The GIF review series rolls on in breaking down another strange, discouraging Falcons’ loss where the offense looked fragmented, yet the defense continues to look solidified. It’s rare to see the defense play above expectations as the offense fails to score double-digits for the second consecutive game, at least for this team. There is plenty to dissect between an anemic passing game, a reinvigorated running game, and a hard-nosed defense.
Ridder’s London Debacle
The lack of decisiveness and ability to process has been among Desmond Ridder’s biggest hindrances this season. This sack on third down is a prime example of why the Falcons can’t get into a rhythm in the air. They run an empty set to spread the field and create mismatches, which isolates Bijan Robinson against Andre Cisco. All Ridder has to do is make a quick release after looking in Robinson’s direction to convert this third down. Instead, he hesitates and doesn’t trust himself to make the throw.
That leads to him bouncing into pressure, which has become a frustrating tendency in his game after not throwing to his first read. While Drew Dalman does get driven backward by Folorunso Fatukasi, the young quarterback’s inability to maneuver in the pocket when it collapses puts added pressure on an already discombobulating passing game and underachieving offensive line. An athletic quarterback who gained a reputation for being gritty and leading difficult comebacks in college shouldn’t be taking sacks so easily. This mistake-filled play set the tone for a disastrous performance.
This is one of the standard, high-percentage throws a quarterback must complete. Ridder has a clean pocket to work with. Hollins is roaming free in the soft area of Jacksonsville’s zone coverage. If Ridder puts some touch on the throw, it’s a 20+ yard completion to get the offense moving in the pursuit of a late-game comeback.
The pass ends up coming out flat, allowing Chad Muma to deflect it. Hitting your layups is something coaches reiterate to young quarterbacks. This is one of those plays that Ridder would love to get back, especially knowing how accurate he can be on intermediate passes. The Falcons can’t afford to waste away chunk play opportunities through the air, considering how few are being produced.
After setting Robinson in motion, they run a slant-flat route concept with London and Hollins. This is a Mike McCarthy special, as Aaron Rodgers would feast on defenses in the quick game with it. Facing Cover 3, there is an opportunity to hit Hollins for an easy first down. Tre Herndon decides to go over London’s slant instead of underneath the route. That decision disrupts London, keeping him from running a clean slant. It ends up looking more like a quick in-route based on Herndon’s presence. What makes it even more difficult for London comes from Darius Williams sitting on the route and beating him to the catch point.
This is a brutal misread by Ridder. The completion to Hollins was there to keep the drive moving. There have been times Ridder has attempted to force the ball to his number one receiver. It’s well-documented that Ridder and London have a strong friendship. The confidence they have in each other can’t translate into making self-inflicted errors like this that lead to severe consequences. Herndon’s decision to go over the slant should have simplified Ridder’s processing on the three-step drop. He ended up forcing a pass into where Williams was already anticipating the play on a disrupted route. Ridder must learn from a mistake NFL starting quarterbacks simply don’t make.
The second interception is as equally as crushing when you consider Ridder continues to stare down his first read. There is nothing he does that would make Cisco consider he is going elsewhere the ball. While there is no open receiving option off the Yankee concept, an NFL starting quarterback can’t be this careless when throwing the ball downfield. Cisco knows that Pitts is the primary target the entire way. He reads Ridders’ eyes and anticipates the intermediate crosser for the easy interception.
This is very reminiscent of Jessie Bates’ first interception as a Falcon. Staring down the primary read and throwing the ball in the middle of the field where the safety is positioned and closing off the space is asking for trouble. That Bates’ interception came from Bryce Young’s NFL debut. While this is only Ridder’s eighth start, the hope was for him to grow in his ability to read coverages and use his eyes better. That hasn’t happened consistently enough yet.
After being intercepted on two straight drives, Ridder nearly makes it a third consecutive drive by throwing well short of Hollins on a deep post. It’s a well-designed pass concept to dissect Cover 4, as Jonnu Smith runs a deep out to help create an evident opening downfield for Hollins against an undersized Williams. The big wide receiver can’t maximize his impressive downfield, contested catch skills with the throw not being catchable.
It’s an alarming underthrow, considering Ridder can certainly stand tall in the pocket and drive the ball downfield. Instead, it falls well short of Hollins, who is in a good position to make the catch if he is led properly. This ended one of the most disastrous first-half performances you’ll see from a quarterback this season. Ridder and Hollins have struggled to connect for the majority of the season, largely because of the former Bearcat’s accuracy.
