Atlanta Falcons Mock Draft Duel: Week 6 Edition

Falcons mock draft

The Atlanta Falcons currently hold the eighth overall selection in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft. Because we’re all looking towards the future, it bears the question: who’s next? Atlanta’s in a tough spot currently, and it starts under center. Matt Ryan isn’t getting any younger, and the succession plan is TBD. Defensively, that question is just as tough for the Atlanta Falcons future. Who can be paired with the menace that is Grady Jarrett on the interior? Or who’s the next incredible pass rusher? Heck, what about the lackluster secondary?

In the last edition of Around the Block’s Atlanta Falcons mock draft duel, Hunter and Adam received a challenge from Stevie. Which mock draft is better this time around? Find out below, then go to @falcons_atb on Twitter to vote for your favorite!

Hunter’s Atlanta Falcons Mock Draft (@hthompsonNFL)

Round 1 Pick 12: Carson Strong, QB, Nevada

  • This was not the ideal pick to start our Falcons mock draft, but most other targets I wanted were off the board. But alas, I’ll attempt to put a positive spin on this. Carson Strong is a name you might not have heard of if you don’t keep up with draft Twitter, but the 6’4″ 215 lb Nevada product is my QB1 in the class. Strong has a cannon that allows him place dimes across the field as he posted 16 TD’s to 3 INT’s at this point in the season. He’s also an incredible pre-snap QB who works through his progressions while leading the Nevada Air Raid offense. Strong would be able to come sit behind Ryan for a year while we build the rest of the roster.

Round 2 Pick 45: Josh Jobe, CB, Alabama

  • A high character corner from Alabama, Jobe has the ability to be a great corner to grow next to AJ Terrell. Jobe is a long corner who plays well in press coverage. He is a smart IQ player who does well with his technique to go toe to toe with any WR’s. He is a bit older as a 24 year old rookie, but Jobe fits what the Falcons are going to try run defensively under Pees.

Round 2 Pick 54: Isaiah Thomas, EDGE, Oklahoma

  • Isaiah Thomas has really been a freak of nature at Oklahoma this season. He is a 6’5″ 265lb EDGE who has been used in a variety of ways in Norman this year. He is explosive with his first step and an aggressive monster at the LOS. His hands are strong and his arsenal of pass rush moves is pretty solid. Grabbing a freak like Thomas here is a steal for the Falcons in the draft.

Round 3 Pick 75: Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota

  • Faalele is a mountain of a man at 6-feet-9, 380 pounds. He’s been sliding a bit down boards, but adding the mauler here is a nice addition for the Atlanta Falcons’ o-line. Faalele is a massive bear of a RT who will be able to come in and push Kaleb McGary for a starting spot along this offensive line.

Round 4 Pick 115: Smoke Monday, SAF, Auburn

  • The Falcons adding Smoke Monday here would be a smart move. Smoke would be able to come in and compete right off the bat with Jaylinn Hawkins and Richie Grant for starting safety reps in the Dean Pees defense. Smoke Monday is a leader on the Auburn defense who is a physical safety who is strong in the run game.

Adam’s Atlanta Falcons Mock Draft (@Damski32)

Round 1 Pick 12: Jordan Davis, iDL, Georgia

  • This gives us a unique opportunity to see what a draft outside the top 10 looks like. I started this thing off with an ass kicker and world destroyer right smack in the middle of the defense. Jordan is proving to be a complete nightmare for IOL both vs the pass and vs the run. He’s in great shape and that motor runs hot constantly. His raw strength is absolutely ridiculous and the fact that teams double and triple team him and he still gets home says a lot. Falcons look to rebuild this DL from the inside out and what a heck of a starting piece like Jordan Davis.

Round 2 Pick 45: John Metchie, WR, Alabama

  • John Metchie has been hot and cold this year and he’s really taken a backseat to Jameson Williams in that Alabama O. Which is fine for ATL. They benefit from getting this YAC WR; a big bodied X WR who can create decent separation on his own — which is what ATL really needs from its X WR. Ideally, I wanted OL, but I wasn’t going to rush the need and the Falcons DO need skill positions, too, so I was fine with taking a scheme fit WR here.

Round 2 Pick 54: Isaiah Spiller, RB, Texas A&M

  • Isaiah Spiller is going to be a pick of mine in every mock, I think. Spiller has such great vision and patience when coming through the hole and shows tons of burst and contact balance on film. Arthur Smith will definitely be looking for his bell-cow in this draft, and I think Spiller, the ever talented RB out of A&M, could be that guy. To note, Arthur loves his backs who can block on third down too; Spiller might be the best of the bunch in that area.

