The Atlanta Falcons may not yet be to the level of the NFL’s better teams, but they are clearly a cut above the league’s bottom-dwellers. They reinforced that idea on Sunday with their 21-14 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and at 5-6, the Falcons are still in the thick of the playoff race.
For the team to capitalize on their position with the final month of the year essentially upon us, they will need to improve in a few respects. Still, they deserve praise for fighting their way into this spot in the first place, and there are some key players really starting to emerge.
The last six games of the season are set up to be either exciting or upsetting, but they will undoubtedly be interesting. Let’s reflect on some Sunday performances.
RB Cordarrelle Patterson
Without Cordarrelle Patterson, the Falcons may not have won Sunday’s game, which is a scary thought that we will now banish. He gained 100 rushing yards for just the second time in his career, and his two touchdowns proved to be the difference. Despite a questionable status entering the game, Patterson ran the ball characteristically hard and showed some incredible body control down the sideline.
Patterson’s world dominance in a Falcons uniform started as a running joke, but it’s become a very real thing. We debated whether Kyle Pitts or Calvin Ridley would be able to take over as the No. 1 in this offense, but it was Patterson waiting in the wings ready to Captain Phillips this Atlanta squad. His stock was already high, but it’s now reaching Apple/Amazon status.
RG Chris Lindstrom & RT Kaleb McGary
The duo that was drafted together played one of their best games on Sunday. Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary locked down the right side of Atlanta’s offensive and helped the run game have its best afternoon of the season. Lindstrom’s 84.1 grade on Pro Football Focus for the game was best among all offensive players, and he was equally strong as a run blocker and pass protector.
McGary finished fourth, offensively, with a 79.6 grade, but he posted an elite 88.1 run-blocking grade. Lindstrom did not allow a single pressure against Jacksonville, and McGary gave up just one. If the improvement in the run game shown on Sunday is real, it’s likely because Lindstrom and McGary are comfortable and fully locked into this scheme.
OLB Ade Ogundeji
It’s great to say that a number of defensive players belong on the “stock up” part of this article, but I’ve chosen to give it to a rookie described by Arthur Smith after the game as “quiet pro.” Coaches, especially ones as drama-averse as Smith appears to be, rarely like to overpraise players publicly, but you do begin to pick up on certain phrases that amount to high praise. I’m speculating, but I think “quiet pro” means Smith absolutely loves what Ogundeji brings to this organization.
He’s been the only rookie outside of Kyle Pits to play meaningful snaps throughout the season, and he has only continued to improve. Ogundeji’s nine tackles were second only two Mykal Walker’s 11 – he was another candidate for this spot – and he’s been very consistent throughout the year, which isn’t typical for a rookie. Ogundeji may not be a flashy highlight defender, but he’s the type of piece that championship teams need.
TE Kyle Pitts
I have two opposing thoughts on Kyle Pitts, and I think both can be true at the same time. On the one hand, I like to give young players every benefit of the doubt. They are in the midst of the most grueling and stressful 18 months of their lives and have an incredible amount of information to digest. Not only are they at a knowledge deficit compared to most pros around the league, but the game just jumped up three-to-five levels in terms of speed and talent. Oh, and teams are specifically looking to take Pitts away, so he has to deal with everything I just said in duplicate.
On the other hand, exceptionally talented players should be able to overcome some of that. There are times where it doesn’t seem that Pitts is playing as fast as he could be. Two interceptions have now been thrown in back-to-back weeks where he was the target, and an argument could be made on both occasions that he didn’t do enough to prevent a pick. I still have the highest expectations for Pitts, and I am in awe of the things he does sometimes – the fourth-down catch on Sunday was beautiful – but he disappears in games too often for my liking right now.
DT Tyeler Davison
For as well as the Falcons’ defense played at times on Sunday, specifically a couple of red-zone stands, they still gave up 141 yards on the ground. I mentioned Tyeler Davison in this section last week, so I’ll keep it brief. He’s on here partially because he’s one of the Falcons’ top interior run defenders, so that total doesn’t reflect super well on him. However, Anthony Rush is starting to eat into Davison’s snap count, and the newcomer has been playing really well the last couple of games.
It’s impossible to know exactly what his role is on this defense, and the box score likely doesn’t reflect that role, but Davison has played better than he is now.
QB Matt Ryan
Right up top, I want to say that I don’t think Matt Ryan was necessarily bad against Jacksonville. It’s clear he’s trying to make the most of an offense that is fundamentally limited through the air. Still, it’s the second game in which he’s thrown at least one interception that was questionable, and Matt couldn’t make the most of some really good protection up front.
The Jaguars deserve credit for their part in making that happen – especially rookie Tyson Campbell, who looked elite out there – but Ryan’s play has dipped from the high level it was at just a few weeks ago.