As of November 7, 2021, the Atlanta Falcons sit at the seventh seed and firmly in the playoff picture in the NFC. Two weeks ago, the Falcons faithful were looking to see which premier draft pick they would wind up getting in the upcoming draft. That’s life as a Falcons fan. It’s like going to a different barber to get your haircut every week. There are some weeks that you get more than what you asked for, and there are weeks where you should probably wear a hat. Either way, the stability of the same barber would be so much better for your health. But, where’s the fun in that? Exactly. So, while Atlanta is in a good mood, let’s look at the current state of the 2021 Atlanta Falcons.
A Look into the Current State of the 2021 Atlanta Falcons
There cannot be a list of positives for this year’s Falcons team without talking about the emergence of Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson has proven time and time again that he is more than just the number one running back, according to PFF. He is an offensive weapon that can change the game with one play. Just ask the New Orleans Saints. Patterson’s 737 yards from scrimmage leads the team and is 15th in the league. Patterson is a threat at all three levels of the offense and is a more than worthy complement to fourth-overall pick Kyle Pitts. Especially with the current absence of the number one target, Calvin Ridley.
Speaking of Pitts, his early output for the Falcons has him in the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation. And he’s earned every bit of that consideration. When it comes to tight ends, Pitts is sixth in receptions, third in yards and fifth in targets per game. Arthur Smith has commented on Pitts’ ability to stay calm in pressure situations, which led to him making the key plays necessary for Atlanta to win versus the Miami Dolphins. Unfortunately, he only has one touchdown to show for his efforts. But his impact is felt throughout the game as he threatens to make a big play every time he touches the ball. His 15.2 yards per catch make him tied for 19th in the league.
The NFL is a league made for gunslingers. Atlanta is lucky enough to have one of the steadiest hands in the fight. Matt Ryan, with his heroics against the Saints on Sunday, recorded his 33rd fourth-quarter comeback. That makes him tied for sixth all-time in comebacks with Dan Marino and Matthew Stafford. Ryan’s 69.4% completion percentage ties him for fourth-best in the league with Dak Prescott and has found success on all three levels, showing command of the offense.
While the offensive line has improved from week to week, there is still a ton to improve on. Chris Lindstrom, Matt Hennessy, and Jake Matthews have all been good to serviceable on our line this year. However, third-year tackle Kaleb McGary and rookie Jaylen Mayfield have been thorns in the side of this somewhat productive offense. Mayfield’s struggles have been felt the most as he ranks 75th out of 76 eligible guards in the NFL. Fans knew that Mayfield would struggle, especially given his performance in the preseason. However, his improvements this year have come few and far in between for the Falcons offense.
With the struggles upfront, the running attack for the Falcons has been almost non-existent. They rank at the bottom of the league with a measly 80.3 yards rushing per game. This cannot be what Arthur Smith envisioned for his offense coming into the year, not with Mike Davis coming in this off-season. Mike Davis has found himself the beneficiary of a bad situation for his style of running back. Davis has found himself getting hit immediately when he touches the football or unable to get to the few holes formed in the line.
While Matt Ryan and company have had some flashes this year, there is no mistaking that this may be one of the thinner receiving corps in the NFL. After Calvin Ridley’s temporary departure, the number one option became Kyle Pitts. That’s usually not a bad thing unless the receivers after him are unproven commodities like Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus. These are nice secondary options that can give you production against lesser corners. However, they lack the consistent separation ability to be prolific receiving targets. The current state of the Atlanta Falcons receiving corps has much to be desired.
There are few positives when it comes to this Falcons defense. Dean Pees has made a concerted effort to play the veterans on this team instead of giving the younger guys some reps. One positive has come recently as nose tackle Anthony Rush has come in and carved a role in the defensive line. As always, Grady Jarrett can be relied on to be one of the top performers on our defensive line. Pees has outlined how even though Jarrett has not gotten to the quarterback as much, his presence is felt by opposing offenses.
The huge bright spot for this offense has come in the secondary in the form of second-year cornerback A.J. Terrell. He has cemented himself as one of the premier corners in the league with his plays on the football amidst his few targets. If one can find a stat that outlines how a corner is supposed to impact a game, A.J. Terrell has done it. He is the third-best cornerback according to PFF even if he has not yet had a chance to get his first interception of the year. The Falcons have found themselves a lockdown corner.
The defensive linemen that are here do not get pressure on the quarterback. With the departure of edge rusher Dante Fowler, heck even when we had him, Atlanta has had trouble getting consistent pressure on the quarterback. With a 7.7% hurry per drop-back percentage, the Falcons rank 26th out of the 32 teams. And the nail in the coffin, the Falcons rank dead last in sacks with only 11 and overall pressure percentage with 16.7%. For context, the number one team is the Buffalo Bills with 29.2%.
Even though these guys are not getting the pressure necessary, Dean Pees has shown apprehensiveness towards sending blitzes. Atlanta ranks 22nd in blitz per drop-back after showing, in the pre-season, that he was not afraid to manufacture pressure. Pees’ approach has evolved into this more conservative approach. Under the current state of the Atlanta Falcons defense, he simply does not have the personnel necessary to send the pressure Pees wants to.
Another problem is the fact that the Falcons cannot find a way off the field. Atlanta is tied for 26th in total turnovers with seven and is third in third-down conversion rate. Because of that inability to get off the field, the Falcons find themselves getting worn down late in games. That fact leads to the comebacks that Falcons fans “get heart attacks” from, as Cordarrelle Patterson so eloquently described.
That’s all I have to say.
The South Korean-born placekicker has been money for the Atlanta Falcons. Koo has gone 14/15 this season with a long of 53 yards and 17/17 on extra points. Koo has shown up in the clutch as he has won not one, not two, but three games on last-second field goals.
Also, the returners have been one of the more effective units in the league as both kick returns and punt returns have been in the top six in the league.
Cam Nizialek and Dustin Colquitt have had to share punting duties throughout the season due to Nizialek’s injury. It’s been a very middle-of-the-pack season as the Falcons are tied for 14th in yards per punt.
The Atlanta Falcons have been a very inconsistent team as they have been trying to carve out an identity both offensively and defensively. They’re much closer on the offensive side than the defensive side, that’s for sure. The current state of the Atlanta Falcons gives them a chance, however, that may turn out, to make the playoffs. And underneath a new regime with a thin roster, there’s not much more than Atlanta fans can ask for.