Desmond Ridder has now led three game-winning drives this season, including one on Sunday against a stout Buccaneers defense. Despite putting the ball in harm’s way constantly, Ridder doesn’t flinch when the lights are brightest. He doesn’t let his past mistakes alter his confidence for better or worse. However, make no mistake about it, Ryan Nielsen’s defense is the reason why the Falcons are winning games.
Scoring points is the name of the game. You can’t win football games without them; that much is obvious, but there’s always a yin to a yang. Holding opposing offenses is 50% of the formula too.
Arthur Smith’s offense has put up a pedestrian 13.2 points per game in the last five games and is 28th in scoring overall (16 points per game). Yet, the Falcons sit atop the NFC South. It’s very clear where the strength of this team lies.
The offseason investment in the defense is paying massive dividends. Jessie Bates, David Onyemata, Bud Dupree, Jeff Okudah, Kaden Elliss, and Jeff Okudah have come as advertised; Nielsen is pulling all the right strings and pushing all the right buttons.
They rank 8th in pressure rate (25.3%), which means Atlanta is forcing a quarterback hit, hurry, or sack on more than a quarter of dropbacks. They rank tied for 7th in yards per rush (3.7), but the most important metrics are third down and red zone situations.
The Falcons rank third in the league in third down conversion rate, allowing first downs on just 33.7% of attempts. Nielsen’s unit is also 5th in the league in red zone touchdown rate, allowing six points on just 38.9% of trips inside the 20-yard line.
All of this is to say the Falcons are a top 10 unit in most metrics, including the most important one — points. Atlanta is giving up 19.0 points per game, which ranks 9th.
Every time the Falcons need a stop, the defense provides one. Even if Desmond Ridder and the offense don’t deliver, the opportunity is there. Look no further than the Commanders game last week. Sam Howell and the Washington offense punted on their final four drives, including two three-and-outs with their final two possessions.
This Falcons defense is a top 10 unit and is the primary catalyst in Atlanta winning games.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire