Falcons to unveil new weapons against Saints in Sunday’s season opener

FLOWERY BRANCH — In addition to the major change at quarterback, the Falcons had to add some new offensive firepower to go with tight end Kyle Pitts for the coming season.

Heading into the opener against the New Orleans Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Falcons have revamped their offensive attack.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Falcons

After losing wide receivers Russell Gage to Tampa Bay in free agency and Calvin Ridley to an indefinite gambling suspension, the Falcons re-signed Cordarrelle Patterson, who will return as the top running back/wide receiver.

The Falcons drafted wide receiver Drake London with the eighth overall pick this year, picked up running back Damien Williams in free agency and traded for wide receiver Bryan Edwards.

While London’s status for the opener is in question because of a knee injury, Edwards and Williams will carry some of the offensive load against the Saints.

Also, returning wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus will be used in an expanded role.

“We have a lot of weapons,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “Sometimes I look at guys that take a jump and may be a little bit improved. So, hopefully you get a better version of Kyle, CP (and) Olamide Zaccheaus.”

The Falcons didn’t try to unleash their firepower in the exhibition games. Caleb Huntley led them in rushing and Jared Bernhardt in receiving. Huntley is on the practice squad, and Bernhardt is listed as the third receiver behind London and Edwards.

This group of Falcons will try to press the pedal against the Saints for the first time and take off.

“Feel good about where they’re at,” Smith said, which has to be based on practices. “Not going to get into the scheme of it. I’ll let (Saints coach) Dennis (Allen) and those guys try to figure that out on Sunday.”

London played well over the offseason and in training camp. He was injured after making a 24-yard reception against the Lions on Aug. 12. He returned to practice Monday and was officially listed as limited Wednesday.

The Falcons traded a fifth-round pick to the Raiders to get Edwards and a seventh-round pick.

Edwards, 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, started 12 of the 16 games last season for the Raiders. He caught 34 passes for 571 yards and three touchdowns.

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

“I feel confident in the work that we put in as an offense throughout camp and the offseason,” Edwards said. “I’m excited to see how everybody’s roles play out going into this first game. I feel like there is a lot of opportunity for all of us to kind of do something in our own way in the offense.”

Edwards is ready for whatever role that Smith has planned for him.

“It’s one of those things where we are going to have to see how it plays out,” Edwards said.

In 28 games over two seasons, Edwards averaged 17.0 yards per reception. The Raiders drafted him in the third round (81st overall) of the 2020 NFL draft out of South Carolina.

Edwards is a familiar target for Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was with the Raiders for the past two seasons.

“Obviously, it’s the NFL,” Edwards said. “Everything is not going to go your way. You’re going to have to be patient. You’re going to have to work hard and take it one day at a time. I feel like that’s what we are going to have to do as an offense, no matter if it’s good or if it’s bad. Just try to come in here and just work.”

ExploreWhere to watch, listen, stream Saints at Falcons

Williams, 5-11 and 225 pounds, played last season with the Bears after opting out of the 2020 season. He mostly has been a backup in the NFL over 97 games and 15 starts.

He has played with the Dolphins (2014-17), Chiefs (2018-19) and Bears (2021). He has rushed for 1,395 yards and 14 touchdowns and has caught 154 passes for 1,209 yards and 11 touchdowns.

He rushed 17 times for 104 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown run, to help the Chiefs defeat the 49ers in the Super Bowl in February 2020.

He will take over the role that Mike Davis had last season and possibly expand on it.

“I think all these pieces are exciting for us as an offense,” Mariota said. “Each guy brings something very unique, very versatile, and they’re all very talented athletes.”

While defenses may lock in on Pitts, Mariota plans to move the ball around.

“So, for me as a quarterback, I really just try to be a point guard and distribute where I can,” Mariota said. “Allow these guys to get the ball in their hands and create these special plays.”

With the additions, Pitts remains the centerpiece of the offense.

“He’s going to put everybody into a position to go out there and succeed,” Pitts said of Smith, who’s the play-caller. “It’s definitely going to help. Damien has won a Super Bowl. C.P. has won a Super Bowl (with New England). They know what it takes to win. So just to have that kind of knowledge around you is critical.”

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

For more content about the Atlanta Falcons

Follow me on Twitter @DorlandoAJC

On Facebook at Atlanta Falcons News Now

On Instagram at DorlandoLed

Atlanta Falcons coverage on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Bow Tie Chronicles

Atlanta Falcons 2022 NFL schedule

Sept. 11 vs. New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m.

Sept. 18 at Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m.

Sept. 25 at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Cleveland, 1 p.m.

Oct. 9 at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

Oct. 16 vs. San Francisco, 1 p.m.

Oct. 23 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

Oct. 30 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m.

Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

Nov. 10 at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.

Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

BYE WEEK

Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD