Cover 9@9: Calvin Ridley following same path as Roddy White

A look at the progress Falcons' first selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, wide receiver Calvin Ridley, has made in three seasons in Atlanta.

Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog — our weekly list of nine things that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.

1. The No Spin Zone. The last time the Falcons had an in-season coaching change was in 2007 when Bobby Petrino walked out after 13 games. Defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas took over for the final three games as the interim head coach.

About the only good that happened for the team that season was the development of wide receiver Roddy White. White had struggled his first two seasons in the NFL, but he blossomed with all of the chaos surrounding that campaign, which included quarterback Michael Vick going to federal prison. The team finished 4-12, but White had his first 1,000-yard season. He finished with 83 catches for 1,202 yards and six touchdowns. He was snubbed for the Pro Bowl. But 1,000-yard receivers on 4-12 teams don’t really belong in the Pro Bowl.

The next season, after quarterback Matt Ryan was drafted and coach Mike Smith took over, White had 88 catches for 1,382 yards and seven touchdowns. White went to his first of four consecutive Pro Bowls.

ExploreWhat separates Calvin Ridley as a route-runner

Which brings us to current wide receiver Calvin Ridley.

He’s having a breakthrough third season like White did under dire circumstances. Coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff were fired after the fifth game this season. Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris was put in a difficult spot of motivating a team for 11 games.

While the Falcons have made it a habit of blowing leads and not closing out games, Ridley has been one of the few shining lights. He’ll enter the regular-season finale with 82 catches for 1,322 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He has at least 100 yards receiving in a league-leading eight games.

Despite his numbers, like White in his third season, he was not selected to the Pro Bowl.

Ridley will have to follow up this season in 2021 to earn his league-wide respect, and he’ll have to do it while the Falcons are winning.

“Calvin continues to get better as a route runner with experience,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “All players do. As they learn and study NFL defenses and what defenses try to do against them.”

While folks are debating the best path for the future of the franchise, at least the Falcons know they have a wide receiver who blossomed into a player in 2020.

2. Silent count. Koetter said the 13,470 fans at Arrowhead Stadium for the game against the Chiefs were loud. He said the Falcons used their silent count for the first time Sunday in Kansas City.

3. Series history. This will be the 55th meeting between the Falcons and the Buccaneers. The Falcons lead the series 28-26.

4. Gono’s tough assignment. Matt Gono played so well starting at right tackle while subbing for Kaleb McGary that he started at left guard against the Chiefs on Sunday.

“We really believe he’s a tackle, but when you play that well we want to find a way to play the best five,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said Monday. “You have to have the ability to put Matt Gono at guard and put him out there at times.”

Gono, center Matt Hennessy and right guard Chris Lindstrom all had tough times Sunday against Pro Bowl defensive tackle Chris Jones. Koetter said the film didn’t prepare the Falcons for just how disruptive Jones could be.

James Carpenter and Hennessy were splitting the left guard spot to start the season. After Morris took over, Carpenter took most of the snaps.

When Carpenter suffered a groin injury, the Falcons started Justin McCray at left guard.

Gono, who’s in his third season out of Division III Wesley College in Delaware, was stout at right tackle.

“He is not as good of a guard as he is as a tackle, but he does have the ability to go in there and play, give us a nice strong inside presence,” Morris said.

Overall, the Falcons were pleased with Gono’s performance.

“He went out, played well, played hard,” Morris said. “Obviously, he can play better. He had a tough matchup with those (defensive) tackles we were talking about from the Kansas City Chiefs. Those guys are really good football players.”

Falcons offensive tackle Matt Gono (73) and offensive guard Chris Lindstrom (63) line up against Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Ndamukong Suh (93) during the first half Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Buccaneers won 31-27. (Danny Karnik/AP)
Falcons offensive tackle Matt Gono (73) and offensive guard Chris Lindstrom (63) line up against Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Ndamukong Suh (93) during the first half Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Buccaneers won 31-27. (Danny Karnik/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

5. Hennessy held his own. Hennessy, a rookie subbing for Alex Mack (out with a concussion), played all 68 offensive snaps against the Chiefs.