Round 3 Pick 76: Zion Johnson, iOL, Boston College

  • Zion Johnson from Boston College was someone who was HIGH on my radar last off-season when I knew we’d be in the market for an IOL. Luckily for ATL, he went back to school and they have a shot at him this year. Zion possesses real functional strength and is a bully in the run game, really good at getting to the second level to seal blocks, and has some nasty in the pass game. Having Mayfield be average this whole year wouldn’t stop me from adding bodies to the position. The Falcons did draft Drew Dalman after having Matt Hennessy on the roster already last year.

Round 4 Pick 115: Amare Barno, EDGE, Virginia Tech

  • Amare Barno is such an intriuging prospect and I think four months from now he may rise up the boards and could be a Day 2 pick. He has some really good power and offers some really good hand play. He’s an intriguing Day 3 option at EDGE for us that could potentially log some early snaps as a designated pass rusher. I really didn’t like how this turned out in terms of EDGE cause this was such a strong class, but I was happy to nab a guy that was high on my board!

Stephen’s Atlanta Falcons Mock Draft (@stevieraylee)

Round 1 Pick 12: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

AJ Terrell is living up to the immense preseason hype, but he can’t do it by himself out there. Booth would be an immediate starter whose ability in man coverage would allow Pees to open up his playbook more than we’ve seen so far this season. Excellent footwork and balance keep Booth comfortable with any assignment. He can play out of control at times, but, with a little polish, Booth could make the secondary a strength for the Falcons defense.

Round 2 Pick 45: David Bell, WR, Purdue

If Bell can continue to build on his 11 catch, 240 yard game against Iowa, we probably won’t get many more opportunities to draft him this late. Bell fits the mold of a bigger, contested-catch receiver that Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith have been looking for since Julio Jones departed for Tennessee. Atlanta has Kyle Pitts and Calvin Ridley in the building for 2022, but that’s pretty much it. Even though there are other pressing issues, if the Falcons want to be competitive, they have to keep the offense running at a high level.

Round 2 Pick 54: Zion Nelson, OL, Miami

Nelson is an incredibly athletic offensive tackle that excels in pass pro against speed rushers. He moves well in space, and if he can put on (and keep on) weight, he has the potential to be an excellent run blocker in an outside zone scheme. The big question is whether he can maintain the requisite size to stick in the pros. Miami lists Nelson at 315lbs, but I’d bet dollars to doughnuts his playing weight is closer to 300 lbs. That’s not big enough to make it in the NFL, but he has steadily added weight since arriving in Miami. He’d be a bit of a project, but he has the tools to be a standout tackle if he pans out.

Round 3 Pick 76: Jermaine Johnson, Edge, Florida St.

Feel free to accuse me of copying Adam’s mock from last week, but a good idea is a good idea. Johnson is lighting it up this season in Tallahassee, piling up 6.5 sacks through six games. He is built perfectly to slot in at OLB in this scheme, and has the physical tools to play whatever role Dean Pees cooks up for him. The fact that he had to transfer out of UGA only shows how talented the Bulldogs roster is. Expect Johnson to continue to rise up draft boards as we move along, but for now, he’s an immense value in the third round.

Round 4 Pick 115: Amare Barno, Edge, Virginia Tech

This draft class is far too deep at the edge to resist a double-dip. Barno isn’t a name that’s being kicked around a ton, but he led the D1 schools in TFL’s in 2020. He isn’t off to the same white-hot start that Jermaine Johnson is in 2021, but he has managed 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble so far. At 6’6, Barno has an ideal frame, though he could stand to add functional strength. Barno transitioned from off-ball LB to defensive end in 2020, making him an intriguing candidate for a scheme-diverse system like Atlanta’s. It’s a pick based on projection, but after investing in a polished rusher like Johnson, the Falcons can afford to roll the dice on a developments project.

Baltimore Ravens, Lamar Jackson dominate Chargers

Baltimore Ravens

The game with the most intrigue of the weekend turned into an absolute romp. Behind Lamar’s day, the Baltimore Ravens routed the visiting Chargers 34-6. The Ravens dominated both sides of the ball en route to a 5-1 record atop the AFC North. Baltimore’s had some close finishes this season, including last Monday night, but this was a surprising reprieve for Ravens faithful.

