For the first time since 2017, the Falcons are over .500, ending one of the more embarrassing streaks in the NFL with a 24-10 win over the Bryce Young-led Panthers. It wasn’t always pretty, especially offensively, but any time you win a game by two touchdowns in this league, you can leave the field with your head held high.
What Went Right
Jessie Bates has a debut for the ages
The Falcons went out and spent gobs of money in free agency almost exclusively on the defensive side of the ball. The new look defense, now led by defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, was one of the most intriguing storylines of the Week 1 matchup. On paper, Atlanta should have had their way with Carolina’s offense, which features a shoddy offensive line and almost no weapons, and while that wasn’t always the case, Jessie Bates made up for a lot of the Falcons mistakes.
The prize of Atlanta’s free agent class couldn’t have had a better debut for his new team. He was all over the field, leading the team in tackles with 10, intercepting Bryce Young twice and forcing a fumble. Those three turnovers were the difference in the game, as they led to 17 of the Falcons’ 24 points on the afternoon. It’s only one game, but it’s clear what kind of impact Bates is going to have on this team.
Bijan Robinson came as advertised
We didn’t get to see much of Robinson in the preseason, and frankly, we didn’t need to. Everyone knows what kind of special talent he is, and that was on full display in Week 1. He was responsible for the Falcons first touchdown of the season, and it might be the prettiest first career touchdown in NFL history, as he forced three defenders to miss on the way to the end zone.
Bijan Robinson went BEAST MODE for his first NFL TD 🤯
— ESPN (@espn) September 10, 2023
Robinson’s elusiveness, vision, and explosive ability were on display all game. He didn’t put up the craziest stat line, rushing the ball ten times for 56 yards and hauling in six receptions for 27 more, but it is overwhelmingly apparent that he is already one of the best running backs in the league.
Don’t forget about Tyler Allgeier
Bijan Robinson deserves all the hype and is going to be the focal point of the offense this season, which has caused some to forget that the Falcons actually had a 1,000-yard rookie rusher last season in Tyler Allgeier. I wasn’t sure what kind of role the second-year running back out of BYU would have in this new offense, but it only took one week to realize he is still going to be a big part of it. He led the team in carries with 15 and rushing yards with 75, adding two scores on the ground. Fantasy owners might not love it, but having two elite running backs is only a good thing for the Falcons, allowing both Robinson and Allgeier to stay healthy and fresh the entire season.
What Went Wrong
Falcons failure to utilize their weapons
The running game was astounding, which was to be expected, and the Falcons were never in a position where they had to force the ball downfield, but this was a close game until the fourth quarter, and it felt like Arthur Smith didn’t trust Desmond Ridder to push the ball down the field. It’s not about fantasy stats, and Smith has made that clear, but when you draft a tight end fourth overall and a wide receiver eighth in back-to-back drafts and they combine for two catches for 44 yards, it is a bit of a concern. Hopefully, they’ll open things up more in the coming weeks, because eventually, Ridder and these receivers are going to have to make some plays.
As I just said, the Falcons didn’t take many shots in the passing game, and when they did, it was usually quick passes in an attempt to get the ball out of Ridder’s hands. Some of that has to do with the lack of trust in Ridder, but it also had to do with Atlanta’s inability to pass protect. Ridder was sacked four times and pressured throughout. There were missed assignments across the line and guys just flat out getting beat. Everyone knows how dominant Atlanta’s offensive line is in the run game, but their pass protection leaves some to be desired, which was on full display yesterday.
Bryce Young had an awful day at the office, but it wasn’t because he was feeling a lot of pressure. The Panthers offensive line, which is viewed as one of the weaker units in the league, gave Young all the time in the world to throw, particularly in the first half. That’s not what Falcons fans hoped to see after investing so much money into the defensive line this offseason. Hopefully, they look better moving forward, because Atlanta has been desperate for a pass rush for years.
Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire