Falcons’ offense carved an identity in 2022 season

FLOWERY BRANCH – As the Falcons moved on from the Matt Ryan era in 2022, they built the foundation for a new rugged ground attack.

The future challenge is how will they build the passing game to balance the offense.

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The Falcons finished in the top half of the NFL in rushing yards (159.9 per game, third) and points scored (21.5, 15th). There clearly still is work to do in the passing attack (158.8 yards per game, 31st) and total yards (318.6, 24th).

By the end of the season, quarterback Desmond Ridder, wide receiver Drake London and running back Tyler Allgeier, all rookies, were all on the field, starting and contributing.

“I think all of those guys are key pieces to our offense,” left tackle Jake Matthews told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They all showed that they can play in this league and be really effective, too.”

The rookies also had the right temperament.

“I have a ton of respect for those guys and the way they came to work, especially being rookies,” Matthews said. “It’s a long season. It can be a grind.

“They showed up and worked just as hard as anyone else and did a good job. We are looking forward to them and are expecting a lot from them in the future.”

Tight end Kyle Pitts, whose numbers went down dramatically after a stellar rookie season, played 11 games and ended the season on injured reserve.

The season started with Allgeier on the inactive list and ended with him setting the Falcons’ rookie rushing record.

Allgeier, selected in the fifth round (151st) of the NFL draft out of BYU, was eased into things, but he ended up rushing 210 times for 1,035 yards and three touchdowns.

“It’s, for sure, an achievement,” Allgeier said. “It’s a good starting point, starting point for me. I think for the offense as well, having a 1,000-yard rusher, it’s just a really good starting point for me and all the guys.”

He broke the 43-year-old mark of William Andrews, who rushed for 1,023 yards in 1979.

Allgeier took over the load from Cordarrelle Patterson, who got off to a fast start before he was sidelined with a knee injury that led to a stint on short-term injured reserve.

Allgeier rushed 10 times for 84 yards to help the Falcons defeat the Browns 23-20 on Oct. 2. He made his first start the following week against Tampa Bay.

Allgeier ran with power and rushed for a season-high 139 yards in the 21-18 loss to the Saints on Dec. 18. He closed the season Jan. 8 with a strong showing against Tampa Bay, rushing a season-high 24 times for 135 yards.

A closer look at Allgeier’s advanced stats reveals that he rushed for 53 first downs. He gained 609 yards before contact and 426 yards after contact. He averaged 2.0 yards per attempt after contact, and he broke five tackles.

As the season went on, Allgeier became more patient as he attacked defenses.

“It was a product of time, experience and confidence,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said. “Going out there and continuing to do it. Realizing that every time he steps on the field he has the chance to improve.”

Allgeier didn’t get down after he was inactive for the season opener.

“I love his mindset,” Ragone said. “I don’t see any reason why he will not continue to improve.”

London got off to strong start, tapered off and then came on strong at the end of the season.

With opponents focusing their defenses on Pitts, London caught 18 passes over the first four games while Pitts caught 10 passes.

London hit a lull, but then finished strong over the final five games, including the final four when Ridder came his way with 36 targets. He caught 25 passes from Ridder for 233 yards.

London, who was the first receiver taken in the draft, finished with 72 catches for 866 yards and four touchdowns. He had three fumbles and will work on his ball security over the offseason.

London broke Pitts’ record for most receptions by a rookie. Pitts had 68 receptions as a rookie in 2021.

“Honestly, it doesn’t really mean too much,” London said. “I could have 30 catches and 200 yards in the season, if we’re in the playoffs I would be happier than I am right now. I think we just have to stack wins on top of all that and I think I would be happy.”

London had 31 catches over the final five games.

“I think it was big,” London said. “We’re building right now. Building blocks for us as players to step up well, and I think we’re on the right track for that.”

Pitts caught 28 of 59 targets for 356 yards and two touchdowns. His catch- percentage was 35.6% which was down dramatically from the 61.8% with Ryan as his quarterback in 2021.

The Falcons want to take their time and leave all options open before declaring Ridder, a third-round pick (74th overall) in the 2022 NFL draft, as the franchise’s quarterback of the future.

Ridder took over for Marcus Mariota, who started the first 13 games and decided he needed knee surgery after he was demoted over the bye week.

Mariota, a Heisman Trophy winner, never developed as a down-the-field passer, and defenses eventually started to sit on the short and intermediate routes.

It seemed like trouble always was lurking with Mariota, who had fumbling issues early, tossed the stop-drop-and-roll pass at Carolina, had a ball tipped at the goal line with a chance to win at Washington and then finally he couldn’t punch it in against the Steelers.

The Falcons dropped to 5-8 heading into the bye week and decided to make the change.

Mariota was asked to stay and help mentor Ridder on Thursday of the bye week. The next day, the Falcons received a text from his agent informing them of the knee surgery.

He hadn’t been on the injury report all season with a knee injury.

But Ridder showed some signs of promise as he went 2-2 and establish a connection with London.

Ridder, who played 271 offensive snaps, handled his pre-snap reads well.

Ridder completed 73 of 115 passes (63.5%) for 708 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of 86.4.

Ryan, with the benefit of a strong rushing attack, had an 87.7 passer rating as a rookie in 2008. Ryan, even after his dismal season with the Colts, has a career passer rating of 93.6.

One of the concerns and reasons why Ridder lasted until the third round was because of his accuracy. He made 20 bad throws for an 18.2 bad-throw percentage, according to Pro Football Reference’s advanced stats. A total of 83 passes were on target for a 75.5 on-target percentage.

Mariota had a 22.5 bad-throw percentage and 70.6 on-target percentage.

Four quarterbacks still alive in the divisional round of the playoffs – Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow has a 79.1 on-target percentage, Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts 77.8, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes 77.1 and Dallas’ Dak Prescott 76.3 – are on target for more than 75% of their throws.

“I don’t know if there’s a perfect science,” Ragone said. “Oh, he played this many snaps. He’s played this many games, (and) oh, I’ve got the evaluation. I think guys grow at different rates.”

The Falcons’ offense line, much-maligned during the latter years of the era, turned in a fine campaign.

The unit, led by right guard Chris Lindstrom and Matthews, helped to pave the way for rushing attack.

Drew Dalman beat out Matt Hennessy for the starting center spot.

Elijah Wilkinson was the preferred starter at left guard, but the team started four different players at the spot. Colby Gossett, Matt Hennessy and Chuma Edoga all made starts at left guard.

Kaleb McGary, who didn’t have his fifth-year option picked up, had his best season in the NFL.

Lindstrom was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time and was named second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press and the Pro Football Journal.

Lindstrom was a force at right guard.

“The speed in which he plays,” Ragone said. “He’s a very good athlete. He not only has quickness off the ball, but he can strike you.”

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