Game Recap: Total Offensive Domination

The early afternoon contest featured two of the hottest quarterbacks and MVP hopefuls Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert. Both led potent, high scoring offenses and many predicted a shootout considering how porous both defenses have been all season. Instead, the Ravens jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and never looked back. Baltimore’s run game looked like the run game of old, steamrolling LA’s front seven with 187 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. Three separate running backs ran for a touchdown, including the recently elevated Le’Veon Bell. Jackson’s stats won’t blow up the stat sheet as they had the last few weeks but he was still patient in the pocket and placed the ball where it needed to be to keep drives alive. Essentially, Lamar’s game through the air was unnecessary to keep the Chargers reeling.

Game Recap: Defense Shows Up

It was Baltimore’s defense, however, that came up big. The Ravens D had been gashed all season long, and most predicted Herbert’s high flying Chargers would do the same. Instead, the defense continually got pressure on Herbert and completely shut down Austin Ekeler. DeShonn Elliott snagged his first interception of the year while tacking on a sack, proving to be one of the most versatile defenders in the league. Justin Houston also added a sack late in the game to put him ever closer to 100 career sacks.

The most interesting take from this contest? Despite the margin of victory, no single player dominated the game. This was an all around team victory and everyone contributed to the massive victory. Rookie receiver Rashod Bateman made his long anticipated debut and had 4 receptions for 29 yards but had an ugly drop in the 4th quarter that turned into an interception for the Chargers. Still, it’s nice to see the Ravens try to work their young receiver into the game. Lamar Jackson also made history by passing Dan Marino for most wins (35) by a quarterback before age 25. Another game, another record set.

Baltimore Ravens Next Matchup

As stated before, this win improves the Ravens to 5-1 while maintaining first place in the AFC North. Next up? A home game against the surprisingly hot Cincinnati Bengals in Baltimore’s first divisional game this season. The following week, the Ravens will go on a much needed bye. This was a massive win for the Baltimore Ravens before beginning a stretch of divisional games in late November-early December.

Position Grades for the Cincinnati Bengals after dismantling the Lions 34-11

Bengals Position Grades
Daniel Mears – Detroit News

Position grades for the Cincinnati Bengals are going to be fun this week. It was a rough first half for a Bengals offense that has gotten out to slow starts all season. But, a 24-point explosion in the second half shows the Bengals deserve to be taken seriously this year. They’ve been climbing up the Power Rankings all season, but (spoiler alert) they should break into the top 10 now.

Sure, the Lions are a winless football team. But, nobody has beaten them by as many points as the Bengals did this week. In fact, the Bengals shut out an NFL opponent on the road all the way up until the backups started going in and they shifted to prevent defense.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Offense

Quarterback grade: B+

Joe Burrow’s first half was one to forget. The Bengals did put together a solid first drive. Burrow showed off his mobility and found RB Chris Evans for the Bengals’ first opening drive touchdown of the year. Unfortunately, he overthrew Ja’Marr Chase in the redzone on the next drive, resulting in a gut-wrenching interception.

Throughout the rest of the first half, Burrow looked inaccurate and indecisive. 

Luckily, he pulled a complete 180 in the second half. At one point, he took a 12-yard sack in a goal-to-go situation where he really should have just thrown the ball away. But, to his credit, he found Chris Evans and CJ Uzomah on the following two plays to erase the lost yardage and punch the ball in the endzone. He finished the game with 271 passing yards, 20 rushing yards, three passing touchdowns, and just the one early interception. It was good for a 115.7 passer rating, which you’ll generally take every time.

Running Back grade: A

Because this unit failed to score a rushing touchdown, many will forget the impact they had. That said, 125 rushing yards should tell more than enough for the Position Grades. Joe Mixon alone put up 5.2 yards per carry and was an absolute weapon in second half 3rd and 4th down situations. In fact, he was responsible for 153 yards of total offense if you count his receiving touches.

Rookie Chris Evans was more effective as a pass catcher than a runner. He caught 3 passes for 49 yards and a touchdown. 

Only Ja’Marr Chase put up more yards per catch on the day. Even Trayveon Williams, who was just called up from the practice squad, got in on the action once the game was fully under control late in the 4th quarter. He only managed a measly 2.2 yards per carry. But, he did convert the 4th & 1 on the Bengals’ final drive that allowed them to run the rest of the clock out. It didn’t make a huge difference in the game. But, it did allow the Bengals to preserve the largest margin of victory against the Lions this season.

Also, worth noting, Chris Evans looked fantastic in pass protection today. So did Joe Mixon. Their 80.0 and 83.9 PFF pass blocking grade, respectively, was the highest rated of any Bengals RB tandem all season.

It’s not the first time Evans flashed solid blocking chops this season, either. The Bengals have seen so many issues from defenses taking advantage of running backs who can’t block. The Bengals may have found a gem in this kid from Michigan who missed a lot of playing time in college due to academic issues.

Wide Receiver grade: A

Ja’Marr Chase has been such a boost to the Bengals’ offense it doesn’t even seem real. He’s arguably the front runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He added to his case this week with 97 yards on four catches. One of those catches was a 34-yard conversion on 3rd and 10 that set the Bengals up for a field goal going into halftime. It helped turn the Bengals’ offensive momentum around from a mostly terrible first half performance.

Later on, in the 3rd quarter, he reeled in a 53-yard bomb that set up the Bengals’ third touchdown of the game. It would be the final drive of the game for the Bengals’ offensive starters. Oh, and then there was the time when he outran Mixon to lay a crushing block that ended in a 40-yard touchdown.

This kid is special, and that’s reflected in the Position Grades.

Tee Higgins also looked great with 44 yards on three catches. Although, he was targeted six times. His connection with Joe Burrow has been rocky the last few weeks. But, even then he managed to be a factor in this game. He also drew a 21-yard pass interference near the end of the game that helped Brandon Allen extend their second to last drive. It allowed them to run some more time off the clock and eventually get into the endzone for the fourth time on the day.

Tight End grade: C+

CJ Uzomah had a good day this week. His first two catches went for a combined 13 yards and didn’t have much of an impact on the day. But, his third catch went into the endzone and gave the Bengals a 27-0 lead.

Drew Sample, on the other hand, was a complete non-factor in the passing game and Position Grades once again. He was only targeted on one play and he dropped the pass.

However, he did grade a 76.0 as a pass blocker on nine pass blocking reps, the most of all non-linemen. So, maybe you can look past the poor performance as a receiver.

Granted, it wasn’t exactly easy and the defender played the ball well. But, he’s starving for any impact on this offense and is starting to look expendable. 

Offensive line grade: B

For once, the biggest criticism against the Bengals’ offensive line was not their pass-blocking ability. Burrow was only sacked twice  and generally had plenty of time to throw the ball. There were a few hiccups, but the biggest problem was the penalties. 

The Bengals’ second drive ended in an interception, so Trey Hill’s back-to-back holding and false start penalties were largely forgotten. The infuriating part is the holding penalty wiped out by a 15-yard catch by Tee Higgins that would have kept the Bengals’ early momentum going. Instead, the Bengals ended up on 2nd&25 and Burrow forced a ball for a killer interception. Although, Hill played pretty well the rest of the day, which helps this unit’s Position Grades.

The following drive, Riley Reif wiped out a first down catch by Tyler Boyd with a holding penalty on third down. The Bengals punted and began a series of terrible scoreless drives that wouldn’t end until Evan McPherson sank a 38-yard field goal as the first half expired.

The second half, however, was much better. There was one terrible rep where Riley Reiff got absolutely manhandled by Austin Bryant en route to a sack. But, for the most part, the line got their act together in the second half with the rest of the offense. 

That said, despite the up-and-down play by the offensive line, it seems clear the Bengals made the right pick at No. 5 overall. Penei Sewell struggled against Trey Hendrickson all day and has generally had a rough rookie season.

Bengals’ second round pick Jackson Carman was carted off the field after throwing up in relief for a struggling Trey Hill. But, he looked really good when he was on the field. Unfortunately, he only played about a third of the snaps this week. But, when he was on the field, he only gave up a single QB hit and graded 90.3 as a run blocker.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Defense

Defensive line grade: B

Jared Goff was only sacked once the entire game, which is not what you want to see. But, Trey Hendrickson was still regularly in the backfield pressuring Goff and forcing errant decisions. Three times he was credited with a QB hurry, and five pressures For Sam Hubbard, three pressures and two QB hurries.

DJ Reader was a huge part of the Bengals keeping the Lions to only 36 yards rushing. In fact, every time he got in on a play, the rush only went for one or zero yards. BJ Hill continued to show why the Bengals wanted to trade for him as he contributed with two pressures and one QB hurry.

Linebacker grade: A

Logan Wilson was back in the spotlight this week when he caught a ball ripped away by Vonn Bell for an interception that cancelled out Burrow’s early INT. He also stopped Lions ball carriers in the backfield twice for losses. Akeem Davis-Gaither also contributed with two pass deflections and a short stop in coverage. 

