Expectations for the Atlanta Falcons coming into the 2021 season should have already been at a modest level for much of the fan base. While talent still exists on this roster, Super Bowl odds were rightfully not in their favor coming into the season. The 2021 season opener presented an opportunity for the Falcons to get off on the right foot in the win column.
Instead, a 32-6 showing at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles was the head-scratching result. Today, we will highlight five things that we learned from the season opening loss for the Falcons.
#1: The offensive and defensive fronts are significant works in progress
There was very little argument that the biggest question marks coming into the season were the offensive and defensive fronts. That was absolutely the case again on Sunday as the Falcons were outplayed on the offensive and defensive lines all game.
The run game for the Falcons was able to produce 4.8 yards per carry, however, quarterback Matt Ryan never caught a groove and was sacked three times and knocked down another nine. Meanwhile, the Eagles established their rushing attack early and the defensive front was only able to muster one sack and gave up 179 rushing yards. The organization took a risk coming into the season banking on unknown names to stand as starters and produce, and Sunday showed that they may need to find reinforcements in the form of available free agents in order to trek through the season.
#2: Cordarrelle Patterson can be a useful weapon
He is already widely credited as the best kickoff returner in the NFL, but the addition of Patterson this offseason intrigued me based on the versatility that he can provide to the Falcons offense. Patterson saw early action in the backfield with three carries on the team’s second drive that totaled 35 yards.
On the day, he led the team in rushing yards with 54 and also hauled in a couple of passes. I think Patterson established himself as the clear RB2 as of now, but don’t be surprised to see a little more of Patterson in the offensive huddle as the season progresses.
#3: The debut of Pitts left much to be desired
The much anticipated debut for rookie tight end Kyle Pitts kept Mercedes-Benz Stadium buzzing prior to Sunday’s contest. The highest drafted tight end in NFL history is expected to be a pillar in the Falcons offense for years to come.
Credit should be given to the Eagles defense, however, for keeping Pitts a non-factor in this one. Pitts was only able to produce 31 total receiving yards on the day on just four catches. The Falcons tried on occasion to get the ball in the hands of Pitts, but penalties played a factor in the play becoming non-existent or he was simply bottled up by the Eagles defense.
Pitts will be a good one. I have plenty of confidence in that statement. But the Falcons may be tasked with being a tad bit more creative in getting the ball in the hands of the young stallion.
#4: The team can be undisciplined at times
Very few teams, if any, can win games with 14 total penalties. A number of them coming on the promising drives that could have ended in points for the offense. Going back to the preseason, the team produced 11 penalties against Tennessee.
Based on last season however, the team ranked 10th in the league in total penalties with just 83. Showcasing a game with that many penalties can be seen as a reflection of the coaching staff. Head coach Arthur Smith placed the unpreparedness of the team on himself and this can absolutely be seen as a result of the lack of preparation, something the team absolutely has to fix before they play their next game.
#5: Red zone issues continue
Even with a new coaching staff, one constant problem that has plagued the Falcons in recent seasons was seen once again on Sunday. Red zone scoring, touchdowns in particular, has been below average at best for the Falcons in recent seasons.
Arthur Smith and company were supposed to fix that, but they were 0-for-2 in red zone touchdown scoring opportunities against the Eagles and they are also coming off a season in which they were 20th in the NFL in the same category. Play calling was likely culprit here and it kept points off the board in a game in which the Falcons drastically needed some. While Smith enjoyed considerable success in Tennessee, he is going to have to roll the sleeves back a little more and construct an offense that is able to take advantage of prime scoring opportunities, even if the situation is unfavorable.