The Falcons are sitting at 0-2 after two beatings at the hands of Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. However, all hope is not lost. Atlanta has a relatively favorable schedule coming up, and a couple of guys are outperforming their expectations. However, there are plenty of others who are falling a bit short.
This isn’t me saying some players are better than others. I’m more so pointing out the players who need to step up and which ones are defying expectations. I’ll also be avoiding rookies since they’re first-year players. There’s still plenty of time for guys to turn it around or regress, so let’s take a look at who is doing what after two weeks.
Easily the best player on Atlanta’s offensive line, the young guard is establishing himself as one of the top interior linemen in the entire NFL. Without Lindstrom, things would get ugly very quickly for the Falcons.
I’ve been very pleased with what I have seen out of AJ Terrell. He has been flashing some serious range, and he looks to be taking that next step fans were hoping for in 2021. Hopefully, the head injury he suffered against Tampa Bay isn’t severe because Atlanta was exposed when he exited the game.
You can argue that Patterson has been the best weapon for a Falcons offense that features Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Mike Davis, and Kyle Pitts. He looks to be flourishing as the gadget player that Minnesota thought he would be out of college.
While he still needs a LOT of work in pass protection, Matt Hennessy has looked much better than he did in 2020. He hasn’t been incredible, but it seems like an entire offseason (that he didn’t get his rookie year) is benefiting him. He also hasn’t exactly had it easy against the defensive lines of the Eagles and Buccaneers in his first two weeks.
Dante Fowler Jr.
While he’s still pretty inconsistent and not the X-Factor that fans expected him to be in 2020, Fowler has been much better for the Falcons in 2021. He had an excellent strip-sack against Tom Brady when it looked like things were getting bleak for the Falcons early in the first quarter.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list, Bullard has been one of the more consistent players on this Falcons defense. He hasn’t set the league on fire, but he looks like a nice pickup that could be a future rotational piece if he keeps his play up. His good preseason play has translated to some solid run defense and pressure off of the edge.
I expected Russell Gage to have a big season, and it’s certainly still a possibility. He had an ankle injury that nagged him at the end of the Tampa Bay game, but he has only posted a quiet five catches for 28 yards. I could see him having a breakout game soon if Atlanta’s offensive line can buy Matt Ryan some time.
Like I’ll say with almost all of these guys, I’m not worried about Deion Jones or Foyesade Oluokun. Debo is still one of the best playmakers in the league, but Atlanta has been getting exposed over the middle and has had trouble against the run. I want to see more of Mykal Walker, and it’s disappointing he hasn’t looked great in limited action. I still think he can be a great piece of this defense, and maybe the scheme change is causing some growing pains. I fully expect Debo (and the rest of these linebackers) to shape into form after they get a little more comfortable.
While he’s usually pretty consistent (and over-hated, in my opinion), Jake Matthews has continued to struggle at getting a push in the run game. His pass protection has been good as usual, but he needs to play better in the run game with a Falcons offensive line that badly needs some help on the left side.
Davison surprisingly earned a new contract after being cut by the new regime, and he worked out a reduced salary for 2021. That may not last long, as Ta’Quon Graham played fairly well in his debut, and Davison has failed to get a push upfront. His reduced effectiveness against the run has hurt the Falcons.
In a year where he is auditioning for his fifth-year option to be picked up, Kaleb McGary has not been impressive. He did hold his own against the Buccaneers, but he was severely beaten at times and allowed a strip-sack that was overturned by a penalty. If he doesn’t improve, he will be on the roster bubble in the spring.
I really liked the Duron Harmon signing, and I was so-so on bringing in Erik Harris. So far, both guys have left Atlanta’s back end very vulnerable. If this keeps up, I expect Jaylinn Hawkins and Richie Grant to start getting a lot more snaps.
I don’t think Matt Ryan has been bad at all, actually. However, his struggles with first-time play callers are well documented, and he has lost a bit of arm talent. Without Julio Jones, he loses a big-time safety valve and playmaker as well. As he gets used to the offense and develops a rapport with Kyle Pitts, his play will improve. Right now, he looks like a quarterback that didn’t play in the preseason under a new coach. He has still completed 70% of his passes and has been running for his life, so it’s hard to pin much of Atlanta’s failures on him at this point.