Wilson is starting to become the really solid coverage linebacker the Bengals always needed. Despite allowing four catches on five targets, he still only allowed a 57.1 passer rating when targeted. He got picked on a bit on the Lions’ final drive of the game. But, at that point the Bengals were largely playing prevent and focusing on big plays, so you can excuse the issues.

Cornerback grade: A

Chidobe Awuzie continues to look like one of the Bengals’ best free agent pickups in recent memory. At one point he had one of the prettiest bats in the air you’ll ever see on a deep pass. Jared Goff targeted him seven times on the night and he allowed five receptions. Even so, he only allowed a 76.5 passer rating when targeted. Eli Apple also looked really good, allowing only a 39.6 passer rating when targeted. To be fair, that was only once, but he didn’t allow a catch on 45 coverage snaps.

The Lions put together a decent passing attack on the day through TE TJ Hockenson and RB D’Andre Swift. But, the Lions’ leading wide receiver was Kalif Raymond, who only recorded 37 yards on six catches. Even without Trae Waynes or the newly acquired Tre Flowers, Bengals cornerbacks managed to come together for an outstanding night and overall fantastic Position Grades.

Safety grade: A

Vonn Bell is starting to play like the Bengals’ best safety. Yes, that’s with Jessie Bates III on the field. Without question, Jessie Bates has an incredible ceiling. But, in 2021, Bell has been the one making major plays.This week, he led the Bengals in tackles (7) and created a turnover when he ripped the ball out of Amon-Ra St. Brown’s hands. He was credited with a pass deflection rather than a forced fumble, because the officials ruled the receiver never completed the catch. So, the credit for the turnover goes to Logan Wilson. But, Bell deserves just as much credit for the play if not more.

Special teams grades: B

After struggling with missed kicks both of the last two weeks, rookie kicker Evan McPherson got back on track this week. He converted both of his field goal attempts and all four extra points. It looked like he was going to push the first field goal way wide to the right. But, he used the air current to his advantage this time, and caught the bottom right corner inside the uprights. You’d prefer he didn’t give everyone a heart attack like that, but he was automatic today and you have to give that to him.

The rest of the special teams unit was solid as well. Kevin Huber got quite a bit of work in the second quarter, but he did a great job on all three punts. All three times he put the ball inside the 20. 

Unfortunately, the Bengals’ punt coverage wasn’t quite so good. They only held the Lions inside the 20 on one of those punts, and that was because of an illegal block above the waist. The kickoff coverage was much better and helped the unit’s Position Grades look a bit better. However. They held the Lions behind the 25 yard line on three of the four kickoffs that didn’t result in touchbacks.

Coaching grade: B+

Throughout the first half, Taylor’s deficiencies as an offensive manager were on full display. Aside from finally scoring a touchdown on the opening drive of a game, the majority of the Bengals’ first half drives look uninspired. Despite a decent running game, it looked like the passing game couldn’t get anything going. The short plays on second and long were confounding. I’ll partly blame coaching for the rash of penalties that destroyed drives in the first quarter.

However, as we’ve seen them do so many times during Zac Taylor’s tenure, they made massive adjustments at halftime. Suddenly matchups were being taken advantage of and the Bengals began to dominate the way everyone expected them to. Also, you absolutely have to give it up to Lou Anarumo. He has put together an absolutely stifling defense despite so many Bengals fans wanting the team to move on from him after last year.

You’d prefer to see the coaching staff get this team ready to play 60 full minutes and have schemes that don’t require halftime adjustments to bear fruit. But, as long as the Bengals are winning, you can’t criticize too hard.

Week 6 Preview – Know Thy Enemy: Buffalo Bills

Know Thy Enemy: Buffalo Bills
Photo Credit: Donald Page / tennesseetitans.com

The Tennessee Titans host the current class of the AFC on primetime television, a Buffalo Bills team that absolutely dominated the disappointing Chiefs last week. Buffalo will be out to avenge last season’s blowout defeat to the Titans where Josh Norman was eviscerated into nothingness by Derrick Henry. The league’s top-ranked offense and defense currently reside in western New York led by perennial MVP candidate Josh Allen. Can the Titans muster enough Henry to keep their horrifically abysmal and devastatingly dire defense from getting blown out?  

