As exhausting and grueling as it was, the win over Tampa Bay has to be considered to be one of the Atlanta Falcons’ best performances of the season. They soundly outplayed their rival on both sides of the ball, an effort complete with long drives offensively and pivotal stops defensively. There were some big plays allowed, but this was a game where only one team was the deserved winner. Unfortunately for Arthur Smith’s side, three red zone turnovers made this game far more dramatic than it should have been.
Desmond Ridder’s hat trick of fumbles made this one of the most excruciating games in Smith’s tenure as head coach. In the end, the enigmatic quarterback did his share in the pocket and led the Falcons to a crucial victory. There will be a breakdown of some of his finest moments, along with the running game making up for Bijan Robinson being sidelined and another outstanding defensive performance.
Editor’s Note: Due to time constraints this week, the GIF review is going to be reduced to the Falcons’ biggest highlights. There will be a more well-rounded review showing both positive and negative plays in the future.
Play Action Scotty Shot Play
There was criticism over the Falcons running too many two-man route concepts at the start of the season. It’s quieted down in recent weeks following three consecutive good-to-great performances from the aerial attack, with the coaching staff making a conscious effort to move away from the plodding passing attack of the first few weeks. Smith called a tremendous game by attacking Todd Bowles’ unit in a multitude of ways. The Yankee concept couldn’t have been dialed up at a better time to attack Tampa Bay’s Cover 3. They run max protect to make sure the long-developing play comes to fruition.
One interesting aspect of this huge completion was Scotty Miller being used as the vertical option over Van Jefferson. Despite trading for Jefferson to add much-needed explosiveness at wide receiver, Miller can still make a difference in a contributing role. He possesses the long speed and route running to make timely plays. As Drake London runs a deep over, the former Buc pulls off a double move on the deep post to create enough separation from Carlton Davis for the 46-yard pass. It was starting to become a yearly tradition for former Falcons playing for Tampa Bay to have revenge games in this matchup. The tide turned in this one.
Run Game Keeps Grinding
Runs over ten yards usually happen when the Falcons decide to run counter. It’s one of the most devastating play designs in the coaching staff’s arsenal. The alignment is fascinating, with Jake Matthews lined up alongside Kaleb McGary with an overload on the right. They put their best blocking tight end MyCole Pruitt to the left side to compensate for the personnel variation. He unloads on William Gholston and erases him from the play. That helps Matthew Bergeron fake down inside and pull back outside for the kick-out block.
Cordarrelle Patterson and Keith Smith are in unison on the counter, with the fullback making a solid lead block on Lavonte David. That allows Patterson to cut inside and get loose into the open field. This is one of the first runs where the beloved multi-dimensional playmaker looks like his old self by running over Antoine Winfield Jr. to finish the run violently. Another well-timed play call from Smith with a unique offensive line alignment, fantastic all-around execution, and a highlight-reel finish.
For what seems like the fourth or fifth time this season, it took a few quarters of staying committed to the run to wear down a ferocious defensive front. Tampa Bay has established itself as one of the most stout run defenses over the past several seasons, led by mammoth nose tackle Vita Vea and one of the best linebacker tandems in David and Devin White. The running game persistence eventually paid off, with Tyler Allgeier breaking open for one of his better runs. What makes this run notable is how the second-year running back continues to play with improved elusiveness. After McGary is too slow off the line of scrimmage and Bergeron fails to get much contact on his cut block, Allgeier is faced with Greg Gaines in the hole, cutting back inside to evade Shaq Barrett’s pursuit.
His sharp cut allows him to glide past Gaines and pick up extra yardage. Drew Dalman and Chris Lindstrom combine well to create movement up front, while Matthews does an outstanding job of sealing off the edge defender. A combination of great blocking from three of Atlanta’s best offensive linemen on the day and Allgeier’s growth as a runner leads to a positive nine-yard run on first down. The poor yards per carry and Bijan Robinson’s ascendance to greatness have overshadowed Allgeier this season. He has played far better than the stat sheet indicates. This was one of his best games of the season when the team needed him to step up.
Third Down Design
Going seven for 13 on third down is a solid indicator of how efficient an offensive performance was. Smith’s play calling was excellent for most of the game, especially in third and long scenarios. The way he schemed this up to give Ridder a high-percentage look and easily convert on third down is how offenses maintain a strong rhythm throughout the game. This is a nifty rub route concept with Patterson and London, as the rising star receiver shows good patience in timing his break outside underneath and creates space to get the first down.
Patterson wisely continues his route, battling through contact and not getting overly physical. As much as the refs loved throwing flags in this matchup, they couldn’t possibly penalize Patterson for setting a pick. His arms were literally in the air as he accelerated downfield. This is a shrewd play design followed by picture-perfect execution for a key third-down conversion and near touchdown.