In a game of devastating misses, this is arguably the biggest one of them all. It’s a long-developing play to bait the incoming rush to free up Tyler Allgeier and get down blocks from their athletic linemen into the open field. Both Dalman and Bergeron are capable of getting out in space to make blocks at the second level. They both, in unison, turn around and proceed to miss an onrushing Foye Oluokun.
If one of them blocks the former Falcon tackling machine, Allgeier hits the open field and gets at least a first down, if not more yardage. The collective blunder leads to a four-yard loss, which essentially derails the drive and proves to be a costly error. Although the offensive line recovered well after the disaster against Detroit, they still had moments of unacceptable errors.
Run Game Returns to Form
Although it took some time, the ground game got back to punishing and wearing down defensive fronts led by their stellar rookie running back and much-improved offensive line. They used a solid base of zone concepts to enforce double teams and get defenders moving laterally away from the ball carrier. Chris Lindstrom had an outstanding performance following a pedestrian start to the season by his All-Pro standards.
The way he drove Jeremiah Ledbetter back several yards allowed Robinson easy-access yardage untouched. Bergeron does a terrific job of sealing off Roy Robertson-Harris to prevent him from getting any chance of bringing down Robinson. These runs were significant in injecting life into a floundering offense and making the game competitive in the second half.
Outside zone blocking has always been one of Arthur Smith’s best play-calling friends. He went to it time and time again, attacking Jacksonville’s overmatched front. The entire offensive line drives to the left to create a massive cutback lane for Robinson. Kaleb McGary leads the charge by manhandling Adam Gotsis at the point of attack.
With Scotty Miller shielding away a pressing Rayshawn Jenkins in an effective manner, Robinson can accelerate into the open field for a 38-yard run. This was tremendously put together and exemplifies what can happen when an entire team handles their blocking assignments.
This big play showcases how dynamic the running game can be. Dalman’s agility makes him such a valuable asset in these crafty counter designs. With Lindstrom bulldozing and stonewalling every defender in sight in this game, Dalman gets into space and makes pivotal blocks. The way he shifts and seals the edge for Robinson to turn the corner without resistance is outstandingly done.
Hollins demonstrates why he was considered one of the best blocking receivers in the league last year by delivering a hard shoulder into Oluokun’s chest. The physicality of the former Raider has to be one of the main reasons why Arthur Smith wanted him in Atlanta. This is an overall fantastic play where Robinson’s electrifying speed helps turn terrific play design and blocking into a 20+ yard run.
London Bridges into the End Zone
A strong play design and fantastic execution led to Atlanta’s lone touchdown in the game. Using a stack release with London and Pitts together produced several big plays during the first three games last season. More times than not, the rising star wide receiver was the beneficiary as Pitts did the brunt of the play. This route concept is an excellent way to create openings and put your playmakers in favorable scenarios.
With an accurate back shoulder throw from Ridder, London can use his frame and strong hands to shield the ball away from Herndon. What makes this play even better is the usage of short motion. That allows London to get a free release to help ensure the timing is on point for the touchdown. This was a much-needed confidence booster for the entire offense.
Staying Stout Against the Run
The defense has made impressive strides since getting gashed on the ground by Carolina on opening weekend. They’ve become more reactive, organized, and solidified as a collective unit. It’s no surprise Grady Jarrett continues to be at the forefront whenever the Falcons’ defense is successful. On third and short, the defense is aligned in a bear front, with Jarrett surprisingly lined up as a 0-tech. That’s the last area you’d envision the former Pro Bowler lining up in. There is nothing about his skill set that resembles a nose tackle.
It ends up working nicely to force a fourth down and what proved to be a red zone stop. Jarrett uses that remarkable first step and agility to loop under to trip up Travis Etienne. It’s a tremendous play by a player who consistently disrupts opposing running games in all sorts of eye-opening ways.
Don’t overlook Jessie Bates’ ability to slide into the box to go along with his tremendous cover skills and instincts as a deep-lying safety. His play recognition allows him to time his break towards the ball carrier perfectly. There is no need to waste movement or rush into traffic.
By watching the run get bounced to the outsides, Bates accelerates into the open gap and earns a tackle for a loss. A game doesn’t go by with the outstanding safety making a high-impact play. He is the complete package as a safety.
There are two to three plays a week where Calais Campbell sets the edge and holds a run to no or a minimum gain. How he plays with such technical hand usage, power, and leverage makes him a nightmare for tackles to block. He powers his way through the block to disengage and close in on Etienne.
