Cover 9@9: Falcons have NFL’s second-ranked pass attack

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan greets wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) on the field before their game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Jason Getz/For the AJC)
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan greets wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) on the field before their game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Jason Getz/For the AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

1. The no spin zone. The Falcons are averaging 291.2 net passing yards per game, which ranks second in the NFL.

Dallas leads the league in passing yards per game with 359.

In the win over Minnesota, quarterback Matt Ryan completed passes to nine receivers.

“Everybody wants to touch the ball,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “There is not a big secret there. We have a lot of guys that deserve touches.”

Calvin Ridley leads the team with 57 targets and 35 catches for 546 yards and five touchdowns. Russell Gage is next with 36 targets and 25 catches for 289 yards and a touchdown. Julio Jones, who’s missed two and a half games, has 30 targets and 23 catches for 350 yards and two touchdowns.

ExploreJulio Jones’ return helped spark offense in Minnesota

Tight end Hayden Hurst has 32 targets and 19 catches for 227 yards and three touchdowns.

Then, you have the running backs, Todd Gurley, Brian Hill and Ito Smith, all caught passes against the Vikings.

When Jones was out, Olamide Zaccheaus stepped up as the top reserve receiver. He caught 14 of 22 targets for 150 yards.

“It’s hard to get them all touches,” Koetter said. “Obviously, everything is going to start off running through Julio and Calvin. We’ve been trying to get Hayden more involved. All Russ Gage does is have four catches and three explosives. There is only one ball to go around.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter discusses team's success on fourth downs against the Vikings and the fast start.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Detroit defensive coordinator Cory Undlin is hoping that his secondary will hold up. The Lions are giving up 234 yards passing per game, which is ranked 15th in the league.

“I don’t know if I have a coverage that can handle all of these guys,” Undlin said while speaking to the Detroit media Tuesday. “But, I would say that it comes down to trying to be effective and make the quarterback, Matt work pre-snap and post-snap. Do our best. Mix it up on him and try to make it hard for him. We all know that it’s going to be a tough cover for everybody on the field. We welcome that challenge.”

The Lions have been without cornerback Desmond Trufant, the former Falcon, for most of the season. He injured his hamstring in the season opener and then missed the next two games. He returned against the Saints on Oct. 4 and aggravated the injury. He had the bye week off and was out last week against Jacksonville

He probably doesn’t want to miss this one after the Falcons cut him over the offseason.

“We’ve got our hands full here, for sure,” Undlin said. " It will be a great challenge."

Koetter credits the offensive line for the success of the passing attack.

“The passing game starts with pass protection,” Koetter said. “That’s one thing we did really well. The (offensive) line really protected well. We had a couple of busts from the running-back standpoint, but the (offensive) line protected really well. When we protect well and Matt has time and Matt makes excellent decisions with the football, we are usually going to have success in the passing game.”

Koetter has been crafty in setting up the passing attack.

“In three of the past four games, we’ve had success running it early in the games, which sets up your play-action game,” Koetter said. “(Against Minnesota), the quick (passing) game became more important for us. We hit a lot of quick out routes to Cal and Julio.”

The Falcons’ screen passes help to counter blitzes. Ryan, on the second possession, called an audible to screen to Jones. On second-and-9 from the Atlanta 15, Jones broke loose for a 23-yard gain.

“When we were in empty formations (no running backs in the backfield, five receivers near the line of scrimmage), they did it more than once in the game,” Koetter said. "Sometimes they would back out of it. It’s somewhat common in the league right now, they would put two linebackers in the A-gaps along with their four rushers.

"So, in empty formations, they had six guys in the box and we had five blockers. Matt was trying to work on his cadence to see if they are going to show him what they are going to do. If they are going to drop out or if he’s going to have to throw hot.

“On that play, Matt audibled to the screen and two really nice blocks by Russ Gage and Jake Matthews and then Julio made the nice run to get the explosive.”

2. Stat corner. The Falcons have the 19th ranked rushing offense (112 yards per game) and will go against the Lions, who have the 29th rank rushing defense (145 yards per game). Advantage Falcons. They should be able to run the ball.

3. Tale of the tape: Here’s full statistical look at both teams.

How Falcons, Lions compare
A look at stats ahead of Sunday matchup.

