The Falcons (4-6) are set to host the Saints (5-5) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Here five additional issues facing the Falcons as they will try to salvage a 4-6 start to the season:
1. Can Arthur Smith stop his team’s free fall?: The Falcons have dropped three in a row and six of their last eight games after a promising 2-0 start to the seasons.
Smith, who’s in his third season, posted 7-10 marks in each of his first two seasons.
The Falcons have had three drafts and one offseason of impactful free agency spending.
The defense has started to show signs of slippage and the offense hasn’t been able to find the end zone consistently.
Smith, who is the play-caller, will need to get the offense producing points at a higher level and first-year defensive coordinator Ryan Neilsen must stop his unit’s back-slide.
The Falcons, who have posted five consecutive losing seasons, are one game behind the Saints in the NFC South, with two games to play head-to-head.
“Some of the stuff about when to be aggressive on teams, when not to be,” Smith said when asked about being a better head coach. “About setting things up, about going for it. So, I think you take a look at everything, see what your process is and where you think needs more help, what doesn’t.”
Smith noted that his staff collaborates on most of the decision-making.
2. NFL’s Robinson inquiry: In light of the Bengals investigation of the handling of Joe Burrow’s wrist injury, the Falcons’ handling of Bijan Robinson’s sickness/headache before the Tampa Bay game on Oct. 22 is still under review by the NFL as of Friday, according to a league official.
With a much higher profile case, the Falcons could get news soon.
Smith downplayed the inquiry per the league’s injury reporting rules and said there is “nothing to it” the day after the game.
Teams have been fined in recent years for violating the league’s injury reporting rules.
Robinson played only 11 offensive snaps and had a carry for 3 yards in the win over the Bucs. Smith told Fox at halftime that Robinson was not ‘feeling well’.
Before playing Tampa, Robinson’s playing time was reduced from the 61% to 81% range over the first six games to 17%. That likely caught the league’s attention.
Robinson, who was the eighth pick in the 2023 draft, is the Falcons’ leading rusher.
3. David Onyemata’s ankle: With Grady Jarrett loss for the season, the Falcons need defensive tackle Onyemata to anchor the defensive front.
He had a low-level – questionable – injury designation, but was ruled out for the last game against the Cardinals.
During the three-game losing streak, the Falcons are giving up 139 rushing yards per game.
Before missing the last game, Onyemata was playing at a Pro Bowl level. He has 39 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three tackles for losses, three pass breakups, 12 quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
4. Bleak playoff picture (10th seed): The Falcons entered Week 11 as the 10th seed in the NFC for the playoffs. Only seven teams go to the playoffs.
The Falcons are 2-0 in the division, but are 3-4 in the NFC with losses to the Lions, Vikings, Commanders and Cardinals.
Winning the NFC South would be the easiest path for the Falcons to make the playoffs, because those head-to-head NFC losses could be more problematic in a wild card scenario.
The Eagles, Lions, 49ers and Saints were the top four seeds.
The Vikings, Cowboys and Seahawks would round out the playoffs.
The Falcons were behind the Bucs and Commanders.
5. Offensive line on pace to give up 51 sacks: Ridder was sacked 25 times and Taylor Heinicke sacked five times. The Falcons are on pace to give up 51 sacks on the season.
The 51 sacks allowed would be the most since the Falcons allowed 64 sacks during the 2001 season. (Chris Chandler 41, Michael Vick 21 and Doug Johnson two sacks). The team “record” for sacks allowed is 70, which was set in 1968.
The Falcons need to improve their passing attack, but can they hold up in pass protection?
The line has been responsible for 17 of the sacks. Left tackle Jake Matthews (four sacks allowed, according to profootballfocus.com), left guard Matthew Bergeron (four), center Drew Dalman (two), right guard Chris Lindstrom (three) and right tackle Kaleb McGary (four).
The other 13 sacks were not assigned and could be credited to the quarterback holding the ball, too long.
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