Bates does equally as well in fighting through a block at the point of attack to help finish the tackle. The defense is performing well in all three phases when it comes to run support. They refuse to let teams get comfortable on the ground after opening week’s disappointing showing against the run.
Turn Up Those Blitzes
Nielsen ramped up the blitzes to force Trevor Lawrence out of sync with his weapons. Jacksonville’s offense is built around timing and precision. If the defense can generate pressure, they can begin to look sloppy. Nielsen has Ebiketie drop into coverage again, who ends up tracking a shallow cross. Campbell twists inside to take on multiple blocks, creating space for the defensive backs.
Richie Grant comes through the open B-gap and forces Lawrence into a wobbly underthrown ball. Blitzing proved to be hugely beneficial against a below-average offensive line that lacks rhythm following multiple starters being sidelined. The Falcons are more aggressive and unpredictable within the new defensive scheme.
In Atlanta’s opening two games, there were far more linebacker blitzes than safety blitzes. That has noticeably changed over the past two games. This play personifies the strategic switch to use the speed from the back end and causes quarterbacks to adjust to these different looks. In the process, an edge rusher like Ebiketie will spot-drop into coverage.
Jacksonsville’s interior never saw it coming, with Grant and Bates swarming into the A-gap. Etienne is forced to pick up Grant, leaving Bates with an open lane, forcing Lawrence into an inaccurate throw. Dee Alford does well to disrupt the route and maintain excellent positioning. This was a quality third down stop, holding Jacksonville to three points.
Coverage Mishaps and New Alignments
This was one of those early plays where missed opportunities and miscommunication doomed the Falcons. Nielsen dialed up one of his several well-constructed blitzes to get Grant a clear lane on Lawrence. One of the worst things you can do as a blitzer is leave your feet and not make a play on the ball. If Grant stays composed, the coverage bust doesn’t get capitalized on.
Terrell and Bates are two of the most instinctual, aware defensive backs in the league. For them to be not on the same page is rare. In what appears to be Cover 4, Terrell expects safety help. Evan Engram’s deep crosser commands Bates’ attention, leaving no help over the top on a go-route from Calvin Ridley. A brutal miss from Grant followed by a communication breakdown from Terrell and Bates leads to the secondary being posterized on this touchdown.
Doug Pederson did a great job in making Christian Kirk heavily involved in the game plan. With his sharp route-running and on-field intelligence in finding soft zones, he is a unique playmaker for them with his ability to shred defenses in the slot. He presses inside as if he is running a post only to alter his movement into running a deep corner. Grant is left on an island as the Falcons are playing zone.
It’s a well-designed passing concept to produce a chunk play off play action. The other notable aspect of this play is how deep Ebiketie is dropping into coverage. Could this be in an effort for him to become more versatile and find his niche in a more mature defense? Time will tell for Arthur Smith’s squad.
This could have been another colossal coverage bust involving Bates. As the deep-lying safety, it’s surprising to see him close in so suddenly. It seems like he is reading Lawrence’s eyes and attempts to anticipate him trying to connect with Evan Engram, who has become one of his most dependable options on third down.
As the former second-team All-Pro decides to close in, Kirk runs downfield with no defender tracking him. Lawrence bails the pocket early and ends up missing him for a surefire touchdown. The Falcons’ secondary got caught out a few times and were fortunate not to allow a second touchdown off a coverage bust.
Before praising the fourth down stop, it’s evident Lawrence missed Kirk on the back corner. Okudah is caught a bit flat-footed and stumbles while trying to flip his hips. This could have easily been a touchdown and essentially ended the game in the first half.
The defense still deserves credit for how they crowded the middle part of the field and caused Lawrence to panic. Numerous defenders were watching his eyes while disrupting the crossing pattern concept by being organized. The slide protection to the left gives Campbell an opening to swarm Lawrence. Onyemata ends up reaping the rewards for the compact coverage in the middle of the field.
In highlighting determination, it’s fitting to end the review with one of the most determined players on the defense. Alford’s remarkable rise from CFL star to valuable contributor has been remarkable. After flashing in limited snaps last season, the new coaching staff has firmly believed in him as a nickel corner. Outside of a few mental errors, his performances have been lights out.
The edge he plays with makes a difference in shutting down quick passing plays like this designed screen. He recognizes play designs often and beats the blocker in charging downhill to shut it down immediately. His tackling is always on point, as well. Plays like this validate the work done to create defensive improvements.