Key Numbers + Info (2021 season)

Record: 4-1 (1-0 AFC East)

Points scored: 172

PPG: 18.5

Points allowed: 115

PPGa: 34.4

Average yards per rush: 4.5

Avg. yards per rush allowed: 3.7

Average rush yards per game: 140.4

Avg. rush yards per game allowed: 78.4

Rushing TDs: for, 1 against

Avg. pass yards per game: 270.0

Avg. pass yards per game allowed: 173.4

Passing TDs: 12 for, against

Pass Completion Rate: 63%

Pass Completion Rate Against: 76%

Top Rusher: Devin Singletary (55 attempts for 284 yards and one touchdown)

Leading Receiver: Stefon Diggs (28 receptions for 374 yards and one touchdown)

Leading Tackler: Tremaine Edmunds (30 tackles, two tackles for loss, two passes defended, and one interception)

Key Additions: EDGE Gregory Rousseau (rookie), EDGE Boogie Basham (rookie), OT Spencer Brown (rookie), OL Ike Boettger, OL Bobby Hart, WR Emmanuel Sanders, LB A.J. Klein, LB Tyler Matakevich, TE Kahale Warring, QB Mitchell Trubisky, RB Matt Breida

Key Losses: WR Marquez Stevenson (IR), TE Bug Howard, EDGE Bryan Cox, Jr, OL Forrest Lamp, OL Jamil Douglas

Series History

Tennessee leads the series against the Buffalo Bills 29-19-0

Tennessee Call Out, Ball Out

Team mentality

The whole footballing world is discounting the Titans’ ability to even stay remotely close to the Buffalo Bills on Monday. Can Tennessee circle the wagons and pull off the upset over notorious #BillsMafia? Both coordinators will need to call the game of their lives for the Titans to have a chance. Can the rest of the team help supplement the ever omnipresent Derrick Henry? Mike Vrabel is known for rallying the troops and pulling off upset. Can he pull a rabbit out of the hat at home? Tennessee must play within themselves and not fall into the hype trying to be something they’re not. 

Ball Control

Ride the King to win the time of possession game. The Titans defense as currently constituted couldn’t stop a minor nosebleed, much less the league’s top offense. A Josh Allen on the sidelines is a Josh Allen that can’t hurt you. Todd Downing is one of the lower tier offensive coordinators so he can’t be lulled into trying to go score for score with the powerful Bills offense. Shorten the game by pounding the ball against a terrifying defense if you can.  

Offensive line = fix it

Ryan Tannehill can’t throw the ball from his back unlike one Patrick Mahomes (probably). The offensive line has been horrendous in pass protection when healthy as it is. As it were, guard Rodger Saffold is dealing with one injury or another at any point during a game. Taylor Lewan fluctuates from indifferent to repulsively abhorrent, battling his way back from an ACL injury last year. Nate Davis has regressed badly. Don’t get me started on the right tackle situation. 

Caleb Farley

Welcome the big leagues, son. Now go cover one of the best receivers in the league in your first start. The former first round selection is likely getting the start due to emerging star corner Kristian Fulton out due to injury. Much will be expected of the former Hokies defensive back. I’m just not sure that he can deliver against Stefon Diggs along with Janoris Jenkins is now a slow rabbit. 

Keys to a Buffalo Bills Victory

Keep on Keeping On

Josh Allen probably is the favorite for the MVP at this point in the season. He’s coming off a team wide destruction of the perennial AFC favorite Chiefs. The Bills are looking like the class of the whole league. Tennessee, meanwhile, is decidedly not a team like that. While no team is a walkover, the Bills severely outclass the Titans from top to bottom. They should have no difficulty in dominating Tennessee on the road where Nashville related demons need to be exorcised. They can’t even use the trap game excuse as a freshly beaten in London by a fantastically bad Jaguars team, Dolphins are on next week’s docket. Defenestrate the Titans from the finicky clutches of the AFC contender’s club and move on. 

A hearty feast on Derrick Henry

Stop the transcendent beast that is Derrick Henry and you’ve won the game in essence. Tannehill, given all of his offensive line and receiver issues, poses no threat to steal the game on his own. A top gear Henry is a tough assignment for any defense, but the Bills have the firepower to match him at every level. 

Revenge of the…Herd?

The Titans thoroughly outclassed the Bills last season at Nissan Stadium. Buffalo will be out to avenge that Tuesday night loss (due to COVID). A loss that included the eternal soul removal of Josh Norman afflicted upon him by one Derrick Henry. Can the top team in the league keep the positive momentum going in the land of honky tonks and bachelorette parties? 

Injury Report

What are the odds?

Caesars has the Bills as 5.5 point favorites at -110 while the Titans are +110 dogs. The over/under has been set at 53.5. The money line is the Titans at -250 and the Jaguars at +205.

