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3 Up, 3 Down: Drake London shines on a lackluster afternoon for the Falcons

The rookie was one of the few positives on a day when not much went right for Atlanta.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The promising start to the 2022 season seems like a distant memory as Atlanta heads into its by week with a 5-8 record and alive in the NFC South due more to the abject futility of the division than anything else.

Offensively, this team has gone stagnant, which could prompt some changes for the final four games of the season. Arthur Smith has promised they will dive into everything to figure out a way to reverse course, but time may be running out for that to matter. Now, the question becomes how do you balance the reality of this season with plans for the future?

While the good folks up in Flowery Branch figure out that one, let’s dig into some players who are trending up and down.

Three Up

Drake London

Arthur Smith said in the postgame press conference that the offense came out with an aggressive mindset, and London was a key part of that approach. The rookie receiver tied his career high with 12 targets on Sunday, and he set a career mark with 95 receiving yards on six catches. London didn’t register a touchdown reception, although he was involved in a controversial pass late in the game that might have been a foul.

London has been mostly impressive as a rookie, but he hasn’t yet carried a game in the way one might hope a top-10 pick would. That might have more to do with the nature of his role and the Falcons’ offense than London’s ability, though. When it comes to that ability, there’s not much to complain about.

MyCole Pruitt

In two games, Mycole Pruitt has as many touchdowns as Kyle Pitts had all season. His lone reception of the game was a 7-yard touchdown, which continued Pruitt’s habit of finding the end zone. He has just six receptions this season, but two have put points on the board for Atlanta.

The Falcons have not yet found a true replacement for Pitts’s dynamism at the tight end position, but Pruitt has at least helped this offense out where it matters.

Kaleb McGary

As has been the case several times this season, Chris Lindstrom was the top-graded Falcons player on PFF for his performance in a game. Just behind him, however, was his partner on the right-hand side. Lindstrom earned a cool 95.8 grade against the Steelers, which topped all NFL offensive linemen, and McGary earned the second-highest grade with a 91.5. It’s the second-best grade of the season for McGary, who had a 91.6 for his performance against the Chargers, and indicative of the strong year he’s putting together.

It seemed reasonable that the Falcons didn’t pick up McGary’s fifth-year option, given their financial situation and his performance during his first three seasons. This year, McGary has been mighty impressive and the best he’s been as an NFL player. Lined up against T.J. Watt for much of the afternoon, McGary allowed just one pressure all day. He’s been an absolute monster in the run game, particularly as a lead blocker on the move.

McGary’s market value will be interesting to see, but it’s certainly risen this season. If this is what he’s going to be moving forward, Atlanta would be wise to find a way to keep him.

Three Down

Marcus Mariota

After weeks of debate about the quarterback position in Atlanta, the possibility of making a switch feels stronger now than at any point this season. Mariota isn’t the sole reason for Atlanta’s recent fade, during which the team has lost four of the last five games, but it’s undeniable that his play is limiting the offensive potential. Maybe Desmond Ridder will prove to be an upgrade, and maybe he won’t. At 5-8, and with the season heading in the wrong direction, it’s time to see what the other guy can do.

In the immediate aftermath of the game, Smith indicated he was at least open to that line of thinking by saying, “we’ve got to evaluate everything.” He followed that up Monday and said his staff would undergo some “very intense meetings the next couple of days” and personnel will be a big topic of conversation. Mariota was 13-of-24 for 167 yards with a touchdown and an interception against the Steelers. In each of the four most recent losses, the Falcons have failed to score more than 17 points.

Feliepe Franks

Franks became one of the biggest stories in training camp for his performance at tight end, but expectations likely rose too high. He’s had a very minimal role for Atlanta’s offense, but it’s discouraging that Franks hasn’t really seen that change in light of Kyle Pitts’s injury. Franks looks to still be raw at the tight end position, and he mostly stands out in a negative fashion during the moments he is on the field.

On Sunday, Franks played just three snaps, but he still had one of the Falcons’ six penalties - a holding penalty on Atlanta’s opening possession that helped stall the drive.

Richie Grant

This hasn’t been the best stretch of Grant’s young career, but he has been so good for much of the season and I don’t want to harp on too much here. The Pittsburgh touchdown to Connor Heyward looked to be on him. It’s always tough to tell but as the safety, Grant was likely responsible for the deep section of the field there.

Grant’s attention was drawn to the short area of the field in the flat while Heyward ran right past him for an easy touchdown, and that can’t happen in a game like this.