It was inevitable, but the Falcons finally had its first ugly game of the season. In its first trip outside of Atlanta, the Falcons looked jet lagged. That’s a problem with an overseas trip to London on deck.
The Falcons have a lot to fix on a short week after this bad loss to the Detroit Lions. Here are a few takeaways from the game we just watched.
The Falcons can’t stick to what it does best
The Falcons spent most of the first half trying to become a passing offense. In 2022, the Falcons run/pass ratio was the highest in the league. In Week 1, the Falcons rode the run game to an impressive win. Atlanta passed the ball 16 times in the half and ran it only 8 times (with one being a Ridder scramble). The result was one field goal. With a young quarterback and a bad pass blocking line (more on that below), this is a confusing game plan. Perhaps if the Falcons had fallen far behind, but most of this was during a one possession game.
In the first half, the Lions were sending extra bodies at Ridder on obvious passing downs and the offensive line couldn’t protect. In the second half, the Lions were rushing four and dropping more players into coverage... and Atlanta wide receivers couldn’t get open.
Some choices along the offensive line, such as bringing back Kaleb McGary the inability to fully restock the wide receiver depth showed up on Sunday. Arthur Smith needs to work some magic or the Falcons need another offseason to fully rebuild the roster.
Desmond Ridder falls flat
Speaking of positions that may need an upgrade, Desmond Ridder was off all day. Poor ball placement, held onto the ball too long, and rarely sent the ball deep. He didn’t get a lot of help, but he also didn’t help himself.
There were too many times he created some room with his feet, looked downfield, then tossed it near the line of scrimmage. Not to be too reactionary, but Ridder needs to flash starter talent. He needs to show some development and improvement to prove he is more than just a backup. Twenty-one for 38 for 201 yard with a lost fumble and zero touchdowns isn’t going to cut it, and that’s ignoring multiple “almost” interceptions. Seeing how Ridder responds will be a good indicator for what to expect for the rest of the year.
Red zone/short yardage defense holds on
I really have to give credit to Ryan Nielsen for the defense’s dramatic turnaround this season. Not only has the run defense been stout, the defense has consistently come up big on short yardage and red zone situations. Thanks to a penalty, the Detroit offense had nearly two full drives to score short in the red zone. Detroit walked away with only three points. A few new faces, like Kaden Elliss and David Onyemata have been a big part in the defensive turnaround.
Big credit to Grady Jarrett, who was beating double teams, and Calais Campbell for using his dad strength to beat up Penei Sewell. Atlanta has great depth along the defensive line... but the EDGE...
The lack of an EDGE is a problem
Jared Goff has been entering a bit of a renaissance (the Jarenaissance?) and the Falcons defense only contributed to his impressive recent resume. Goff at one point his seven straight completions. Past the stats, Goff rarely saw pressure behind the line. The Falcons were able to shut down the run game but couldn’t penetrate on pass downs. We knew the Falcons wouldn’t have much at EDGE but the hope was better depth would help with something.
Not against Detroit. Bud Dupree provided some nice juice, including a hit and batted pass in the third quarter that shook Goff, but the Falcons need a lot more than that across 60 minutes. The Falcons get better impact just from Grady Jarrett than the entire EDGE group.
The pass blocking is a problem
Arthur Smith has focused on the passing offense at the start of the last two games. The result was quick pressure thanks to lackluster pass blocking. There were problems across the line, with basically everyone outside of Jake Matthews beaten up by a very good Lions defensive line. Kaleb McGary in particular has been at one extreme or the other each game this season, with some less than impressive plays by Matthew Bergeron and, surprisingly, Chris Lindstrom.
I think this line feels most comfortable when run blocking. On a five-step drop, one if not multiple blockers will let someone through. With all said and done, Ridder was sacked 7 times for 62 yards.
The Falcons need an identity
While we’ve been hearing it for years, if not decades, the team didn’t play a 60 minute game. The defense looks worlds better than the offense which is not something we’ve been able to say for years. On the road, the offense looked flat without a clear game plan of what it wanted to do, while the defense still can’t get to the quarterback. Going conservative and kicking a field goal while down 17 in the middle of the 4th quarter is not a recipe for success; this team seems very comfortable being a run-first team at times and other times seems lost.
This may sound harsh, but being a head coach is more than saying you don’t care about fantasy football, especially when your team puts a performance like that out there. Fans, and ownership, have to look at today’s performance and wonder why the team took Kyle Pitts, Kyle London, and Bijan Robinson so early.
Arthur Smith needs to take a look at what his team should be doing and how to implement that plan. Given how big that ask is, it’s bad timing with a trip to London to face the Jaguars on deck.