Falcons’ Mid-Term Report Card

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith speaks during the first half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Credit: AP

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Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith speaks during the first half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Credit: AP

FLOWERY BRANCH -- The Falcons still have a chance to turnaround what’s been a disappointing 4-6 start to the season when they return from this week’s bye.

In coach Arthur Smith’s third season, the Falcons have made strides on the defensive side of the football. However, the offensive passing attack has not developed, which has led to a low-scoring output.

Quarterback Desmond Ridder started the first eight games and went 4-4. Taylor Heinicke came on in relief in game eight and started the two subsequent games and went 0-2.

If the Falcons are going to get moving and avoid their sixth straight losing season, they’ll have to become more potent on offense, rush the passer better and improve the punt coverage unit.

Here are the grades for the first 10 games:

Pass offense: Without the ability to connect on deep passes, opposing defenses have sat on the Falcons’ quick-gain passes and the intermediate routes. The Falcons are averaging 204.9 yards passing per game which ranks 21st in the league. Ridder has completed 161 of 246 passes (65.4%) for 1,740 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions. He has a passer rating of 84. His yards are 23rd in the league. Heinicke took over at halftime in Tennessee and provided a brief spark before suffering a hamstring injury in the 10th game against the Cardinals. He completed 41 of 74 (55.4%) for 498 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Heinicke has a passer rating of 84.2. Drake London (40 catches, 474 yards, two touchdowns), Jonnu Smith (35-423-2) and Kyle Pitts (35-419-1) are the top receivers. Scotty Miller was signed to be a deep threat. The Falcons have added Van Jefferson and Damiere Byrd in-season to help stretch defenses, but the deep ball has been missing. Mack Hollins and KhaDarel Hodge have played supporting rolls. Grade: C

Rush offense: Rookie Bijan Robinson, who was drafted eighth overall, has been productive with a healthy 4.9 per carry average. He has 125 carries for 612 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He had 19 carries for 124 yard in a win over Green Bay and 14 carries for 105 yards in a loss to Jacksonville. Ridder has four rushing touchdowns. Tyler Allgeier is averaging a sub-par 3.2 yard per carry on 125 carries. He has three touchdowns. Allgeier has gained 233 of his yards after contact (57.9%) while Robinson has gained 218 of his yards after contact (35.6%). Allgeier has broken 10 tackle and Robinson has broken eight tackles. Allgeier has rushed for 25 first downs and Robinson has rushed for 32 first downs. Ridder has rushed 32 times for 150 yards and for 13 first downs. The Falcons average 130.4 yards per game, which ranks seven in the league. Cordarrelle Patterson was not much of a factor over the first 10 games as he had just 17 carries for 76 yards (4.5) per carry. Grade: A

Pass defense: The Falcons are giving up 200.4 yards passing per game which ranks 10th in the league. The signing of Jessie Bates has helped the secondary immensely. He has three interceptions and has helped to limit explosive plays. Here are the opposing quarterbacks’ passer rating when throwing at: Bates (70.7), cornerback Jeff Okudah (80.3), cornerback A.J. Terrell (97.2), nickel back Dee Alford (99.7) and safety Richie Grant (133.5). Teams are completing 74.3% of passes thrown at Kaden Elliss and 76% at Nate Landman. The linebackers and Grant are the weakest links in the pass defense. Also, the pass rush has not be fierce. The Falcons have just 21 sacks, which ranks tied for 26th in the league and fully explains why they tried to trade for Montez Sweat at the trade deadline. Arnold Ebiketie and David Onyemata lead the team with 3.5 sacks each. Free agent signees Bud Dupree and Calais Campbell have three sacks each. Grade: C

Rush defense: The Falcons have allowed 108.4 yards per game, which ranks 14th in the league. In the six losses they have given up more than 100 yards rushing. In the four wins, they’ve held the opponents under 100 yards. The Falcons have given up 149, 146 and 122 in the three-game losing streak to the Titans, Vikings and Cardinals. Elliss and Bates lead the team in tackles with 73 followed by Landman (69) and Grant (68). Grade: B-minus

Special teams: Kicker Younghoe Koo has been clutch and has made three late field goals to lift the Falcons to victories over Green Bay, Houston and Tampa Bay. The Falcons miss punt returner Avery Williams. They have used Michael Hughes, Miller and Robinson at punt returner. Patterson has returned four kicks for 89 yards. The coverage units have struggled. The have allowed punt returns of 49 yards against the Cardinals and 61 yards against the Commanders. Grade: C

Coaching: The offense is ranked in the bottom half of the league in passing and points scored. The Falcons should have spent all of the offseason working on the passing attack after they finished third in the league rushing last season. The passing attack needed to improve and teams predictability sat on the rushing attack. Detroit did it and took away the quick-passing game. The Falcons were able to get the passing attack moving, but then Ridder’s turnover issues derailed the operation. The defense has been in the top half of the league and flirted with being a top-10 defense until some major slippage over the last three games. Grade: C-minus

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