The Falcons are a team looking to always have a shot late in the game to win. Unfortunately, playing such tight games leads to increased volatility, and the ball didn’t bounce Atlanta’s way in its 19-13 loss to the Washington Commanders.
Although the outcome was heartbreaking, the performance from Atlanta was at times commendable. Washington is one of the hottest teams in the NFL, and to take it to the Commanders in their home stadium on a stormy afternoon is not something to overlook. However, the team has now lost a few games that felt entirely winnable.
Here’s the weekly stock check after that gut punch:
The offensive line
I am absolutely guilty of not giving this group enough love in this space, but Atlanta’s offensive line has been a joy to watch in 2022. In the second year under Arthur Smith, the Falcons have become a truly elite unit on the ground. While weathering several changes at left guard, Jake Matthews, Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary and Drew Dalman have been very reliable.
That was the case again on Sunday against a Commanders defensive front considered among the best in the league. Atlanta gained 167 rushing yards against the NFL’s sixth-ranked run defense, and the offensive line looked undeniable at times. And, according to PFF’s initial review of the game, left guard Colby Gossett was the only player to allow pressure in pass protection.
For all the talk about quarterback and the skill positions, Atlanta wants its identity to be in the trenches. In that light, the improvement by this offensive line might be the story of the year.
Allgeier has made a couple of appearances on this list in recent weeks, and for good reason: He’s becoming the type of player Atlanta hoped Mike Davis would be. Since Patterson’s return to the offense, Allgeier is still trusted to handle some of the early-down work or spell the 31-year-old veteran for a drive.
It’s an effective version of the committee approach with both Allgeier and Patterson capable of breaking off an explosive run whenever they have the ball. Sunday’s performance from Allgeier wasn’t stat-heavy – he had 11 carries for 54 yards – but his poise in a very competitive game was noteworthy. Through 12 games, Allgeier remains the most productive runner on one of the league’s best rushing offenses. The rookie has 121 carries for 552 yards (a healthy 4.6 average) with one touchdown.
Yes, he had the interception, which is always going to grab attention. However, Walker has shown a noticeable jump in play over recent weeks. He’s been a very solid solo tackler and is improving in coverage, especially as a zone defender. Walker was the highest-graded Falcons defender from Sunday’s game, earning a 90.4 overall grade.
Like Jaylinn Hawkins, Walker has emerged as a productive starter in his third season. These developments should give the Falcons increased flexibility with their free-agent money this offseason.
With an opportunity to get the ball back one last time for the offense, Ogundeji was called for running into the punter, which granted Washington a final first down and ended the game. He knows better than to risk something like that, but it happened anyway. This is one of the lessons a team learns while trying to compete for the postseason, and it’s yet another reason why the Falcons are right to continue to fight instead of packing it in.
Would you rather Ogundeji make this error in a year where expectations were minimal or when the Falcons are in the midst of making a true run? These little bumps along the way should pay dividends, even if they really hurt in the moment. Big picture, though, I’ve been disappointed with Ogundeji in 2022. It’s always difficult to know the exact role a player has, especially on defense, or if he’s been battling through an injury, but he’s not been nearly as effective as I expected.
The second-year edge player has 28 tackles and one sack this season; he’s got the lowest PFF grade of all Falcons defenders.
Dalman earns a spot here for one simple reason, his low snaps. By and large, I have no issues with the way Dalman has performed this season, and he earned the fifth-best offensive grade from PFF in this game. However, the missed execution on his shotgun snaps hurt the Falcons in some key moments, and that happened once again on Sunday.
Facing a fourth-and-1 with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first half, the Falcons attempted to keep their drive alive near midfield. To my eye, it looked as though Atlanta dialed up a zone read play, one in which Marcus Mariota had found some headway as a runner earlier in the game. A low snap never really gave him a great opportunity to make the read, however, and it resulted in Patterson plowing headlong into the teeth of the defense.
This isn’t the only time that a low snap has thrown off the timing of an offense predicated on things working in unison very quickly.
Tackling was the one glaring issue for Atlanta’s defense on Sunday, which actually played fairly well given how often it was on the field. Hawkins and Richie Grant, Atlanta’s two excellent young safeties, were the primary offenders. Multiple times in the game, each player delivered a jarring hit only to fail to wrap up, allowing the ball carrier to bounce away.
Grant and Hawkins have been two genuine bright spots for this defense in 2022, but PFF credits them with six combined missed tackles against Washington – more than all other defenders, combined. In games that seemingly always come down to the wire, a missed tackle can be the difference in a win or a loss.