Ridder-Pitts Rapport Hits New High
Many of the Falcons’ big plays in the air stem from Pitts and London lining up on the same side. Sometimes, it can be on a stack release or high-low concept. While it initially looks like another high-low route design, Pitts doesn’t go as vertically on his route. He fakes the over and changes direction to the outside. That takes Lavonte David away, which helps provide Ridder a clear passing window downfield as London goes from what appeared to be a dig into a curl.
The play is well-designed and gives defenders a conundrum on where the pass is going, considering it revolves around the team’s two most dynamic pass-catchers. Ridder throws a dart to Pitts with great anticipation as the ball is out just when Pitts breaks out from the top of the route. This was a significant moment for Ridder and Pitts in what has been a hugely encouraging past three weeks for both players, who faced numerous questions following a troubling first four games of the season.
The Rewards of Being the Positionally Sound Land Man
When your defense plays with such great anticipation and discipline, the chances of creating turnovers increase. Ryan Nielsen’s defense hadn’t forced many turnovers going into this game despite their excellent all-around play. They finally reaped the rewards of being a compact unit that doesn’t miss many tackles or commit mental errors. Deven Thompkins is put in speed motion and receives the touch pass on a misdirection play to get the defense off balance. Nate Landman and Bud Dupree weren’t fooled in the slightest.
Both players read the design and cut off the angle for the speedy wide receiver to accelerate. After evading multiple tacklers, Thompkins spins directly into the waiting arms of Landman. Never over-aggressive, always positionally assured, the young linebacker has ample time to close in and punch the ball out. It was a terrific play from one of Atlanta’s true unsung heroes. Landman is one of the sharpest players on the defense, who deservingly earned his shining moment with the forced fumble.
Star Players Delivering
After a difficult first half, committing multiple penalties and allowing a 40-yard touchdown to Mike Evans, A.J. Terrell bounced back nicely in the second half. Evans has given him the most problems out of any wide receiver in his career. Big, physical wide receivers who play with excellent body control and consistently make contested catches can give Terrell fits. The star corner didn’t shy away from the challenge after being tasked with shadowing him. On the first play in the second half for the defense, he remains poised in coverage, anticipating where Evans will break at the top of his route. The stellar wide receiver looks to run a deep out and subtly pushes off in his signature way. Terrell smoothly flips his hips and times his break on the ball to perfection.
It’s a terrific pass breakup that set the tone for a much-improved second-half performance from the entire secondary. David Onyemata creates pressure coming out of the Falcons’ bear front, where they have Arnold Ebiketie playing shadow. It was another monster performance from Onyemata, who was clawing his way past double teams and getting into the backfield repeatedly. His terrific hand usage continues to shine in all aspects.
Terrorizing Ground Games
This was another superb showing defending the run. Shutting down running games has become one of the signature standards under Nielsen. With such a powerful, versatile defensive line and two savvy, physical linebackers, they can create penetration and close down potential gaps. Landman and Kaden Elliss do an outstanding job on the third and short in beating multiple blocks at the point of attack and getting into the backfield.
They burst to the ball and take excellent angles to get an impressive third-down short-yardage stop. Both linebackers bring such a physical edge and high intelligence to the position. They continue to play at a high level and push the defense forward as one of the top run-stopping units in the league.
Another week, another masterful display from Calais Campbell on how to set the edge and disrupt running games. The urge to play more on the edge is one of the driving forces behind his signing with Atlanta. It’s evident how much he enjoys the role by matching up against tackles and utilizing his unique skill set to shut down running plays before they can materialize.
The six-time Pro Bowler is standing up on this occasion rather than putting his hand in the dirt in a traditional stance. That allows his terrific technique and eternal athleticism to pull off a swift inside swim move to cause the big tackle for a loss. LaCale London and Onyemata deserve praise for their efforts to disengage from blocks and be in pursuit of finishing off the play.
Richie Grant Pounces
Lining up in a two-high shell while playing a mixture of zone and man, the coverage alignment had to impact Mayfield’s processing. With Godwin running a deep post against Okudah’s tight coverage, there had to be an inkling Grant would provide help over the top with the star wide receiver’s separation ability. The former second-round pick has other ideas in playing with anticipation by reading the quarterback’s eyes to make the right decision. No matter the game or situation or lack of a passing window, Mayfield is going to throw the ball with confidence that he can complete it.
That mindset proved to be costly in a crucial moment as Grant closed in on an inaccurately thrown ball. Between Elliss’ strong coverage and the lack of spacing on the play design, it aligned nicely for Grant to break on the ball for a massive interception. This defense is too good to only have Jessie Bates produce an interception this season. Another safety makes the stat sheet for that category on the team and plays a pivotal role in securing the win.