For the second time this season, the Atlanta Falcons looked to be in a good spot against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers deep into the third quarter. Unfortunately for the second time this season, they couldn’t capitalize.
Sunday’s 30-17 loss made it clear yet again that there is a noticeable talent discrepancy between this team and some of the league’s top squads. To be clear, the Falcons are far from the only team in this position, but all such teams are tasked with finding a way out of that predicament. It’s been well-documented why Atlanta is in this spot, but which players are closer to being part of the solution than the problem? Let’s find out.
DT Marlon Davidson
Beating teams like the Buccaneers requires plays like the one Marlon Davidson made just before halftime. It was by far the most impactful play of the former second-round pick’s career, and it could have been a season-changing one. That it wasn’t shouldn’t lessen Davidson’s accomplishment.
It was just the fourth interception Tom Brady has thrown in his career against the Falcons, but it was the second pick-six (do I need to mention the other one?). Injuries delayed Davidson’s full-time involvement with this defense, and it remains to be seen how he factors into the mix moving forward, but this was the type of impact play the Falcons envisioned when they selected him. Now, let’s see him do it again.
RB Mike Davis
If you’d told me before the game that Mike Davis and Marlon Davidson would both score touchdowns, I would have felt really good about Atlanta’s prospects. Unfortunately, the duo scored the only touchdowns for the Falcons. Still, it was great to see Davis get back into the end zone for just the third time this season.
He gained nearly 70 yards and looked to have a little more burst to his game than previously shown this season. The emergence of Cordarrelle Patterson has been massive for many different reasons, but if it means Atlanta will now have a fairly fresh version of Davis for the stretch run, that’s yet another benefit.
LB Foye Oluokun
I debated Russell Gage or Matt Hennessy in this final spot, but I’m going to instead give it to Foye Oluokun. His season hasn’t gone entirely under the radar, but I don’t know if it’s gotten the attention it deserves. Oluokun has been a very reliable tackler for Atlanta, and while he still gives up some receptions in zone coverage (who doesn’t?), he’s been excellent at limiting yards after the catch.
After Sunday’s game, Oluokun is currently second in the NFL in tackles with 135, behind only Bobby Wagner, who has 137. In a season where fans are anxiously watching for players to change the narrative and show improvement, Oluokun has only solidified his: he’s a smart, consistent player who absolutely can be part of a contender.
C Drew Dalman
Arthur Smith received a lot of questions about the center rotation throughout the week, and it was a factor on Sunday, but not in the way the Falcons would like. Atlanta had two mishandled center-quarterback exchanges with Drew Dalman in the game, and he proved to be a liability in pass protection as well.
Dalman allowed three pressures and a sack, according to Pro Football Focus, which had Dalman as its lowest-graded center from Sunday. Notably, PFF had Matt Hennessey as its second-highest-graded center of the week. The coaching staff has been cognizant not to overreact to a poor performance, but it will be worth watching to see how this rotation continues, if it does.
LG Jalen Mayfield
The hope has to be that Jalen Mayfield is going through the natural rookie struggles that most NFL offensive linemen go through, not to mention the fact that he’s a mid-round pick in the middle of a position change at the next level. Still, it can’t be overlooked that Mayfield can be a game-wrecking liability at this point in his career, or at least in pass protection. He gave up four pressures and two sacks on Sunday, according to PFF.
If this were Week 2, that’s a bit more acceptable. It’s Week 13, though, time to get this cleaned up.
S Richie Grant
I didn’t mean to make this a sweep of young players, but here we are. For the record, I also considered putting Deion Jones here, but I think he’s getting more heat than he actually deserves right now. It’s clear the Falcons want to bring Richie Grant, and most of their young guys, along slowly. This appears to be a complex defensive scheme Atlanta wants to run, and Grant’s full-time role could end up being a sizable one when all is said and done.
Right now, though, he’s not the playmaker fans envisioned when he was drafted, and he sustained an ankle injury in the loss. It’s not like anybody outside of A.J. Terrell did well in the secondary yesterday, but Brady had a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeting Grant, and that is worthy of this spot.