Who Were the 2022 Atlanta Falcons?

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder
Kyle Hess/Atlanta Falcons

Happy New Year and congratulations on surviving the experience formally known as the 2022 Atlanta Falcons. For most, January symbolizes new beginnings, but for the Falcons it routinely marks the end of their season. In a rebuilding year, the Dirty Birds posted their second straight 7-10 record under Arthur Smith and finished last in the NFC South. Not great, but they far exceeded the expectations many had for them entering the season.

Regular viewers of the team know the final wins and losses don’t begin to tell the story of the 2022 Atlanta Falcons’ season. Atlanta was entering the year with the largest dead cap in league history ($83,686,690) , a thin roster, a bridge quarterback and a rookie third-round quarterback. All coming off the heels of an offseason that saw the pursuit of Deshaun Watson, and the trading of franchise cornerstone Matt Ryan.

It was a tough scene and winning expectations weren’t realistic for this team. These players and coaches deserve credit for defying those odds.

In spite of that, when we look back at this season it may be defying these very odds that cost the team something very precious: time. Atlanta had a lot of questions entering 2022, and they’re going to leave with few of them answered. Let’s reflect on the season and begin an ever-evolving discussion about the Falcons as they head into the offseason.

Was it worth it?

We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us. Arthur Smith chose to ride with Marcus Mariota until Week 14 of this NFL season. After starting 3-3 and being in 1st place of the NFC South; the Falcons went on a 2-5 spiral. During this spiral, many called for the start of Desmond Ridder, but the allure of the playoffs was too much for Arthur Smith and he stood by his veteran QB.

As Dishonored’s Lady Emily Kaldwin said, “It’s a funny thing, ambition. It can take one to sublime heights or harrowing depths. And sometimes they are one and the same.” It was great to be in that position, but after the loss to the Panthers, the Falcons had a 10-day window before facing the Chicago Bears and it feels like an opportunity was wasted.

This felt like a prime opportunity to insert the rookie QB but the Falcons still “controlled their destiny” and the Ridderssance was put on hold. Arthur Smith didn’t give a damn about anyone’s “rebuilding year”. The Falcons beat the Bears, but ended up losing the next two, eliminating them from the playoffs as they headed into the bye week. 

Afterwards, many got what they wanted and it proved to not be enough. It’s impossible to give a fair evaluation on a four-game sample size. At the very least, I can say there was no drop in quarterback play, which is a positive. Beyond that is where things start to get tricky.

Outside of a rough first game, Ridder showed he can at least be the QB2 of this offense, with flashes that showcased QB1 ability. Objectively, the only thing that could be said for sure is that he should’ve been playing earlier. By going this route, Atlanta’s young regime has almost boxed themselves into a corner when it comes to their 2023 QB situation.

The assumption is Ridder is going to start in 2023. The argument to play Ridder for the 2023 season and forgo drafting a quarterback high — or acquiring a starter via free agency — is valid. Ridder had few games to showcase himself and was without tight end Kyle Pitts, leaving fellow rookie Drake London as his best option.

Ridder didn’t have any turnovers. He led a game winning drive and scored his first two TDs against Tom Brady. Alternatively, Ridder faced three subpar/injured defenses and didn’t dominate against any of them. The one good defense he did face crushed him — but this was also his first start as a pro.

It doesn’t really feel like Ridder has won the job, but he hasn’t lost it either. Getting a longer look at him in 2022 could’ve given the Atlanta Falcons, and their fans, more confidence one way or the other heading into the offseason.

It’s hard to imagine Arthur Smith starting over with another rookie — one rebuilding year was enough. There are a lot of vets hitting the market this offseason and Atlanta is going to add one of them. Marcus Mariota is not likely to be back and Ridder needs competition in camp.

It’s a huge risk for this staff to put all their chips on a third round prospect, but it’s probably the best move they have right now. The pressure to build the right team around him is high. Luckily they have an entire offseason and empty check book to work with. But it’s easier said than done when it comes to roster building in the NFL.

Do you remember these 2022 Atlanta Falcons moments?

Remember Kyle Pitts’s first touchdown at home (and on U.S. soil)?

It’s the joke that’s never going away until proven otherwise. Seeing Kyle Pitts get his first home touchdown of the season in Week 6 against the 49ers was both relieving and frustrating. Frustration describes Pitts year two all together.

Missed opportunities with Mariota at quarterback and an increase in blocking duties had fans worried about the unicorn tight end. Eventually Pitts’ season ended in the Chicago Bears game with a torn MCL. Seeing Ridder with Drake London made many fans wonder what could have been, but we must wait until next season to see if Ridder can help Pitts regain his rookie dominance.

