Every Christmas, Santa Claus gives presents to the nice children on his boundless list. I too have a list, but it is instead full of intriguing Atlanta Falcons players for their Christmas Eve matchup against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 16. While Santa’s list includes the names of billions of children across the globe, mine is limited to just five names.
The first name atop the list will be that of the Falcons’ rookie quarterback. While it was displayed in a rocky first start, Ridder’s connection to wideout Drake London against the Saints was one of the few bright spots. It could only be matched by that between a partridge and a pear tree. Yet it took some time for that connection to bear fruit, as Ridder didn’t get going until late in the first quarter on the team’s third possession. Meanwhile, the Falcons' defense's early struggles deserved a lump of coal after falling into a 14-0 deficit by that point.
Hopefully, the defense will fare better this week. But much like Santa’s reindeer, Ridder will also have to pull his own weight by starting faster. Sluggish starts were a common trend for Ridder during his collegiate days, but it’s a habit he must break now as a pro. That’s especially true since the Falcons’ ability to win Saturday may rest on a faster-than-usual start.
Guiding the Falcons' offense through the metaphorical foggy night will be a red-nosed Tyler Allgeier. But the color on Allgeier’s face doesn’t emanate from an inward glow, but stems from the carnage he’s wrought upon NFL defenses in recent weeks.
His season-high 139 rushing yards against the Saints cap off a six-week span of games in which Allgeier has Falcon fans shouting with glee. Since beginning to share the load with Cordarrelle Patterson upon his Week 9 return from injury, we’ve seen glowing production from the Falcons' fifth-round pick out of BYU.
According to PFF, his 4.56 yards after contact per carry since Week 9 leads the NFL. His “elusive rating” also leads the pack in that same span. But Allgeier hasn’t evaded defenders by prancing. Instead, his hard-nosed running has forced 24 missed tackles according to PFF, ranking second among rushers only behind the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs in that span.
Allgeier will have a chance to go down in Falcons history, as he is 281 rushing yards from surpassing William Andrews’ record of 1,023 yards in his first NFL season. The Falcons will lean on him to establish the run early to help ease Ridder along in his second start.
The Ridder-led passing attack will likely complement the Falcons' running game against the Ravens. But speaking of complements, the Falcons will need one opposite London and those duties fall on the diminutive Zaccheaus.
Unfortunately, this elf was on the shelf last week due to failing to snag a single pass despite being targeted three times. Hopefully, Zaccheaus will reappear this week as a bigger part of the Falcons' game plan. Much like the craftsmen in Santa’s workshop, he has been a reliable, clutch worker within the Falcons offense this year. Entering Week 15, Zaccheaus led the team with 10 catches and 133 yards on third and fourth downs. His first-down conversion rate of 43 percent on those critical downs also outpaced higher-profile pass-catchers Kyle Pitts (37 percent) and Drake London (33 percent).
But those numbers took a hit this past Sunday with Zaccheaus seeing no targets on critical downs and all the Falcons’ successful conversions coming on throws to London. But the latter cannot carry the entire burden of the passing attack. So the tireless work that Zaccheaus has put in all year should have a chance to pay off on Saturday against the Ravens.
On defense, the Falcons hope another rookie will go thumpety-thump-thump when it comes to slowing down the Ravens’ second-ranked rushing attack by fitting run gaps. Donning that magical hat will be second-rounder Troy Andersen. Last week, Andersen earned his second start of the season and likely will remain in the lineup for the remainder of the season, even if head coach Arthur Smith is unwilling to admit it.
But it was a rough outing for Andersen, whose 41.0 PFF grade was the second lowest among Falcons defenders versus the Saints. That was owed to melting at times in coverage, and Andersen will have to do a better job directing traffic when he faces off against Ravens Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews.
Andrews could prove to be a real grinch for the Falcons’ chances at victory Saturday. Even though his production has taken a step back this year, he still remains the Ravens’ favored target. But a player that will likely have to grow three sizes to aid Andersen in keeping Andrews in check is safety Richie Grant. Grant was the only Falcons defender graded lower than Andersen last week against the Saints, thanks to giving up a 68-yard score to Rashid Shaheed.
However, this week Grant will have to be as cuddly as a cactus to keep Andrews contained. After all, Grant is the Falcons' defender that will most often draw the assignment of covering opposing tight ends. Sticking to Andrews like wrapping paper won’t be easy, but if he can, it may lead the Falcons finding a win beneath the tree on Sunday.
Are there other Falcons that you find intriguing in this Ravens matchup? What other Falcons can you name for your wish list of intriguing players?