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3 Up, 3 Down: Atlanta’s pass rush is frighteningly bad

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

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons’ 2021 season ended Sunday with a 30-20 loss to the visiting team. Atlanta has done a fairly good job of protecting the football this season, but turnovers were the defining theme for the Falcons in the loss.

Atlanta turned the ball over three times while failing to force any of their own, and that led to an extremely lopsided time of possession in favor of the visitors. Ending the year 7-10 is probably what should have been expected, and now one of the more pivotal offseasons in recent memory is underway. Let’s look at some players who may have helped and hurt their chances of sticking around.

Up

K Younghoe Koo

If this were a movie, I’d cut to one of those flashback scenes right now of me writing that Koo is “eternally No. 1 for the Up spot”. And if it was a flashback scene, I would be played by Jim Carrey and it would be exactly like that scene in Bruce Almighty where he’s answering all of those prayers, but somehow everybody in the world is praying at like 9:15 in the morning, so he doesn’t make a single dent. And instead of ordering coffee to my window because, well (spoiler alert), I’m God in this movie, I would have a stiff whiskey drink brought to my window; I’m nothing if not a company man.

Anyway, Younghoe Koo is amazing at football.

RB Qadree Ollison

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

I’m a little surprised Ollison didn’t get more playing time on offense this season. I thought he performed really well during the brief moments he saw action out of the backfield, and that was again the case against New Orleans. He scored the Falcons’ first touchdown of the game on a 19-yard run right up the middle in which Ollison displayed his typical hard-running style.

That was Ollison’s only carry of the game, highlighting my previous point. The third-year back will be an exclusive rights free agent for the Falcons this offseason after averaging 5 yards per carry on just 21 attempts. I’d be interested in seeing him come back with a bigger role.

CB Darren Hall

Hall is one of the rookies who didn’t see much defensive action until the second half of the season, and he’s taken his lumps. Against the Saints, however, he made several splash plays. Hall was aggressive in coming up to make tackles in the flats, and he had a pair of nice pass breakups.

The emergence of A.J. Terrell eclipsed pretty much all other secondary talk this season, but Hall’s improvement in his first year has been an encouraging sign for the future.

Down

RB Mike Davis

It felt like everybody was, if not excited, at least interested in seeing what Davis could do as the Falcons’ lead running back. That role never fully materialized, as it became pretty apparent early on that Cordarrelle Patterson was the more effective playmaker out of the backfield. Still, Davis had a role on this offense and looked to be finding a late-season groove.

On Sunday, however, he really hurt Atlanta’s chances of staying in the game. A pair of lost fumbles negated any positive momentum Davis was building. Given Atlanta’s financial situation, it’s possible we’ve seen Davis’s last game in a Falcons uniform. Having said that, Davis seems like a genuinely great person and the type of man you want to root for.

TE Hayden Hurst

This is a little bit of a season-long award for Hurst, who I feel for a little bit. He was in a tricky spot with Atlanta selecting Kyle Pitts, but even in moments when it seemed like the Falcons had no complementary weapons, Hurst was still a bit of a non-factor. Hurst missed time this season due to an ankle injury and then spent a brief period on the reserve/COVID-19 list, so that should be considered.

Still, given the fluctuation of receivers around Matt Ryan, it’s surprising that he didn’t turn to the former first-round pick a little more frequently. His 33-yard catch against New Orleans was awesome - where has that been?

The whole damn pass rush

This is a long time coming and is another season-long stock down. Woof. Atlanta had just 18 sacks this season, 11 behind the Philadelphia Eagles who ranked 31st in the league.

Basically there’s bad, and then there’s an entirely different level of Dante’s Inferno that belongs to Atlanta. Dante Fowler (a different Dante) led the Falcons with 4.5 sacks, but he was one of just four players with multiple sacks on the season. Atlanta’s sack rate was just 3.12 percent, making them one of just two teams below five percent on the season. Dean Pees is a coach who wants to bring pressure, so this is sure to be a focus this offseason. It certainly needs to be.

Thanks for following along with 3 Up, 3 Down this season everybody! - Will