Falcons’ offense was substandard in 2021

Tampa Bay Buccaneers nose tackle Vita Vea (50) sacks Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Credit: AP

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers nose tackle Vita Vea (50) sacks Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Credit: AP

FLOWERY BRANCH – The Falcons’ offense performed in the top half of the NFL in only one key statistical area. The Falcons passed the ball for 218.4 yards per game, which ranked 16th in the league.

That was it.

The rest of the operation finished in the lower half of the 32-team league.

Here’s a look at the key areas: scoring (18.4 points, 26th), rushing (85.4, 31st), total yards (303.8, 29th), first downs per game (18, 20th), third-down conversions (38.8%, 19th) and time of possession (28:10, 29th).

Here’s a look at how the units performed:

QUARTERBACKS

Quarterback Matt Ryan played with his weakest supporting cast perhaps over his career.

How the Falcons won seven games is one of the great mysteries of the 2021 season.

With a weak crew, Ryan had his worst season since early in his career, but remained upbeat.

“He’s been great in every regard,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said about working with Ryan. “Most professional player that I’ve ever been around. He’s never cheated a snap in practice or in a game.”

Ryan completed 375 of 560 attempts (67%) for 3,968 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He had a passer rating of 90.4, which was his lowest since a 91 in 2010.

He also threw 20 touchdown passes in 2017. The only season when he threw fewer than 20 was his rookie season in 2008.

Ryan’s 6.16 net yards gained per pass attempt was the second lowest of his career. His 6.01 in his second season was the lowest.

Ryan’s protection was shaky, and he was without his top receiver, Calvin Ridley, for most of the season.

He was sacked 40 times for the fourth consecutive season. He was hurried 48 times and hit an NFL-high 84 times. The numbers were atrocious, as Ryan had 2.4 seconds average time in the pocket between the snap and throwing the ball or when pressure collapsed the pocket.

Ryan had the longest 300-yard passing-game drought of his career. He did not have 300 yards passing game over the final nine games.

Josh Rosen opened the season as the backup quarterback after A.J. McCarron was injured in the exhibition season. Feleipe Franks finished the season as the backup.

Grade: C-minus

RUNNING BACKS

The Falcons entered the 2021 season with plans to have Mike Davis as the lead running back in a committee set-up.

Davis, who played at Stephenson High and South Carolina, was signed in free agency to a modest two-year, $5.5 million deal.

With shaky blocking up front, the plan didn’t work. Carries eventually were moved to Cordarrelle Patterson.

The Falcons finished 31st in the league in rushing, at 85.4 yards per game. The Falcons rushed for 95.8 yards per game and were ranked 27th in rushing in 2020.

Davis rushed 138 times for 503 yards (3.6 per carry) and had three touchdowns. He caught 44 of 58 targets out of the backfield for 259 yards and one touchdown. He was helpful with his chip blocks in pass protections at times.

The Falcons’ coaching staff cracked the code on how to use Patterson, who was a former No. 1 draft pick as a wide receiver and one of the game’s top kickoff returners and a four-time All-Pro.

He had 205 touches for 1,166 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Patterson had career highs in carries (153), rushing yards (618) and receiving yards (548). He tied his career high in catches with 52.

The third back spot was split during the season by Wayne Gallman and Qadree Ollison.

Fullback Keith Smith, who played in all 17 games and had eight starts, mostly was used as a lead blocker.

Grade: D

WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS

The Falcons made Kyle Pitts the highest drafted tight end of the modern era when they selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 draft.

Pitts had a strong rookie season, as he caught 68 of a team-leading 110 targets for 1,026 yards and a touchdown. He was selected to the Pro Bowl.

After Ridley left the team Oct. 31 to attend to his mental well-being, more was put on Pitts’ plate.

“I kind of do my best to not even think about anything in the area of pressure because that will kind of weigh you down mentally and physically,” Pitts said. “So just, you know, just roll with the punches.”

Wide receiver Russell Gage, after being slowed by an ankle sprain, came on down the stretch. He caught 66 of 94 targets for 770 yards and four touchdowns.

Overall, I think I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished throughout the season,” Gage said. “There were ups and downs, personal goals that I reached and some I didn’t reach.”

The Falcons didn’t pick up the $5.4 million fifth-year option for tight end Hayden Hurst. He appears headed for free agency, along with tight ends Lee Smith and Jaeden Graham.

Parker Hesse, a former defensive end at Iowa, made some contributions late in the season.

Tajae Sharpe and Olamide Zaccheaus basically split the No. 2 wide receiver spot. Christian Blake and rookie Frank Darby primarily helped on special teams.

Grade: C-plus

OFFENSIVE LINE

The Falcons know their offensive line is one of the weaker links on the team.

The Falcons had to start one of the lower rated players at right tackle, had a second-year center that they tried to take snaps from three-quarters of the way through the season and played a rookie guard for more than 1,000 snaps, including special-teams plays.

Right guard Chris Lindstrom was the rock of the first-team unit, while left tackle Jake Matthews was solid.

Kaleb McGary started all 17 games and played 989 offensive snaps. He committed only three penalties – a holding and two false starts.

However, McGary had a 62.4 (F) blocking grade from Pro Football Focus and allowed nine sacks, which was tied for second in the league among tackles.

Matthews played 1,029 snaps. He finished with seven penalties, three holding calls and four false starts. He allowed three sacks and had a 71.4 (C) grade from PFF.

Lindstrom played 1,037 offensive snaps and did not allow a sack. He had two penalties, a false start and an ineligible man downfield on an RPO. He finished with a 84.1 (B) grade from PFF.

Rookie left guard Jalen Mayfield played 989 snaps on offense and led the league with sacks allowed by a guard, with 11. He also had nine penalties. Mayfield had a 49.3 (F) grade from PFF.

Matt Hennessy was the starting center, but in Week 12 the Falcons tried to play rookie Drew Dalman. The rotation lasted for a game and half. Hennessy finished the season at the starter.

Hennessy played 911 snaps, had five penalties and allowed three sacks. He finished with a 77 (C) grade from PFF.

Dalman, in a small sample size of 68 plays, had a 78.3.

Veteran Josh Andrews, who was the top left guard before suffering a hand injury right before the start of the season, did not play any offensive snaps and played in only two games on special teams.

Also, guard Matt Gono, suffered a serious injury that kept him out of the entire season.

Jason Spriggs, a former high draft pick of the Packers, ended the season as the swing tackle.

Grade: F

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