The Atlanta Falcons earned a very important win against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, so we all get to be happy for at least one week. Those are the rules in the NFL, where every week is a rollercoaster ride and the losing fan bases are left to sort through the fallout.
Fortunately, the Falcons are among the victors in Week 12, and they now sit in the driver’s seat once again in the NFC South—the Alan of conference divisions.
The road ahead is as easy as it’s always been for Atlanta if the team can stay out of its own way. Some key players have shown enough to earn our confidence in the weeks to come, and maybe they will make the difference down the stretch.
This spot really could go to all three running backs—especially rampaging bull Cordarrelle Patterson—but Arthur Smith said Robinson would be a focal point moving forward and boy was he on Sunday. Robinson led the Falcons with 16 carries for 91 yards and a score. He also caught three passes on six targets for 32 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown reception that essentially put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.
Smith mentioned in the lead-up to Sunday’s game that Robinson has been able to shoulder a pretty large mental load in terms of his responsibilities as well as the physical execution alongside of that. Most rookies begin to hit a wall as the season progresses. The Falcons hope the inverse is true with Robinson: that he’s just getting started.
We need to start thinking of a nickname for Bates because he’s veering into that rarified air in a very short time. The Falcons have five wins this season, and Bates is largely responsible for two of them. His two red-zone turnovers on Sunday were the difference in the game, especially when you consider the seven-point swing on his pick-six. Not only did that tack points on the board, but it changed the atmosphere in the building when things were in real jeopardy of going downhill early.
He’s always a consistent leader on the back end, but he’s also a savvy and game-changing playmaker when he needs to be. That he matched Tyrann Mathieu in turnovers yesterday is a fun little comparison. But where Mathieu plays with a Tasmanian Devil type of energy, Bates is cool and calculating.
Hellams just narrowly edged out Arnold Ebiketie for this spot, but the second-year pass rusher is progressing nicely. Nevertheless, Hellams continues to grow his role. He was in as the safety opposite Jessie Bates during some key red-zone possessions, and many late third downs in the game as well. Grant has struggled recently, and he was mentioned in my stock down heading into the bye week, but this doesn’t feel like Hellams has taken over his job. Instead, it seems the team feels comfortable deploying three safeties in moments it feels suits each one best. In my mind, it’s similar to when the team had Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee back there.
We’re on the verge of a real honesty moment with Pitts because something is not right here. Either he’s not back to full health, there’s something going on personally (which we won’t speculate about here) or the team is at a loss for how to use him correctly. The arguments about defenses taking him away no longer fly when nearly every team around the league finds ways to get their top weapons open or throw to them when they aren’t—that’s why those players are supposed to be elite, right? Pitts had two catches for 22 yards. That’s it. He’s had more than 50 yards receiving just twice this season, and he’s yet to top 100 yards. We continue to hear that he’s a generational talent, but that argument is weaker now than it’s ever been. With a decision on his fifth-year option coming up this offseason, there are still a ton of questions about what Pitts actually brings to this offense. That’s not at all what you want for a former No. 4 pick.
Dupree has been solid if not flashy this season, so this is not a full-throated criticism. And it’s not his fault he was asked to drop into coverage because the Falcons brought an overload blitz from the other side, but he was and it didn’t go too well. That’s part of the reason he ends up on this list, but he was also part of an Atlanta pass rush that didn’t really get to Derek Carr much on Sunday. More importantly, Dupree had a couple of chances and couldn’t finish. Better days will come because not every offensive line is as good as New Orleans’, but the Falcons are going to need their pass rush down the stretch and Dupree is a key veteran part of that.
Without Taylor Heinicke behind center, Hodge’s production dropped off once again. It was a fun couple of weeks for Hodge, who I genuinely enjoy as a receiver in this offense, but Scotty Miller and Van Jefferson look like they are getting more involved to his detriment. And once Mack Hollins returns from injury, there will be even more mouths to feed. At the start of training camp, Arthur Smith said that in hindsight, Hodge was a player they could have used more frequently in 2022. It’s starting to feel that way again this season.
Do you have any shoutouts or callouts from Sunday’s game? Let us know in the comments.