That was not the bounce-back performance Falcons fans flocked to Wembley Stadium to see. For the majority of Sunday’s 23-7 loss to the Jaguars, the Falcons couldn’t consistently move the ball or take control of the action.
Jacksonville was a better team than its 1-2 record entering the game indicated, but Atlanta is left with some real lingering questions after falling to 2-2. A matchup against the suddenly hot Houston Texans awaits, so the Falcons need to get things cleaned up rather quickly.
Here’s a look at the players whose stocks benefitted from the trip overseas and those whose didn’t.
He’s been a frequenter of this section so far through four games, which is exactly what the Falcons hoped for when they paired the long-time Saint with Grady Jarrett on the interior. While we expected Onyemata’s presence to help unleash Jarrett, the opposite may be happening in the early portion of the season.
Onyemata registered 1.5 sacks and seven tackles, highlighting just how active he was as both a pass rusher and run defender. Entering Sunday’s game, Onyemata had a PFF grade of 89.6, which was second on the defense behind Jessie Bates.
Robinson is the asterisk next to any statement about Atlanta’s offensive performance against Jacksonville. He was simply excellent. The highlight plays were abundant, and he showed the ability to carry this offense for stretches.
Whether Arthur Smith decides to make Robinson the clear focal point moving forward remains to be seen, but the rookie is making a strong case for an even bigger workload. He had 19 touches in London for 137 yards, moving his total yardage for the season to 452.
One hand Robinson!— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) October 1, 2023
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I truly feel dirty giving two of these three spots to offensive players after the team scored just 7 points, but Smith was the only real threat in the receiving game for Atlanta. He turned in the type of performance that I expect to see more of throughout the season.
Smith is so good at gaining yards after the catch, and that was on full display against Jacksonville. Against the Jaguars, Smith caught all six passes thrown his way for 95 yards, including a 33-yarder in the fourth quarter. He now has 15 catches for 179 yards over the last three games.
I’m not one to call for a player’s benching, because I believe we have much less information about what goes into that type of decision than the actual coaching staff. Therefore, I will always defer to them. However, Ridder has not shown the growth fans had hoped for through the first four games.
On Sunday, he threw his first career pick-six and had his first multi-interception game. Both plays occurred while Ridder seemingly stared down his primary read – a point the broadcast emphasized – and cost the Falcons any momentum they were trying to build heading into halftime.
“Throughout the first half, did a terrible job of taking care of the ball,” Ridder said after the game. “I had two picks obviously wish we could have back, one pick-six. That changed the momentum of the game. So obviously looking back we got to find a way to start fast, so whatever that may be, however it is, that’s just what we got to do. Then I got to do a better job taking care of the ball.”
That Pitts’s name appears here is more an indictment of the offense than the player. Outside of his rookie season, Pitts has not become the true focal point of Atlanta’s passing game that many expected he would be when the Falcons selected him with the No. 4 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Pro Bowler was once again a non-factor against Jacksonville, even after Atlanta fell behind by multiple touchdowns. He was targeted just four times – less than Smith, Robinson and Drake London – and caught two passes for 21 yards. At this point, Pitts may be the league’s most talented decoy.
I don’t relish putting the Falcons’ long-time left tackle here, and he’s continued to play reasonably well in 2023. But these last two games have been a bit tougher for Matthews. He allowed three pressures and a sack against Detroit, and the Jaguars had success getting to Ridder through Matthews on Sunday.
While the team captain is in his 10th NFL season, the recent dip in play is likely due more to Atlanta’s overall offensive struggles than any serious decline on his part. Hopefully, Matthews will bounce back next week against a Texans defense that entered Sunday with just seven sacks on the year.