4. Series history: This will be the 38th meeting. The Lions lead the series 24-13. The Falcons won the last meeting 30-26 on Sept. 24, 2017 in the 10-second run off game. The Falcons have won four of the last five meetings.

5. Falcons to wear their gradient uniforms: The Falcons are set to debut their “Rise Up” alternate uniforms when they face the Detroit Lions at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The alternate uniforms feature a gradient fade rising from black to red.

“The Rise Up alternate uniform pays homage to our next generation of Falcons fans,” according to the team. “The gradient pattern rising from black to red offers a fresh representation of a city constantly on the rise through a visual pattern made from the eye in the Falcon logo.”

6. Ryan records: Ryan completed 30 of 40 passes (75%) for 371 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against Minnesota. He finished with a passer rating of 136.6.

ExploreMatt Ryan excels in team’s first win of season

In the win, Ryan became the fourth player with at least 350 passing yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions while completing at least 75% of his passes in multiple games in NFL history, joining Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

7. Run defense: The Falcons’ defense held Minnesota to 32 net rushing yards in Week 6, which marked the fewest rushing yards allowed by the Falcons since Week 4 of the 2006 season. Through six games, the Falcons defense ranks fifth in the NFL against the run, limiting opposing defenses to 97.2 rushing yards per game.

But the Lions are worried about the Falcons' pass rush.

“The thing that jumps out right away is their front,” Detroit offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said to the Detroit media Tuesday. "They are really attacking, they have a nice attacking style. They are trying to get up the field. Up front they are just, their rushing is going to be something that we are going to have to really be able to handle.

“There’s a lot of movement, there is a lot of stunting. There’s a lot of games.”

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

After starting the season with just 2 interceptions, Atlanta defense snarled 3 Kirk Cousins passes in the first half of 40-23 win in Minnesota.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

8. Two added to practice squad: The Falcons signed linebacker Pita Taumoepenu and safety Shyheim Carter to their practice squad Tuesday.

The team released safety J.J. Wilcox, and linebacker James Burgess was signed by an unnamed NFL team off the Falcons' practice squad, according to a Falcons news release.

Taumoepenu, 26, played at Utah and was drafted in the sixth round (202nd overall) of the 2017 draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He also has spent time with the Cardinals and Seahawks. He 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds.

Carter, who played at Alabama, was signed by the New York Jets after the 2020 draft. He’s 5-foot-10 and 194 pounds.

9. Depth chart: The Falcons on Tuesday released their official depth chart for Sunday’s game against Lions.

The Falcons are set to play their first game under interim coach Raheem Morris at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Morris won his debut as interim in Minnesota.

Here’s a look at the official depth chart for the Detroit game:

OFFENSE

QB -- Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub

WR -- Julio Jones, Christian Blake

WR -- Calvin Ridley, Olamide Zaccheaus

WR -- Russell Gage, Brandon Powell

TE -- Hayden Hurst, Luke Stocker, Jaeden Graham (Team actually lists Graham ahead of Stocker. Stocker has played more snaps.)

RB -- Todd Gurley, Brian Hill, Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison

FB -- Keith Smith

LT -- Jake Matthews, Matt Gono

LG -- James Carpenter, Matt Hennessy

C -- Alex Mack, Justin McCray

RG -- Chris Lindstrom

RT --Kaleb McGary, Matt Gono, John Wetzel

DEFENSE

DE -- Takk McKinley, Allen Bailey, Charles Harris

DT -- Grady Jarrett, Deadrin Senat

DT -- Tyeler Davison

DE -- Dante Fowler, Steven Means, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

LB -- Deion Jones, LaRoy Reynolds

LB -- Foye Oluokun, Mykal Walker

CB – A.J. Terrell, Jordan Miller

CB -- Kendall Sheffield, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

CB -- Isaiah Oliver, Tyler Hall

FS --- Ricardo Allen, Sharrod Neasman

SS – Keanu Neal, Jaylinn Hawkins

SPECIAL TEAMS

K -- Younghoe Koo

P -- Sterling Hofrichter

LS -- Josh Harris

KR – Brandon Powell

PR -- Brandon Powell

Falcons' next four games

Lions at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25

Falcons at Panthers at 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29

Broncos at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8

Falcons at Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22

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