“You put Matt Hennessy out there on a tough day,” Morris said Monday. “You put him out there against the Kansas City Chiefs and some really great (defensive) tackles.”

Even though Hennessy was called for three penalties, the Falcons were pleased with his overall play. He was drafted in the third round (78th overall) out of Temple.

“He was playing his (behind) off,” Morris said. “He was playing hard. He was playing physical. He drew a couple of penalties, which is always tough, but he did show signs of him becoming the heir apparent to Alex Mack.”

The Falcons’ running backs average 4.6 yards per carry against the Chiefs.

“He can go out there and be productive in this league,” Morris said. “He’s one of the guys that you put out there that really didn’t have (an exhibition) season. He’s really not had much live work at center.

“So, for him to go out and get his first live work against the champs and hold his own, he’ll get better and better every time that he goes out. We’re excited where he’s going to go.”

6. Dortch signed to practice squad. The Falcons signed wide receiver Greg Dortch to the practice squad Monday.

After defensive end Austin Edwards went on the reserve/COVID-19 list last week, the Falcons had an opening.

Dortch, 22, is 5-foot-7 and 172 pounds. He played at Wake Forest. He played in two games with Carolina in 2019.

7. Tale of the tape. Here’s how the Falcons and Bucs matchup this week:

2020 Regular Season Statistics

24.6 (17) Pts/Game 29.9 (4t)

367.3 (18) Tot Off. 377.3 (11)

93.7 (29) Rush Yds/Game 95.0 (28)

273.7 (5) Net Pass Yds/Game 282.3 (3)

30:31 (16) Poss Avg 29:02 (24)

24.7 (19) Opp Pts/Game 21.9 (7)

392.6 (28) Opp Tot Off. 323.3 (6)

105.5 (6t) Opp Rush Yds/Game 77.5 (1)

287.1 (31) Opp Pass Yds/Game 245.8 (22)

+4 (9t) Turnover Differential +7 (5t)

8. Falcons’ 2021 draft position. Heading into the final game the Falcons are sitting in the No. 4 spot:

1. Jacksonville

2. New York Jets

3. Miami (from Houston)

4. Falcons

5. Cincinnati

9. Depth chart. The Falcons released their official depth chart for the final regular-season game Tuesday.

The Falcons (4-11) are set to play the Buccaneers (10-5) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

The Bucs defeated the Falcons 31-27 in the previous meeting Dec. 20 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Here’s the depth chart:

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 13 Christian Blake

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 73 Matt Gono

LG 77 James Carpenter, 65 Justin McCray

C 51 Alex Mack, 61 Matt Hennessy

RG 63 Chris Lindstrom

RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 73 Matt Gono, 75 John Wetzel

TE 81 Hayden Hurst, 87 Jaeden Graham, 88 Luke Stocker

WR 83 Russell Gage, 15 Brandon Powell,

WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 80 Laquon Treadwell

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub

HB 25 Ito Smith, 23 Brian Hill, 21 Todd Gurley, 30 Qadree Ollison

FB 40 Keith Smith

DEFENSE

DE 93 Allen Bailey, 92 Charles Harris

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 90 Marlon Davidson, 94 Deadrin Senat

DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 50 John Cominsky

DE 56 Dante Fowler, 55 Steven Means, 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

LB 45 Deion Jones, 59 LaRoy Reynolds, 46 Edmond Robinson

LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 43 Mykal Walker

RCB 34 Darqueze Dennard, 20 Kendall Sheffield

LCB 24 A.J. Terrell, 44 Tyler Hall

NCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson

FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman

SS 22 Keanu Neal, 32 Jaylinn Hawkins

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo

P 4 Sterling Hofrichter

LS 47 Josh Harris

KO 7 Younghoe Koo

KR 15 Brandon Powell

PR 15 Brandon Powell

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