BetMGM has the Bills as 5,5 point favorites at -110 while the Titans are +110 dogs. The over/under has been set at 53.5. The money line is the Bills at -250 and the Titans at +200.

Wynnbet has the Bills as six-point favorites at -105 while the Titans are +115 dogs. The over/under has been set at 53 even. The money line is the Bills at -240 and the Titans +200.

Prediction

BUFFALO BILLS 49

Tennessee Titans 21

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Previous KTE Editions

KTE: Jacksonville Jaguars

Know Thy Enemy: Seattle Seahawks

Know Thy Enemy: Indianapolis Colts

KTE: New York Jets

Atlanta Falcons Q1 Review: Skill Players

Falcons Skills Players Credit: Sky Sports

Five weeks into the NFL season, the picture is coming into focus for the Atlanta Falcons. With the team in a bye week, I am looking at where each position group stands and what we may expect from them as we advance. I’ve already covered Matt Ryan and his offensive line. Today I am focusing on the skill players. We’ll start with the running backs and finish up with the receivers. Let’s jump in.

Running Backs: The Cordarrelle Patterson Show

Cordarrelle Patterson has been the offensive MVP. He’s been nothing short of a revelation for the Atlanta Falcons. He accounts for five of their twelve offensive touchdowns and nearly thirty percent of their total yardage. Even though many wrote him off as a return specialist and part-time gadget player, I tried my best to convince people he would be a significant part of this offense. Even with lofty expectations for him, I’m still surprised at how effective he’s been.

PFF agrees, grading him as the second-best running back in the NFL through five games. However, Football Outsiders doesn’t see it quite the same way. They have Patterson ranked 27th (of 40) in DYAR (reflects total value) and 24th (of 40) in DVOA (reflects value per play). I won’t sit here and pretend I understand that. Patterson eclipsed a 50% snap share for the first time all season against the Jets but still manages to carry an outsized portion of the Atlanta Falcons offensive production. Part of that is due to the impotence of the offense for the first three games, but Patterson has been a dangerous weapon through five games.

I supposed Football Outsiders is knocking him for the hot/cold nature of his runs. They list his success rate at 46%, which is 30th (of 40) in the NFL. Patterson has been a bit boom or bust in terms of rushing. Or perhaps they weight rushes higher than receptions, which make up the bulk of Patterson’s production. Either way, even if Patterson doesn’t stand out in terms of advanced metrics, he certainly passes the eyeball test.

Mike Davis Doing it the Hard Way

On the other hand, Mike Davis hasn’t gotten off to the start many of us expected. In terms of raw production, he’s been terrible. He’s averaging 3.3 yards per carry and has only one rushing touchdown. He’s added another receiving touchdown, but only 88 yards on 18 catches. Football Outsiders ranks him as the 35th (of 40) best running back in DYAR and DVOA and 39th (of 40) in success rate. PFF grades him out as the 50th best overall running back in the NFL. However, those stats aren’t giving you the complete picture.

Of Mike Davis’s 204 rushing yards, 176 have come after contact. Read that again. Over 86% of his total rushing yardage has come after contact. The top five runners in yards after contact are all significantly lower. At least 10% lower than Davis’s ridiculously high number of hard-won yardage. Who’s to blame for this inefficiency? There is plenty to go around. The line has to block better for him. Smith has to give him carries in less obvious situations. Davis isn’t blameless either. He has been slow to get to his gap on a few reps I’ve reviewed. On balance, though, his teammates aren’t giving him much room to operate. If this line can start to gel, I suspect we’ll see better production from Davis.

TLDR: Atlanta Falcons Running Backs

Patterson has been an absolute animal, despite mediocre ratings from Football Outsiders. This team would have struggled to win a game without Patterson being a dangerous weapon as a runner and receiver. Though his usage saw a massive uptick in week five, I suspect he will continue to see a relatively limited role as he will continue to share snaps with Mike Davis.

Mike Davis hasn’t been effective, but this offense hasn’t done him any favors. The lack of yardage he’s been able to gain before contact is paltry, and the fact that he’s managed to move the ball at all is somewhat surprising. I suspect the dual-threat nature Patterson presents makes it a bit easier on the line when he’s in the backfield. Perhaps this offense would benefit from getting Davis carries in situations that aren’t quite as obvious moving forward.

