Lessons are tough to come by as Atlanta continues its roster overhaul. How can we evaluate coaching when the roster appears lacking? Or how do we evaluate young players who are not getting much supporting help? And what is our measure for success here — flashes of elite play or just competence?
Winning cures all
No team is perfect, but the best way to overlook any team problems is with a nice win. The Falcons still seem a ways away, but Sunday’s win was much needed for the coaches, players and fans. A win, any win, makes everything just a bit rosier. Instead of looking at a defense struggling to stop anything, I’m looking at the success of Kyle Pitts, Drake London, and man oh man, Cordarrelle Patterson.
I don’t have much else to say except it’s nice to win one.
Drake London proved he was worth the 8th pick
I leave the draft picks to our draft specialists, but London was a bit of a risk. Terry Fontenot has taken an unusual route and kicked off the roster rebuild with the draft’s top tight end, then the next year, the draft’s top wide receiver. London had poor quarterback play at USC and was rehabbing from injury, limiting his pre-draft testing in a stout wide receiver class. For better or worse, London’s career will be tied to the likes of Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Jameson Williams (whenever he plays), Jahar Dotson and Treylon Burks. Olave is on an unprecedented pace, but London has already proven he was worth the 8th pick. His size and speed combination appears to be a perfect fit for Arthur Smith’s offense, and he looks like a grizzled veteran despite missing nearly all of preseason with a knee injury.
While it is early, London is in great company in Atlanta. After three games, he has 8 more offensive yards than Julio Jones and 8 fewer offensive yards than Calvin Ridley at this point in their rookie seasons. That should give us hope for Pro Bowl potential. No questions about Fontenot’s use of pick 8.
Richie Grant has arrived
The bright spots on the defense are few and far between, but last year’s second-round pick made a statement with the game-sealing pick of Geno Smith. Want to see it again? I know I do.
Grant played sparingly in his rookie season, and when he did, things were not looking optimistic. Of course, safety is one of the more difficult spots to learn, and Grant has looked like a new player in 2022. Grant also had a great read on a pass intended for speedster Tyler Lockett, using his impressive speed to break up the pass. Also, his play aligns with his eye-popping PFF scores.
Top-5 #Falcons PFF Defensive Grades vs. Seahawks (Week 3)— Evan Birchfield (@EvanBirchfield) September 26, 2022
1. FS Richie Grant - 86.4
2. DT Grady Jarrett - 79.7
3. CB Mike Ford - 78.3
4. DE Ta’Quon Graham - 77.3
5. LB Rashaan Evans - 76.0
Grant still isn’t perfect (and again, is playing a tough position in a defense reportedly tough to learn), but if Atlanta gets this sort of impact from a few more of its young players, Atlanta will win a lot more games.
The rest of the defense has not arrived
I’m having trouble evaluating Dean Pees with this current roster. Pees has certainly forgotten more about football than nearly all other human beings even know about the sport. The same has been true for a number of defensive coaches who came and went in Atlanta. In fact, I’ve noticed more than a handful of similarities between this play-calling and former coach Mike Smith’s — another defensive guru who was a bit too old school in an evolving NFL.
For Pees, his defense has been run over by all of its opponents. The defense is at or near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories (including 32nd in opposing quarterback’s completion percentage), but sitting above average in sacks and interceptions.
Let’s cross our fingers and hope we see some progress from some of 2021’s league-worst categories.
Arthur Smith’s offense is fun
I’m close to taking my hat off to Smith’s offense. You have some extremely interesting stats: 9th in points, 9th in yards per play, 9th in first downs (is this this Sim City tax code?), and 8th in offensive DVOA (after spending so much of last season at 32nd). I don’t even care about those stats. This offense is fun as hell, in addition to being regularly frustrating, of course. Smith can coach and has overcome a number of roster deficiencies to give us something really fun to watch. The combination of Kyle Pitts, London, and Patterson has created non-stop highlight reels.
Who knew putting together the biggest and fastest offensive weapons would be a recipe for success? Can an offense cause you to pull your hair out one play and scream in excitement the next? That’s what Smith has. Imagine it with a few more pieces.