The Falcons are at a familiar spot we’ve seen a lot in the last five years: Winless with serious concerns about the rest of the season. Atlanta did its standard Atlanta things, but admittedly, in a different order than usual. The result was the same with a late loss against the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams.
While what we have is mostly questions, we did learn some things about the Falcons in Week 2.
Kyle Pitts is MIA
Pitts was drafted higher than any tight end ever on the belief he is nearly match-up proof. You can still expect some game plans to slow him, meaning one week of him being an afterthought isn’t surprising. Two weeks and a pattern is starting to emerge. He’s 15th in tight end targets so far this year, which is worrisome for a team that has struggled to get its offense firing on all cylinders.. Pitts hasn’t been injured, which point to bigger, more systemic issues.
Did the Falcons draft the wrong guy at 4? Can Arthur Smith not showcase his most freakish athlete? Can Marcus Mariota not thread the needle to Pitts? Is Pitts simply not a dominant player?
The first two games may be some aberration, but it seems like tough sledding is ahead for Pitts and his fantasy football owners.
Drake London is the real deal
He’s not Julio Jones (and really, who is), but London has been the perfect fit for Smith’s offense. He’s big, stout and can come down with contested catches. He soaked up 8 catches on 12 targets for 86 yards and 1 touchdown in only his second NFL game ever. He is clearly Mariota’s favorite target and doesn’t look lost at all in the NFL. In an offense full of question marks, London is one of only a few answers.
The Week 1 pressure was nowhere to be seen in Week 2
One of the surprising things we saw in Week 1 was Atlanta’s ability to pressure and hit Jameis Winston. More impressive was Atlanta only had a few mid-range additions to EDGE, suggesting strong coaching was finally coming through. After all, New Orleans has a stout offensive line. That pressure disappeared as Matt Stafford cut through the Falcons defense like warm butter. Sunday was a good reminder that the Falcons are a looooooong way away from being able to compete with the best teams in the league.
Desmond Ridder’s time is coming
It was widely predicted that we will see rookie Desmond Ridder under center in 2022. The biggest question was when. Mariota has a lengthy injury history but was also previously benched by Arthur Smith in Tennessee. The former Heisman winner still flashes some impressive skills but after two games his limitations are apparent. Sunday we saw exactly that: Mariota struggled most of the game but did put together a great effort to bring the game within Atlanta’s grasp. Pulling back from those drives, Mariota is averaging around 200 passing yards per game with an unacceptable number of turnovers. Accounting for sacks, Mariota threw for 171 yards and rushed for an additional 16 on six rushes.
Mariota will get further opportunities but these first two games are what the league has seen from Mariota previously. The Falcons need to give Ridder time to learn the playbook and get up to NFL speed, meaning Mariota needs to hold on for another month or so before the transition takes place. Expect to see reports of Ridder working with the 1s soon.
The Lack of a Run Game
Smith wants to run the ball. He rose to head coaching candidate thanks to a dominant run game in Tennessee with Derrick Henry. In his second year, the run game remains elusive. Cordarrelle Patterson is getting his yards. The problem has been without Patterson. Rookie Tyler Allgeier averaged an anemic 3.0 yards per carry. Mariota was shut down at 2.7 yards per carry. Preseason phenom Caleb Huntley’s one carry went for 3 yards.
The Falcons still can’t play the ball they want. Smith wants to run the ball and play defense. The Falcons can’t do either consistently. Without much from the pass game, you can easily understand with the Falcons are 0-2.