Hot: Matt Ryan and Julio Jones
(Not So) Hot Take: Matty Ice and Julio have been the best players in the league at their positions this year. There’s no need for explanation, as both continue to have dominant years in the second year of Kyle Shanahan’s offense. This game against the Buccaneers cemented Ryan as the leading MVP candidate, and paired with Julio Jones, even casual NFL fans are finally admitting that this is the best QB-WR duo on the planet.
Hot: Taylor Gabriel
Gabriel has been another great find by the Falcons front office in 2016. This was a player who was cut by the Cleveland Browns, but is now turning into a key contributor for a contending team, again showing the incompetency of the Browns organization. Gabriel’s role has been increasing quickly, and he is on his way to cementing himself as the team’s primary slot receiver. This week he caught all 5 of his targets for 52 yards, also adding 24 yards and a touchdown on the ground. With his 4.28 speed beginning to translate to the field, Gabriel could become an extremely versatile playmaker in this dynamic offense.
Hot: DeVondre Campbell
In his first full game as a starter since an ankle injury, the fourth-round linebacker had the best game of his young career against Tampa Bay. Campbell led the team in tackles, including 8 solo to go along with a pass deflection. He faired well against both the pass and run, making use of his favorable speed-size combination to make plays all around the field.
Hot: Keanu Neal
Neal again improved his case for NFL defensive rookie of the year, delivering another batch of trademarked bone-crushing hits against a weakened Tampa Bay offense. Despite missing the first two games of the season, Keanu Neal leads the team in tackles and is already making veteran-type plays. Wide receivers will now be very cautious coming down with the ball against this Falcons defense after what Keanu did to Mike Evans after his spectacular catch.
Hot: Defensive Line
This unit looks absolutely stellar compared to last year’s abysmal 19 sack season. Atlanta has already surpassed that total, and did so in about half the amount of games it took in 2015. Even without edge rusher Dwight Freeney, the Falcons pass rush was rock solid in what was truly a group effort. Everyone was involved, which is not an exaggeration by any means. Nose tackle Grady Jarrett had a two sack performance even though his primary job is to stuff the run, and Adrian Clayborn is making his contract look like a major bargain after a dominant game with a sack and three QB hits. Although held sack-less on Thursday, Vic Beasley led the team with five QB pressures, and newly-converted defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw added four of his own. Even Brooks Reed showed flashes of strong pass rushing, adding a QB hit via a swift spin move.
Cold: Justin Hardy
Although he has been dependable when called upon, Hardy is having trouble living up to his second-year expectations. After going without a reception on Thursday, it looks as if Taylor Gabriel has officially supplanted him as the team’s starting slot receiver. Hardy fans should not panic yet, but hopefully he will see more targets before he becomes an afterthought in this offense.
Cold: Desmond Trufant
Mike Evans is easily one of the most troublesome receivers Trufant has had to face over the past couple of years, as Evans always seems to get the better of him when Atlanta faces Tampa Bay. Trufant allowed six catches for 56 yards an a touchdown, which all came in less than one half before he was forced to leave the game with a shoulder injury. Thankfully, we won’t have to see Mike Evans again this year, but Trufant will need to do a better job of limiting him in the future. Also, keep an eye out for word on the severity of Trufant’s injury.
Cold: Robert Alford
Alford also had a rough game at cornerback, adding yet another pass-interference call to his resume. However, that wasn’t the only part of his game that got exposed by Jameis Winston and company. He allowed 120 yards and a touchdown, but to be fair, Alford was forced into a few snaps against Mike Evans with Trufant out for the game. Still, he must clean up the penalties and play better in general if he wants any chance of this team throwing money his way during the upcoming offseason.