With four games remaining, the Atlanta Falcons are still in the playoff mix. Not since the 2017 season has that been an accurate statement, and boy does it just feel good to sit here and write that. So, let’s take a second to just sit with that fact, shall we?
Okay, now it’s time to figure out whose star is rising and whose is falling after the 29-21 win against the Carolina Panthers.
LB Mykal Walker
While A.J. Terrell has been building his own personal island this season, I’ve been quietly searching for contractors who can help me set up shop on my little Mykal Walker property I invested in before the start of the season. It’s been a rough ride at times this year, but boy was Sunday a great payoff.
Walker deftly stepped right in front of a Cam Newton pass and returned it 66 yards for his first career pick-six. It was a beautiful feat of athleticism and understanding of where Newton wanted to go with the ball.
First career interception? A PICK SIX— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) December 12, 2021
: FOX | @MykalWalker3 pic.twitter.com/dvstICJm74
According to Pro Football Focus, Walker still only played five snaps in yesterday’s game, which remains very frustrating. The issue is that Walker is currently behind Foye Oluokun and Deion Jones at inside linebacker, which defensive coordinator Dean Pees spoke to recently.
“He’s playing behind Deion,” Pees said, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC. “Playing behind Foye (Oluokun) in there, and we are trying to find a little bit of role in some things which he deserves. He’s worked hard at it. He’s always been a good communicator. I had the utmost confidence in him playing last week because I knew he would know what to do.”
Walker was given an off-the-charts grade of 99.3 by PFF for his performance. More grades like that and the Falcons will be forced to give him more playing time. Heck, they already should.
TE Kyle Pitts
I wrote a bit more about Kyle Pitts at length last week, so you can read my extended thoughts about him here. But, briefly, I thought he had a steady game yesterday. He caught five passes for 61 yards, including some timely and difficult grabs.
Maybe that’s what we should just expect – for now – on a weekly basis. Do you know what Travis Kelce did yesterday? Three catches, 27 yards. Now it’s all about consistency for Pitts’s development, and yesterday was a positive step forward in that area.
CB A.J. Terrell
Again, I can keep this one short because Terrell has been a mainstay on this list throughout the season. Another huge game from the Falcons’ No. 1 corner, though.
He had his second interception of the season, and very nearly came away with a third on a spectacular bit of pass defense. Terrell has been the constant for Atlanta this season, and his ascension should be the biggest takeaway from this year.
Go up and get it, A.J. @ajterrell_8 | #ProBowlVote— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) December 12, 2021
: FOX pic.twitter.com/y72JLylgFV
Bonus: OLB Dante Fowler
I couldn’t not mention Dante Fowler here, and it’s a great sign that the Falcons are playing to the level where three stock-ups just won’t cut it. With three sacks in the last four games, Fowler is becoming the pass rusher the Falcons need him to be.
They aren’t handing Fowler with kid gloves, and he understands why he’s in Atlanta. Right now, he’s producing really well and if not for a technicality could have been registered for two sacks on Sunday.
CB Darren Hall
I don’t want this to be taken too seriously, because I remain very high on Darren Hall’s future with this club. He’s stepped in and played at a pretty solid level as a rookie, but Sunday was not his best performance. Per PFF, he gave up four reception on five targets directed at his coverage and mostly against Robby Anderson, who was Carolina’s most productive receiver.
Again, Hall has played pretty well, and it’s a real testament to the coaching staff that he’s stepped in for Isaiah Oliver and handled that role at a high level. Sunday wasn’t his best effort, though
DT Tyeler Davison
Unlike Hall, Davison didn’t even set foot on the field. Let’s not be too overreactive with this one, because something I really want to give this staff credit for is game planning for each individual game.
I think we’ve seen a willingness to mess around with personnel to a level we haven’t seen previously, and that’s especially true on the defensive line. Davison has a pretty affordable contract, but as a run-first defender, it’s clear he’s not a vital member of the Falcons’ line.
WR Olamide Zaccheaus
If there was ever a perfect opportunity for Olamide Zaccheaus to step into say a Taylor Gabriel or Marvin Hall type of important role for the Falcons, it was this season. With no Calvin Ridley or Julio Jones, a new pecking order was going to be established at receiver. Russell Gage has done a good job the last few games of stepping up to that challenge, but Zaccheaus has not.
He’s struggled with drops this season and did not even receive a target on Sunday despite playing 28 snaps. I’d expect the wide receiver position to look fairly different for this organization in 2022.