The Falcons are far exceeding everyone’s expectations for this season, outside of the few overly optimistic fans. Atlanta doesn’t have a talented roster by any means, but they’re a scrappy bunch, continuously making games competitive despite being underdogs every single week. A lot of that should be chalked up to coaching. Arthur Smith’s diverse run game is incredible to watch, and the cultural shift within Flowery Branch is palpable.
It should also be noted the Falcons have gotten a bit lucky — it’s not about who you play; it’s when you play them. Atlanta has been the beneficiary of injuries. Sure, the team has been without Cordarrelle Patterson for the past two weeks and Kyle Pitts for one game, but for the most part, they’ve been pretty healthy. On the flip side, the Falcons have played teams who are missing their best players — Jamal Adams, Jadaveon Clowney, Myles Garrett, Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, etc. And this week, the Bengals are sure to be shorthanded on the defensive side of the ball.
I’m not taking anything away from the Falcons, though. Injuries are a part of this league; attrition is a team’s biggest worry. Atlanta has taken a few missing pieces in stride. Culture plays a factor, but there have been plenty of unsung heroes who have stepped up throughout the season. Everyone knows the Grady Jarretts, Drake Londons, and Chris Lindstroms of the Falcons. But what about the lesser-known players who have been instrumental in the team’s success this season?
With a receiving core of Kyle Pitts and Drake London, the shifty slot wideout can sometimes be lost in the noise. Reminiscent of Taylor Gabriel, Zaccheaus gives the Falcons’ offense a different type of pass catcher compared to the physical specimens that are Pitts and London. OZ is currently second on the team in yards (271) and receptions (16) while leading the team in yards per reception (16.9) and receiving touchdowns. He’s consistently been Atlanta’s big play threat and one of Marcus Mariota’s favorite targets.
In 2021, Atlanta boasted three of the nine worst pass protectors in the league — Jalen Mayfield, Kaleb McGary, and Matt Hennessy. These two personnel changes have paid substantial dividends for the Falcons’ offense as a whole. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how impressive McGary has been this year, the biggest surprise of the season. However, he’s probably more well-known than the other two.
Neither Dalman nor Wilkinson is playing like All-Pros, but the drastic improvement from a year ago is undeniable. The Falcons are currently second in the league in rushing yards before contact and sit atop the league in most rushing statistics. The offensive line is to credit. They’ve been unbelievable, and these two players deserve some praise.
The Boise State product was an illustrious returner in college, and he’s found similar success in the league, becoming a special teams ace for the Falcons. He’s not breaking records, but Williams is consistently putting the offense in advantageous positions with his punt returns. At this point, the second-year Williams is leading the league in punt return yards average (17.8), and the next closest returner, KaVontae Turpin, is averaging more than five yards less per return. If he’s not scoring touchdowns, people won’t notice, but field position is an essential part of the game, especially the way the Falcons play.
Photographer: John Adams/Icon Sportswire