The Falcons beat their most dreaded rival, surged to the top of the division...and yet things weren’t all peachy in the Peach State. The Falcons had a bye week, made yet another quarterback change, and yet the team seemed to still be stuck in neutral.
We learned that a win doesn’t mean we saw significant improvement, and a lot more.
The Falcons still an unorganized, mistake-prone mess after the bye
Coming off a three-game losing streak, the Falcons had a bye week ahead of a home game to get things tightened up. That didn’t happen. We saw even more of our highly inconsistent, uneven Atlanta Falcons. You can point to the stat sheets and look at turnovers, but the more concerning thing is the offense looking just sloppy. Every drive is plagued by miscommunication, blown blocks, incorrect routes, incomprehensible play calling, and clearly confused players.
Halfway through Year 3, coming out of the bye week, at home, no team should look this poor. Stepping back from simply the Saints game, this team lacks the progress you expect to see after three years. Smith’s seat should be blistering hot with his unpolished, identity-less team that can’t utilize its talent. Smith walks away with a win but doesn’t look ready to beat anyone good.
With that said, the run game is humming again
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Atlanta’s early season was the ineffectiveness of the run game. After a healthy dose of criticism about Arthur Smith’s misuse of Bijan Robinson, the Falcons have re-dedicated itself to the run game... and things are working. Surprisingly, the run blocking and effectiveness appeared to regress despite the addition of Robinson and the big blocker Matthew Bergeron.
With Cordarrelle Patterson back and healthy, and Ridder (for the time being) back as starter, the run game’s versatility has proven tough to slow. While it may be tough to do this every game, the run game carried the team with 16 carries for Bijan, 10 for Tyler Allgeier, 8 for Cordarrelle Patterson, and 7 for Desmond Ridder. If we’re looking for a bright spot, it is here.
Terry Fontenot eats in March (and sleeps in April)
Jessie Bates III yet again looks like Atlanta’s best free agent signing since Alex Mack. Bates has made game-changing plays a few times so far this season, and Sunday’s game will definitely be included in a 2023 highlight reel, what with his pick 6 jumping in front of a pass in the red zone. Bates perfectly read Carr and jumped a passing route along the 8 yard line. Bates was already at full speed and bolted past every possible tackler for a 92-yard touchdown.
At the end of the third quarter, Bates punched the football out of Taysom Hill’s hands to force a turnover at the redzone. Another absolutely elite play that, again, kept points off of the board.
Speaking of free agency hits, what an exceptional game Sunday by Kaden Ellis who was making plays all four quarters. Despite the injury to Troy Andersen, Ellis hasn’t struggled with the lack of support and has entrenched himself as one of the defense’s top players. If only the draft picks were as successful as the free agent signings thus far.
Ridder giveth and taketh away
Ridder is pretty solid scrambling...when he isn’t fumbling. Ridder was benched for being too loose with the football, particularly on scrambles. It was good to see Ridder return to effective scrambling while being safe with the football for 15 yards early on. He did it again late in the second to convert an important third down. Ridder avoided the sack and ran away from multiple defenders.
Ridder’s biggest throws don’t show up big on the stat sheet. Ridder was looking to his right late in the 2nd quarter, pressure collapsed up the middle, but he kept the play alive with his feet, moved to the left, and completed a pass to Van Jefferson on the left sideline. That’s some next level awareness and the elite playmaking ability you want from a more veteran, mobile quarterback. To his credit, Ridder appears to have a great connection with Drake London. The two were on the same page multiple times throughout the game, including on London’s diving catch on a perfectly placed pass from Ridder for 26 yards in the first quarter.
What does show on the stat sheet is Ridder’s worst throws, such as the confusing red zone pick intended for Bijan Robinson. It looked like a timing route where the timing wasn’t quite right, however, Jonnu Smith and Robinson ended up at the same spot of the field. It is an ongoing problem with Atlanta’s offense which indicates either extremely poor offensive gameplanning or unprepared players who are in the wrong spots. Ignoring all of that, the Falcons were able to bully the Saints that drive by running the ball. Why abandon your strength once you hit the red zone? Smith’s red zone offense remains problematic.
Regardless, even if there is plenty of blame to go around, Ridder can’t force that sort of pass. His second interception can’t be met with any excuses.
Arthur Smith fumbles again
Did Smith use the bye to overthink his gameplan? The Falcons had two weeks to get ready for the Saints. It is clear the plan was to be aggressive. However, as we’ve seen in prior Super Bowls, sometimes there’s a difference between being aggressive and being foolish.
In the middle of the first quarter, Atlanta was down 0-3. The Falcons faced 3rd and 7 while in field goal range.
The play: Cordarrelle Patterson run up the middle for five yards.
Now facing 4th and 2, Atlanta already knew it wasn’t going for the field goal. It seems like a great opportunity to take the points and tie the game. However, the plan was to be in four down territory. Bijan Robinson was sent to the sideline. It looks like Ridder had an option to hand off to Tyler Allgeier, but kept it only to get stuffed trying to pull the corner.
A perplexing two plays if you want your team to get 7 yards.