Whether Falcons fans feel like it’s true or not, this team has improved over the first three weeks of the season. The players and staff would likely admit the season opener couldn’t have gone any worse, so the improvement to this point has been minuscule. Still, that minor development netted Arthur Smith his first win as a head coach.
Against the Giants, the Falcons’ offense looked lost at times and unable to find any sort of rhythm. Smith also had a few head-scratching decisions — continued use of the Wildcat and Feleipe Franks at… tight end? The defense did look more competent than prior weeks and came up with several timely stops. There were positives and obvious negatives; here is the good, bad, and ugly of the Falcons win over the Giants.
I said last week that Chris Lindstrom was in the process of becoming the Falcons’ best offensive linemen. Even though Jake Matthews might still be slightly better at a more valuable position, Lindstrom will be one of the best guards in the league because he can pass and run block effectively. Matthews has always been a steady presence and one of the unsung heroes in Atlanta, but Lindstrom is quickly ascending. After the Giants win, PFF graded him as the second-best right guard in football through Week 3, behind only Zack Martin, a future Hall of Famer.
The entire defense has been a pleasant surprise, and though they might not be a top unit in the league, Dean Pees has this defense ahead of expectations. The Falcons have had their best players start to emerge. Grady Jarrett is back to dismantling offensive linemen, sacking Daniel Jones on the opening drive, eventually leading to a field goal. Although Dante Fowler had a down year in 2020, he’s still by far the defense’s best pure pass rusher and came up huge for the Falcons late in the game with a strip-sack on Daniel Jones.
New York recovered, but it still knocked the Giants out of field goal range. The defense has also had a few unexpected contributions as Isaiah Oliver has quickly established himself as a reliable player in the slot. Fabian Moreau had a couple of tough penalties but played perfectly acceptable. Deion Jones finally stepped on the scene in easily his best game of the season.
The offense is going to spill from The Bad to The Ugly, so be prepared. First and foremost, the Falcons have found absolutely no rhythm under Arthur Smith. For much of the Giants game, the offense was completely ineffective. The offense’s best players — Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, and Kyle Pitts — played poorly for large stretches. Pitts wasn’t involved in the offense at all, only recording two catches on the afternoon.
They were two clutch receptions, and the Giants were throwing bracket and combo coverages at him, so his performance is less on him than the other two. Hayden Hurst is also underused, in my opinion. The Falcons offense also has no run game presence. Cordarrelle Patterson has been a pleasant surprise, but the offense can’t be resorting to gimmicks to get an explosive play, which leads us to The Ugly.
Smith’s refusal to stop using the Wildcat will be the death of me. First, I’ve never thought it’s ever been executed sustainably, but even if an offensive coordinator resorts to using it… STOP LEAVING THE QUARTERBACK ON THE FIELD IN WILDCAT. Leaving Matt Ryan, or any quarterback, split out wide in the Wildcat is the most head-banging decision any play-caller can make. It essentially gives the defense an 11 on 10 advantage.
Smith called a zone read on third and one with Feleipe Franks and Cordarrelle Patterson in the backfield, which fooled absolutely no one. For Smith to call these gimmicky, wacky plays, it is a bit concerning. This leads us to my final grievance of the team’s performance against the Giants — the passing attack.
The lack of downfield passing is bothersome but can be attributed to Matt Ryan’s decline, the offensive line’s shortcomings, and Smith’s philosophy at its roots. Still, there are absolutely no deep shots in this offense. Keeping max protection on a two-man route isn’t conducive to an explosive passing attack. This could certainly be who Arthur Smith is, so this will be something to keep an eye on moving forward.