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5 things we learned: Week 12 vs. Commanders

Atlanta has a number of reasons to be optimistic for 2023... and a few spots to address this offseason.

Atlanta Falcons v Washington Commanders Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Falcons fell to 5-7 after Sunday’s loss to the Commanders, dropping three of its last four games during what many believed to be its more “winnable” stretch of the schedule. While we are looking for things we learned from the loss, it is tough to evaluate as the Falcons switch between rebuilding to competing for a playoff spot.

Marcus Mariota has eclipsed 200 passing yards once since September, making it hard to evaluate pass catchers or passing schemes. Still, we were able to pull out certain lessons from another odd game.

Arnold Ebiketie is looking fantastic

The Falcons have not successfully developed a pass rusher in ages. The EDGE is a premium position which apparently requires a lot of work to eventually get a competent player. Ebiketie is still a rookie but has been lighting it up as of late. In fact, he ranks among the top rookies.

Ebiketie has passed the eye test as well. His recent play, including a mean spin move on Sunday in just nine snaps, should make him one of the top players of a young core moving forward. We hope he can play against the Steelers after suffering an injury against the Commanders.

MyCole Pruitt is a gem

When Kyle Pitts went down, Marcus Mariota said multiple players will need to step up. Olamide Zaccheaus stepped up with a bigger role in the passing game, but more surprisingly, career journeyman Pruitt plugged in as a receiving option and red zone target. The Falcons don’t have a lot of passing game to go around, but Pruitt has looked good in his limited time stepping up in Pitts’ absence, making the most of limited targets.

Pruitt is contributing both on offense—where he’s an asset as a blocker—and special teams, making him a valuable depth piece for the Falcons. Pencil him on to the roster in 2023.

The run game is elite

Hats off to Arthur Smith. The Falcons have turned a bottom-of-the-league offensive line in 2020 into a punishing, dominant run game. Washington’s defensive line is not full of slouches, and Falcons were able to be effective regardless of who was running the ball. That’s all with few notable additions to the line or the backs, meaning we are seeing great coaching and scheme turning an undermanned unit into one of the best int he league.

The run game gives some hope for a strong offense in the future.

The run defense is not elite

The Falcons have AJ Terrell back at full speed, and with a surging Ebiketie and Mykal Walker, meaning the Falcons should have some juice against the pass. Washington only rarely needed to pass on Sunday, instead riding the run game to its eventual win. The Falcons gave up 176 yards on the ground, which is never going to be a winning route.

While the Falcons are a bit nicked up, with starter Ta’Quon Graham undergoing surgery last week, the Falcons are very soft up the middle. Terry Fontenot needs to spend this offseason looking at improving both depth and starters to solidify the defense so this doesn’t keep happening.

The Falcons are still in it for now

Thanks entirely due to external forces (Tom Brady having fallen off a cliff), the Falcons are still in the playoff race. That means that Marcus Mariota remains the starter for at least another week, despite more uneven passing culminating in an effectively game-ending interception near the goal line, albeit one that was tipped by a Commanders defender. Arthur Smith seems to want to keep Mariota as the starter while the Falcons are in the playoff race, even though the passing game’s lack of production has been a major reason the team has dropped three of its last four games.

The Falcons feel somewhere in between a rebuilding year and threatening for a potential playoff spot. Due to the poor play across the NFC South, the Falcons are standing pat with Mariota and not giving Desmond Ridder a good look in their quest to win the division. Mariota is in for at least another week, but he will likely need to raise his level of play if he wants to stick around for longer.