Pitts is an important part of this team’s future; one down season in a rebuilding year shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Remember when the Falcons closed out games with their defense?

No, it didn’t happen a lot but it’s more than zero, which is what fans are used to experiencing. In Seattle, we saw a clutch Grady Jarrett sack followed by a Richie Grant interception to close the door on what turned out to be a playoff team. The very next week versus Cleveland, Grady got another sack on the final 3rd down of the game. This was once again followed by an interception, this time by standout newcomer Dee Alford.

Remember Bryan Edwards and Auden Tate?

Friendly Reminder: The preseason is a wild time when no one should be taken seriously. When we look back at this saga of the 2022 season for the Atlanta Falcons, everyone should remember that everything was said with good intentions, and that’s all that matters.

Remember when the offensive line was bad?

Atlanta’s offensive line play became the story of the season for all the right reasons. We saw Kaleb McGary take a huge step forward in a contract year. Drew Dalman replaced veteran Matt Hennessey, and Elijah Wilkinson became the first Falcons bargain offensive line signing to pay off. 

Meanwhile, old faithful Jake Matthews anchored down the left side. Chris Lindstrom’s season was special and he should be receiving his first of many All-Pro selections this year. Even so, the biggest round of applause goes to OL Coach Dwayne Ledford.

Ledford has brought stability to the offensive line and was an integral part in one of the best turnarounds fans have witnessed in recent memory. This is only the beginning for the OL, who still have an opportunity to improve with free agency and the draft ahead.

Remember when Grady’s clean sack was called roughing the passer?

There’s not much else to add; the film is still maddening to this day. Oh, and don’t forget, this was one of two kick attempts by Tom Brady on Jarrett in this game.

Rookie of the Year

These are the types of picks you have to hit on in a rebuilding year. I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t anticipate this season from fifth-round pick Tyler Allgeier. He is undoubtedly the team’s rookie of the year, and he deserves national attention for the league award as well.

Falcons coaching staff and fans saw the growth of Allgeier throughout the season, and he took off when the team needed him most. Cordarrelle Patterson was put on injured reserve and Allegeir never really let go of the RB1 title after that.

With seven official starts under his belt, he finished the season with 1,035 yards | 4.9 Y/A | 4 TDs, setting the new Falcons rookie rushing record. He is also the first Falcon since Devonta Freeman in 2016 with a 1,000 yard season. A true draft gem, Allgeier will be treasured in Atlanta for years to come.

Defensive Culture (Still Under Construction)

Let’s just call this season a wash, especially now that Dean Pees has announced his retirement. We’ve established that 2022 was a rebuilding year for the Atlanta Falcons. Well, no unit proved that more than this one. Everything that was said about this defensive roster preseason was true. Early injuries exposed a lack of depth and talent immediately.

The unit did have its best PPG mark since 2017, but teams moved the ball on them at will. All levels of the defense have glaring holes, and it’s clear this side of the ball needs the most resources poured into it.

On the bright side, Grady Jarrett returned to his elite standard and rookies Arnold Ebiketie and Troy Andersen showed flashes that make them look like legitimate roster pieces. AJ Terrell didn’t have a repeat All-Pro season, but he did show that he’s a level corner in this league and not a one-year wonder.

The Falcons are going to have a brand new defensive coordinator, and they will have the rare opportunity of signing players for their system almost immediately, which should make the transition to life without Dean Pees a little easier.

Where does Atlanta go from here?

Like I said at the beginning, the Falcons are leaving this season with many questions unanswered and the most difficult part of the rebuilding year starts now. It’s easy to brush off losing consecutive seasons when you consider the circumstances to begin with for this regime. That changes now. The cap is clear and the expectations are to win.

It’s easy to simulate free agency on Twitter or through a mock simulator, but people and teams are unpredictable. Furthermore, there’s a long offseason ahead. I do think Ridder will be QB1, but I’m not sure if he’s the answer for the future yet.

Fans have waited all this time for the fresh start to be here, and now its arrival presents more questions. Those questions will be answered by the time summer mini-camp begins. By then, we’ll replace them with new questions and the cycle continues.

For now though, just process the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season however you need. Play highlights. Act like it never happened. Whatever you need, because this season doesn’t matter. That’s one of the few perks of a rebuilding year: this season was a necessary evil. The Falcons wouldn’t be set up as well as they are now heading into the offseason. It’s only the beginning and hopefully they can capitalize.

Thank you for reading. You can find me on Twitter: @tre3shon

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