The Falcons won a winnable game, however, it didn’t look like a win Falcons fans are used to seeing. For years, if the Falcons weren’t able to make some impressive passing plays, the win wasn’t happening. Fourth quarter comebacks were a Matt Ryan staple, not a defensive one. Ryan is gone and so is the passing game.
However, other groups stepped up to seal the win. We cover this fun new change in what we learned below.
Arthur Smith is a run game magician
Not much changed with Atlanta’s offensive line since last season. Atlanta swapped Drew Dalman for Matt Hennessy and Elijah Wilkinson for Jalen Mayfield, with perhaps the latter being simple addition by subtraction. However, neither were highly touted or expensive additions to the team. Yet Atlanta’s offensive line is bullying other teams. Through four games, Atlanta leads the NFL in rushing yards before contact. This is good coaching coming through.
Atlanta won’t be able to rush 200+ yards every week, but the team found a new way to take control of a game and seal up a win. With the limitation in the passing game, expect to see a heavy dose of runs through this season.
Dean Pees brought back the Mike Smith defense
Atlanta’s defense is a lot like the offensive line — improved with about the same talent as last year. It is improved yet frustrating. Coming up big when needed but absent the rest of the time. This is Mike Smith’s bend don’t break defense. We’ve seen it go conservative (such as at the end of the Saints game), but thanks to a few young playmakers, including Dee Alford, the defense helped ice out this game.
Another sign of coaching coming through. The defense still isn’t pretty. Things will certainly look different defending Tom Brady vs. Jacoby Brissett. Similar to the run game, the defense won’t be winning a lot of games... but it looks ready to win a few.
Young players are developing
The first three things we learned are all related to improved coaching. Richie Grant has been the most notable improvement as the sophomore safety has ranked among the best in the league. The offensive line, as noted above, has dramatically improved. Mykal Walker and Dee Alford are trending in the right direction. Only 21 games into the regime, we’re seeing some great signs that these coaches can do some things the prior staff couldn’t.
Marcus Mariota is who we thought he was
There was some offseason hope that Arthur Smith could rehab former 2nd overall pick Marcus Mariota. The Heisman-winning passer was electric in college but was never to transition his skillset into the pros. Smith put the game in Mariota’s hands in the 2nd quarter and we saw why Mariota has been a backup quarterback in recent years. He doesn’t look to have taken a step forward in developing his passing game.
Mariota looks limited to the short and intermediate passing game while relying on a stout run game.
Dee Alford’s success is a testament to Terry Fontenot
Of course, Alford nabbed the game-sealing interception. He’s become an impact player on a defense which has had few impact players in recent years. While Thomas Dimitroff struggled to find “value” additions throughout his time in Atlanta, Fontenot has unearthed a few in just two offseasons. Alford is a great example, as he was undrafted, never signed by an NFL team, and played one season in the Canadian Football League. Now he’s filling in at corner, contributing on special teams, and winning games. That’s a great move by Fontenot, who was given an aging roster with no cap space. If he can keep unearthing overlooked talent like Alford, Atlanta will be winning a lot more games.