The Falcons seem to be descending to new lows every few weeks. After a rare impressive win against an Indianapolis Colts team that hadn’t been struggling before that game, we had to consider the possibility that the team was heading in the right direction. That possibility didn’t last long after the Falcons were blown out and embarrassed by the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
We’re running out of things to learn from a team that has consistently had the same problems, but here’s our best takeaways on the current state of the Falcons.
Atlanta’s offense reverts back to a tire fire
We’ve seen the news the last few weeks about Arthur Smith’s job security. It seems to boil down to Smith not having done poorly enough to get fired, but he still has opportunity to mess things up. To keep his job, Smith needs his offense to look like something other than a turd. At the very least, a polished one, maybe.
There were definite signs of struggle. There was clear confusion on Atlanta’s third down nearing the red zone in the first half where Atlanta’s pass catchers clearly didn’t know the play. Heinicke ended up throwing incomplete to the other side of the field, then Younghoe Koo missed the field goal in the cold.
This was an ongoing issue, as on another important third down in the middle of the 2nd quarter. Heinicke was still trying to communicate with his pass catchers as the clock was running down. Same result: no conversion and the Falcons punt.
Absent Tyler Allgeier’s 75-yard rumble for a touchdown and a handful of throws and Bijan Robinson runs, the offense looked bad all day.
Taylor Heinicke does his best Desmond Ridder impression
For all the discussion about who is starting and who should be starting, the Falcons get pretty consistent results regardless of who is there. Heinicke, when plugged into a pressure situation and needing to throw down the field, tossed three interceptions. He really tried turning it over with two very-nearly intercepted passes, and there was a bobbled snap early in the game. The Falcons made the move from Ridder because of the turnovers, but Heinicke is still turning the ball over without Ridder’s comparatively more aggressive throws.
In his last few games, Heinicke starts out looking deep, but will rarely send the ball that way. Even late in the game when forced to push the ball down the field, Heinicke was frequently off target, missing Van Jefferson late in the 4th.
Looking at his final numbers, Heinicke ended up completing fewer than half his passes for under 200 yards. He did perhaps his best Ridder impression by turning the ball over repeatedly then getting benched. Maybe we should see Logan Woodside suit up in the final week of the season. I don’t think he will be good, but at least it would make things interesting.
The Falcons got an up-close look at Justin Fields
Despite Chicago’s recent win streak, we know that Justin Fields is all but gone from the Bears. Chicago has the draft’s top selection thanks to the Carolina Panthers, and the smart money is on the team walking away with USC’s Caleb Williams.
The Bears came out aggressive in the snow with Justin Fields uncorking a deep pass. He successfully connected with DJ Moore for 32 yards. That wasn’t it on the first drive — Fields hit Moore, on coverage from Jessie Bates, in the back corner of the end zone. At the end of the first, Fields has a beautiful over-the-shoulder pass to Moore on coverage by AJ Terrell — something we haven’t seen in Atlanta in quite some time. Early in the second quarter, Fields bounced the ball outside for a rushing touchdown. Fields’ best play may have been in the third quarter on 3rd and 8 as he shook two near-sacks, evaded further pressure, and turned the corner for a first. It was absolutely ridiculous.
It was a full display of all the things the Falcons have been missing. With the Falcons likely missing out on the top quarterbacks in the upcoming draft, Fields may be Atlanta’s top option in the offseason.
Kyle Pitts again a non-factor
If Arthur Smith tried putting together a competent offense, he did it without featuring former fourth overall pick Kyle Pitts. We’ve been waiting for Pitts to turn into an elite weapon. Things looked good his rookie season, but too often, he’s been a non-factor since. With Smith knowing his seat is heating up, he’s still not featuring Pitts. Pitts had five targets, resulting in only one catch for five yards. That’s the same number of targets as Van Jefferson and one more than Jonnu Smith. That isn’t signifying that Pitts is indeed the once-in-a-generation unicorn at the tight end position.
There’s no good way to put it. Whatever has happened with Pitts — which has never been made clear to the fans — has been a disaster. What’s the deal with Pitts? Is it bad quarterback play? Scheme? Injury? Or is he just not the kind of player who is good enough to clearly outperform Jonnu Smith?
The only thing we know is that Pitts hasn’t paid off.
Bears showing off it made the smarter moves
There’s a handful of moves the Bears made that the Falcons decided against. We know the Falcons passed on Justin Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Kyle Pitts. More recently, the Falcons were in on Montez Sweat, but were outbid by the Bears. You can argue about the merits of both those moves and how the Falcons could’ve afforded to outbid Chicago, but you can see the results right now. The Bears were able to add players at premium positions, which paid off in the win.
The Falcons walked away with Pitts, discussed above, and an open hole at EDGE. These don’t seem like rare misses, as the Falcons have consistently eschewed long-held positional values. The Falcons have taken a tight end, wide receiver, and running back with top picks under Terry Fontenot, while ignoring the defensive line in particular and the quarterback spot. Atlanta had the option to fill gaping holes at its top positions.
Instead, it got beat by the team that addressed two of the most important positions in football. It’s just one game, but we saw how important that can be.