It’s never easy or fun watching your team get smacked in front of the entire country on national television, but that’s what the Falcons put the fanbase through on Thursday night against the New England Patriots.
Atlanta came out with a completely unprepared and undermanned offense. Following a brutal offensive display in Dallas just four days earlier, the Birds doubled up on the embarrassment and suffered their first home shutout since 1987.
Nobody on the offensive side of the ball, both on the field or on the sidelines, deserves much praise following this game. The defense is a different story, however, as they did their job by surrendering just 19 points all evening. They were led by our player of the game — A.J Terrell.
Terrell has ascended into the upper echelon among NFL cornerbacks in just his second year in the NFL, after being drafted with the 16th overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. His sophomore jump has been something resembling Bob Beamon’s immaculate leap at the 1968 Olympics, and he once again had a strong day in Week 11.
Terrell continued his torrid run of surrendering minuscule yardage in coverage in every single game this season. The 32 yards he allowed in coverage against the Patriots were actually a season high. However, 19 of those yards were credited to him on Nelson Agholor’s touchdown catch, which was a busted coverage.
This play seems to have been a complete miscommunication in the Atlanta secondary. After the snap, Terrell looks to have shaded into his zone, and nobody picked up Agholor over the middle. Because A.J. was the man lined up across from the receiver before the snap, he was docked for the yardage and the score, but this play was clearly not his fault.
If you take away that 19-yard score, Terrell gave up three receptions for just 13 yards, serving once again as a blanket in the secondary. HIs wonderful play earned him a season high 89.3 coverage grade from PFF.
The Clemson product’s season long coverage grade is an elite 86.1, second among all CBs to only Jalen Ramsey (among players with a minimum of 50% of snaps played for their team). No cornerback who has played 50% of his team’s snaps has surrendered fewer yards than A.J. Terrell’s 125 this season, either.
What helped Terrell attain that great coverage mark on Thursday was his first interception of the season:
Mac Jones directly challenges Terrell’s coverage by targeting Jonnu Smith on this play, and what we see is a perfectly timed and aggressive jump from A.J. to win this battle against a much stronger tight end. He looks the ball into his hands and then immediately turns upfield and gains 35 yards, which was more than the Falcons got on any single offensive play of the day.
The Atlanta defense held up their end of the bargain on Thursday, but it’s clear that this team has a talent deficiency on both sides of the ball. The silver lining is that they have a few building blocks on this roster, the first of which is A.J. Terrell.