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Falcons snap counts: A baked-in offense, a defense fitting the pieces together after injuries

It was an odd week. Can the snap counts help us make sense of it?

NFL: SEP 11 Saints at Falcons Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It would be foolish to assume you could gain some great insights into how and why the Falcons played the most chaotic NFL game of the year thus far just by looking at playing time. That said, it’s a weekly tradition around here, and there are a few clues, so it doesn’t hurt to take a closer look.

As you might have guessed, injury played a role on the defensive side of the ball, while on offense we saw Damiere Byrd earn a stranglehold on the third receiver job. We also saw special teams slip a little bit this week for essentially the first time all year, which may also have been caused by injuries and replacements.

Let’s talk snap counts.


Marcus Mariota: 67

Jake Matthews: 67

Elijah Wilkinson: 67

Drew Dalman: 67

Chris Lindstrom: 67

Kaleb McGary: 67

Drake London: 59

Olamide Zaccheaus: 54

Kyle Pitts: 50

Tyler Allgeier: 40

Damiere Byrd: 34

Parker Hesse: 29

Caleb Huntley: 24

Keith Smith: 16

MyCole Pruitt: 13

Avery Williams: 5

Feleipe Franks: 5

KhaDarel Hodge: 3

Bryan Edwards: 3

Cordarrelle Patterson is about to introduce some (welcome, good) chaos into gameday when he re-joins the team, but the Falcons have definitely settled on a group that works for them on offense.

Mariota and this offensive line have essentially played the entire year together, with Colby Gossett grabbing one start for an injured Elijah Wilkinson. The group seems to be getting more comfortable with each passing week, but that hasn’t translated to a noticeable improvement in pass protection, given that Mariota was under duress frequently again on Sunday. We can expect Arthur Smith to continue to try to find novel ways to keep Mariota safe with those limitations, and we can continue to hope for improvement both in blocking and Mariota’s ability to get rid of the ball rather than take the kinds of costly sacks he did early in this one. Still, an encouraging day overall for the passing game.

That passing game continues to funnel through, essentially, five players. London and Pitts take turns being the breakout star of the week—London’s been waiting a while now for a turn—while Zaccheaus, Allgeier, and Hesse chip in 1-3 very useful catches per game. Byrd is the player who has really come in recent weeks, going from a weekly inactive to the second most-frequently targeted option in this passing game on Sunday. Mariota loves his after the catch afterburners, and he’s functioning as the third receiver now and likely will continue to. That leaves Hodge and Edwards on the outside looking in.

The running back group is obviously the one set to change when Patterson returns. Huntley is proving to be a terrific, bruising option as a runner, picking up 16 carries on his 24 attempts. Allgeier gets work in a variety of different contexts, picking up 14 carries on 40 snaps, adding three catches on three targets, and chipping in as a blocker frequently otherwise. It will be extremely interesting to see which back Patterson steals more work from if he is able to return, but the Falcons have a good problem with so many capable backs.

This offense isn’t perfect—they were putrid in the first quarter, turned the ball over twice, and nearly turned it over again on a Huntley fumble—but they’re good and they’ve settled into a nice groove. That’s impressive enough, honestly.


Richie Grant: 80

Dean Marlowe: 80

Mykal Walker: 80

Darren Hall: 79

Rashaan Evans: 78

Cornell Armstrong: 77

Lorenzo Carter: 71

Grady Jarrett: 64

Ta’Quon Graham: 55

Arnold Ebiketie: 54

Isaiah Oliver: 42

Abdullah Anderson: 26

Adetokunbo Ogundeji: 24

Timothy Horne: 20

Dee Alford: 17

DeAngelo Malone: 9

Troy Andersen: 6

Mike Ford: 3

Erik Harris: 2

The defense, meanwhile, is in disarray. One of the more befuddling elements of this defense at the moment is that you can look at this list and pick a dozen players who had either big plays or good stretches in this one, yet the defense as a whole failed miserably against Carolina after the first quarter.

Part of the problem is the injury picture. Darren Hall and Cornell Armstrong both battled again and fared well for long stretches, but obviously neither is A.J. Terrell or Casey Hayward, and that showed up at times. Marlowe wasn’t a full-fledged disaster replacing Jaylinn Hawkins, but he had some glaring errors and the single worst play of the game, where he somehow lost D.J. Moore on a play where everyone but Marlowe knew the ball was heading his way and it was absolutely imperative not to let him get behind the defense. Injuries are not an excuse—we didn’t want to hear about it from the 49ers, that’s for sure—but you also can’t ignore the impact.

The other problem is that the consistency is simply not here. The defensive front could not consistently pressure P.J. Walker, a product of having a mix of solid but not spectacular options and young, intriguing ones who aren’t quite ready to be stellar just yet. The secondary is depleted and isn’t truly great even when everyone’s on the field, which leads to mistakes and an inability to keep the one man you have to have covered under wraps. And so on. By and large, the only surprise here is just how many snaps that defense had to play, meaning fatigue may very well have been a factor late as well.

It was odd to see Troy Andersen get so little playing time after he carved out a much larger role in recent weeks and appeared to be finding his footing, but he also had misadventures in coverage in his very limited snaps.

Overall, this defense is a liability, but you still don’t have to squint all that hard to see a better squad in the near future if young players improve, and they’ve put together some nice days earlier in the year. Hopefully they can get back there soon with this group, because I don’t expect any huge additions.

Special teams

Mike Ford: 28

Erik Harris: 28

Avery Williams: 24

Troy Andersen: 22

Nick Kwiatkoski: 21

Parker Hesse: 19

Keith Smith: 19

KhaDarel Hodge: 19

Feleipe Franks: 18

Bradley Pinion: 18

DeAngelo Malone: 16

Jovante Moffatt: 15

Dean Marlowe: 13

Richie Grant: 12

Liam McCullough: 11

Olamide Zaccheaus: 8

Elijah Wilkinson: 7

Kaleb McGary: 7

Jake Matthews: 7

Chris Lindstrom: 7

Germain Ifedi: 7

Younghoe Koo: 7

Matt Hennessy: 7

Colby Gossett: 7

Ta’Quon Graham: 6

Isaiah Oliver: 6

Adetokunbo Ogundeji: 6

Jalen Dalton: 6

Abdullah Anderson: 5

Cornell Armstrong: 3

Lorenzo Carter: 3

Tyler Allgeier: 1

Timothy Horne: 1

Dee Alford: 1

Special teams has been a huge strength for Atlanta this year, so one shaky effort certainly does not change my estimation of this group, or the job Marquice Williams is doing. Hell, Younghoe Koo was perfect, so that’s enough on its own.

It was still a bit of an odd day. Avery Williams gamely tried to take it out of the end zone a couple of times and fell short of the 20 yard line, a big no-no that was partially caused by subpar blocking. The Falcons also allowed a couple of uncharacteristic long returns in this one. What gives?

Honestly, probably just an off week. The biggest change here was reduced snaps for Marlowe, who has been a truly core special teamer and is tied for the team lead in special teams tackles with four. I do think the team missed having him out there for his full complement of snaps, but it’s worth noting that fellow leading tacklers Mike Ford, Troy Andersen, and KhaDarel Hodge still played plenty. Sometimes it’s just not your day.

If this happens a couple of weeks in a row we might start to worry, but for now I’m still a big believer in this group, and Koo, Pinion, and Williams are all fantastic. Just another weird note in a weird week.