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Falcons snap counts from a snow-blown loss to the Bills

What did we learn on a winter’s day in Buffalo?

Atlanta Falcons v Buffalo Bills Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

The Falcons had a tough draw in Week 17, traveling to Buffalo on what turned out to be a snowy day to play a very good Bills team. It went as expected, but despite having multiple players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, going into the game without starting cornerback Fabian Moreau, and losing Kyle Pitts to injury, they did put together some admirable stretches of play.

Who filled in on Sunday with so many players out? Let’s look at the snap counts to find out.

Offense

Matt Ryan: 53

Jake Matthews: 53

Matt Hennessy: 53

Chris Lindstrom: 53

Kaleb McGary: 53

Olamide Zaccheaus: 51

Jalen Mayfield: 50

Russell Gage: 42

Parker Hesse: 37

Cordarrelle Patterson: 27

Mike Davis: 27

Kyle Pitts: 27

Christian Blake: 26

Keith Smith: 12

Lee Smith: 10

Qadree Ollison: 5

Colby Gossett: 3

Frank Darby: 1


The loss of Pitts was evident in the second half, when the Falcons threw for just 55 yards. Atlanta’s leading receiver in the half was Parker Hesse, who reeled in two catches for 21 yards. I have to say that Hesse’s done enough in his playing time this year to justify hanging on as the third tight end for this offense next year, given that he should be affordable, blocks effectively and has shown he can be an occasional threat as a pass catcher. He needed to be, because aside from Pitts and a couple of nice grabs from Gage, the Falcons’ pass catchers had a very quiet day.

That Cordarrelle Patterson/Mike Davis split has been one of the most reliable things this offense has done all year, and this time around it was Davis’s turn to be the most productive runner. He turned eight carries into 42 yards and a touchdown and also chipped in a 15 yard catch, and continues to prove that when you give him solid blocking, he can be an asset for the offense.

One note that I haven’t seen explained yet: Colby Gossett got into the game early on for three snaps, replacing Jalen Mayfield, but we never saw him again. Given that Gossett has ties to offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford and that Mayfield has struggled mightily throughout the season, I’ve been surprised we haven’t seen more of Gossett, but if it didn’t stick Sunday it’s not going to happen in the season finale. Left guard looms as an interesting spot for the offseason.

The quality of the competition and the weather were factors, but the Falcons have only cleared 300 yards and 20 points at the same time in three games out of their last 10. This offense will need to add talent and grow significantly in 2021 for the Falcons to fare better in games like this, and really all games.

Defense

A.J. Terrell: 76

Deion Jones: 76

Foye Oluokun: 76

Shawn Williams: 75

Duron Harmon: 75

Darren Hall: 75

Steven Means: 61

Grady Jarrett: 53

Kendall Sheffield: 52

Dante Fowler: 40

Mike Pennel: 36

Adetokunbo Ogundeji: 35

Ta’Quon Graham: 31

Anthony Rush: 29

Nick Thurman: 17

Brandon Copeland: 13

Mykal Walker: 11

John Cominsky: 3

Richie Grant: 2


I had expected Richie Grant to get a full complement of snaps, but for reasons the team might address later this week, he barely played. It likely had something to do with his readiness or perceived readiness coming off the reserve/COVID-19 list, but the Falcons were incredibly short-handed in the secondary without him. It’s sort of stunning that the team kept him to special teams, but Grant has been repeatedly dropped from the starting lineup, so maybe it’s not that surprising.

That really puts this entire game in perspective. Shawn Williams is a big hitter and filled in admirably, but he did miss some tackles and have his adventures in coverage, as you’d expect for an emergency fill-in safety making his first start since 2019. Ditto Kendall Sheffield, who had barely played on defense all year but did a solid job when pressed into action on Sunday. With Jaylinn Hawkins and Fabian Moreau out and Grant apparently limited, Williams, Sheffield and Darren Hall did enough as fill-ins to help keep this from getting entirely out of hand.

The run defense was a mess, again. They allowed 233 yards on 44 attempts, repeatedly allowing Devin Singletary and Josh Allen to jaunt merrily down the field for additional yards. The Falcons got pushed around up front a bit, but they also just missed tackles that might have helped to limit the damage. This team has not allowed under 130 yards rushing in any of the past three weeks, and they were not as short-handed up front as they were in the secondary, so that’s all extremely disappointing. It’ll be interesting to see how the Falcons attack this lackluster run defense in the offseason.

It’s noteworthy that despite having five practice squad players active for Sunday, only Hesse and Nick Thurman got any significant time that didn’t come on special teams. It’ll be interesting to see if the coaching staff saw enough from Thurman Sunday to give him another shot against the Saints in a week.

Special Teams

John Cominsky: 16

Richie Grant: 16

Avery Williams: 16

Mykal Walker: 13

Frank Darby: 13

Keith Smith: 12

Daren Bates: 12

Qadree Ollison: 8

Christian Blake: 7

Thomas Morstead: 7

Josh Harris: 7

Adetokunbo Ogundeji: 6

Parker Hesse: 6

Younghoe Koo: 6

Shawn Williams: 5

Cordarrelle Patterson: 5

Luther Kirk: 5

Duron Harmon: 4

A.J. Terrell: 3

Darren Hall: 3

Steven Means: 3

Kendall Sheffield: 3

Ta’Quon Graham: 3

Kaleb McGary: 3

Jake Matthews: 3

Jalen Mayfield: 3

Chris Lindstrom: 3

Lee Smith: 3

Rick Leonard: 3

Colby Gossett: 3

Anthony Rush: 2

Mike Pennel: 1

Olamide Zaccheaus: 1

Austin Trammell: 1


The Falcons mixed things up a bit here out of necessity. With Zaccheaus playing a ton of snaps at receiver, his snaps fell, and the Falcons wound up using John Cominsky quite a lot with defenders like Shawn Williams and Ade Ogundeji pulling more snaps than usual.

I’m still surprised Grant got so little time on defense when he was tied for the team lead in snaps on special teams, but Marquice Williams obviously values Grant a lot. If he becomes a full-time starter in 2022—and obviously we hope he does—it’ll be interesting to see who Williams replaces him with or if he’ll retain some sort of role.

As per usual, Koo hit his field goal tries, but the team elected to punt instead of trying one from 49 yards. That probably was the smart play with the wind, but I still wish we had gotten the try.