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3 Up, 3 Down: What do we make of that Matt Ryan game?

Keeping track of which Falcons are rising and falling throughout the 2021 season

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

The stat line won’t wow you. Two touchdowns, three interceptions. That’s not the number combination one is quite looking for. But if this season is about incremental improvement, Matt Ryan showed that on Sunday.

He’s operating in a new offense – yes, it’s one that he does have some familiarity with – and took a positive step forward against a very good defense. One week after Ryan was consistently under siege and forced into a short passing game, he made plays downfield and bought himself the time in the pocket to do so.

Sure, he threw three interceptions, including two pick-sixes that essentially cost Atlanta the game, but let me make my case for No. 2 as part of our larger look at our three up and three down for the week.

3 Up

QB Matt Ryan

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

There was an actual reason for concern after Matt Ryan’s first showing in Arthur Smith’s offense. Now, that had more to do with the unit as a whole rather than Ryan, himself, but it was at the very least concerning. In Week 2, the former NFL MVP didn’t have a great game, but he looked more like himself. The timely scrambling was back, and he made some great throws. More importantly, Ryan looked engaged to a level that was extremely heartening.

He understands that time is ticking, and he’s playing like it. If a quarterback is truly the most important position in sports, then someone like Ryan playing with the urgency that can only be summoned in the face of the end of one’s career is a great place to start for any stunning playoff run. It won’t be a game we remember when looking back on his career, but Ryan does seem intent on raging against the dying of the light.

RB Cordarrelle Patterson

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

This signing could have easily fallen into the Laquon Treadwell category, but it’s looking like the Falcons actually nailed it through two games. Identifying that Patterson’s one-cut ability, which has made him arguably the most prominent return man since Devin Hester, would translate to the running back position so well was a stroke of genius by this staff. He only had 11 rushing yards on Sunday, but the former receiver contributed 58 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Patterson nearly scored a second touchdown receiving touchdown on an incredibly athletic play, too.

We spent all offseason talking about Calvin Ridley’s ascension and Kyle Pitts’s impending reign, but it’s Patterson who has been Atlanta’s best offensive player this season.

CB A.J. Terrell

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

I really debated between A.J. Terrell and Foye Oluokun for this spot (shoutout Marlon Davidson for a distant third), because both are incredibly deserving. While we wait to hear the status of Terrell’s head injury that forced him out of Sunday’s game, I wanted to reflect on the performance he put together. Among the problems Atlanta has had in recent seasons was, in my opinion, an inability to make plays in a zone defense. In a zone defense, a defender should be best equipped to make plays on the ball. Instead of operating in a completely reactionary mode like in man defense, a defender knows his boundary and can read the quarterback to get a great break. The Falcons haven’t done that nearly enough.

On Sunday, though, Terrell did. He made two amazing pass breakups while playing shallow coverage on a receiver. Both passes would have been easy completions, and one would have been a touchdown, but Terrell showed publicly what many people saw in training camp: He’s a playmaking defender in Year 2.

3 Down

TE Hayden Hurst

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This one pains me because I believe Hayden Hurst has done everything the right way. When the Falcons drafted a generational tight end this offseason, Hurst dropped 15 pounds, showed up to camp with a six-pack and mentored said rookie tight end. Having had the opportunity to speak with him and learn his incredible story, it’s impossible not to root for someone like that.

Through two games, though, Hurst has not been a factor. After catching four passes for 28 yards in Week 1, Hurst had just one catch for 6 yards against the Bucs. In his defense, nobody on Atlanta’s offense has really caught fire, but Hurst seems further down the pecking order than one might have expected a few weeks ago.

RB Mike Davis

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Don’t take this too much as a criticism of Mike Davis, because I still think he will be valuable to this team. Through two weeks, though, we haven’t seen that. Davis had 38 yards on nine carries Sunday, and that just won’t cut it. He’s been an effective receiver so far – something we knew he was capable of – but the Falcons need a more imposing and consistent ground threat from their lead runner.

It’s helped that Patterson has been able to really flash so far, but Davis was brought in to be the guy. He needs to take advantage of that opportunity.

CB Fabian Moreau

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To be honest, it was a little bit difficult finding a third person for this spot. For as badly as the Falcons played at times on Sunday, there weren’t really any horrible individual performances. Through two games the Falcons haven’t been able to slow down anyone through the air, though. A.J. Terrell has been making the plays that should be expected of him, but Moreau has suffered a little bit on the other side as more quarterbacks test him.

He gave up a touchdown against Mike Evans and dropped an interception that would have ended another Tampa Bay touchdown drive. I still think Moreau has a lot to offer this team and could have a Darqueze Dennard-like adjustment a few games in, but his impact hasn’t yet been felt.