’s going to work.

Special Teams

Richie Grant: 22

Mykal Walker: 21

Jaylinn Hawkins: 18

Avery Williams: 17

Keith Smith: 17

Ade Ogundeji: 14

Brandon Copeland: 14

Olamide Zaccheaus: 13

Christian Blake: 9

Daren Bates: 8

Dustin Colquitt: 8

Kendall Sheffield: 8

Josh Harris: 8

Younghoe Koo: 8

James Vaughters: 8

Steven Means: 8

Duron Harmon: 5

Mike Pennel: 5

Jacob Tuioti-Mariner: 5

Jon Bullard: 5

Marlon Davidson: 5

Cordarrelle Patterson: 5

A.J. Terrell: 5

Chris Lindstrom: 4

Erik Harris: 4

Jalen Mayfield: 4

Lee Smith: 4

Jake Matthews: 4

Kaleb McGary: 4

Feleipe Franks: 4

Russell Gage: 1

Foye Oluokun: 1

Deion Jones: 1


The Falcons got Avery Williams back, and in addition to serving as a nickel corner on Sunday, he fielded two punt returns and averaged a healthy 10.5 yards per return. It’s good to have him back, even if I thought Olamide Zaccheaus largely held the job done well while he was gone.

While Koo did miss his first field goal of the year, he also nailed his other two attempts and has sneakily been an asset on kickoffs in a way he wasn’t when called upon last year. He’s currently 15th in the NFL on touchback percentage (68.8%) after ranking 39th there a year ago, and that’s helping to limit the damage for a team that had allowed some very dispiriting long returns. Dustin Colquitt had a solid day, as well, pinning the Panthers inside their own 20 twice and getting enough hang time on his punts to prevent any Carolina returns.

Your snap counts here otherwise largely shook out as you’d expect. Grant, Walker, Williams, Ogundeji, Zaccheaus, Copeland and Keith Smith are Marquice Williams’ core guys regardless of how much they’ll playing elsewhere That’s unlikely to change at any point this season, as Ogundeji played a ton of snaps on defense and still logged that special teams work.