The Atlanta Falcons Look for a #1 Receiver

I’m going to lump tight ends and wide receivers into one category because there isn’t much of a divide between the two. This group hasn’t been highly productive, although we finally saw Kyle Pitts breakout against the Jets. Let’s start with the options on the outside.

Come Back Calvin!

Calvin Ridley is the only receiver of note on the Falcons roster. Russell Gage went down with a calf injury before he could make his presence felt, and Olamide Zaccheaus, Tajae Sharpe, and Christian Blake haven’t proven to be more than rotational depth at this point. Even Ridley’s season has been marred with drops and his sudden and mysterious departure from the team for “personal reasons.” I won’t speculate on the nature of Ridley’s personal matter, but the team has been openly supportive, and we as fans owe him as much too.

Before his (presumably) momentary departure, Ridley wasn’t overwhelmingly effective. Per Football Outsiders, he ranks 60th of 72 in DYAR and 57th of 72 in DVOA. PFF grades him as the 65th best of 113 qualifying receivers in the NFL. His yards per reception have fallen from 15.3 in 2020 to 9.4 in 2021. This is particularly alarming as his targets per game are at a career-high. It has been an inauspicious start for the newly minted #1 receiver in Atlanta.

We can rationalize this in a few different ways. One argument is that Ridley is getting more attention with Julio Jones’s departure, but that argument doesn’t hold water after reviewing the film. He’s getting looked at like a number one receiver, but he hasn’t demanded the same respect/fear as the departed Jones. In fact, he’s been open quite a bit through the first four weeks. Whenever faced with man coverage, he’s winning his matchup at an impressive rate. For a variety of reasons, Ryan hasn’t been able to take advantage of these moments.

Matching Talent to Scheme for the Atlanta Falcons

I propose the most significant reason for Ridley’s depressed production is how Arthur Smith uses him in the passing game. Ridley feasted on deep digs and comeback routes in 2020. However, in 2021 he’s seen a majority of his receptions on shallow crossing routes. It’s a mismatch of talent to philosophy. Arthur Smith prefers getting the ball into the hands of his receivers early and charging them with making plays after the catch. Ridley isn’t awful at this, but it undercuts his best trait, his crisp route running.

This mismatch of scheme and skill has led to all manner of undue criticisms of Ridley. Fans call him soft and unwilling to fight for tough yardage. Instead, we should call for Smith to use Ridley in a way befitting of his skill set. Hopefully, Ridley quickly rejoins the team, and when he does, let’s all hope Smith has a better plan for him. There is no excuse for his production to fall off a cliff as it has.

Can Anyone Else Step Up at Wide Receiver?

The other receivers aren’t worth mentioning. It sounds harsh, but aside from a few timely third-down conversions, they haven’t impacted the game. Of the top 113 graded receivers, only Sharpe has cracked the top 100, and he’s ranked 79th. When Russell Gage returns from injury, he may find a way to move the needle, but until then, this group is one of the worst in the NFL.

Unicorns and Rainbows

Fans were quick to bemoan Kyle Pitts’ slow start to the season. Despite never playing a snap in the NFL, many fans already envisioned his bust in the Hall of Fame. With the immense hype surrounding him before the draft, it was hard to temper expectations, but those expectations had grown far beyond anything close to reasonable. For context, Kyle Pitts was on pace to finish with the fifth-best rookie season for a tight end in NFL history through the first four weeks. Still, it wasn’t enough to satisfy the onlookers.

Week five against the Jets was the breakout game everyone was waiting on. A nine-catch, 119 yard, one-touchdown stat line is what everyone expected from the beginning. Now Pitts is on pace to threaten the all-time yardage record for rookie tight ends.

Pitts is still a mediocre tight end despite this newly achieved historic pace based on Football Outsiders stats. Of 42 ranked tight ends, he’s 13th in DYAR and 20th in DVOA. PFF is much more bullish; he’s graded as 8th of the 70 qualifying tight ends.

Be. Patient.

As it tends to be, the truth is somewhere in the middle of all these advanced metrics. Pitts proved he could be a dangerous weapon in week five. However, I doubt he ever sees as much single coverage as he faced against the Jets. On his first career touchdown, the Jets left a defensive end on an island against him. That’s not going to happen often. Does that mean this breakout game will prove to be an anomaly? Absolutely not. However, I wouldn’t bank on him putting up gaudy stats week in and week out.

What people tend to forget about Kyle Pitts is he is still incredibly young and unpolished. He turned 21 a week ago. Pitts is literally still growing. He is still learning how to be an effective receiver, and is far from a polished route runner. Pitts doesn’t fully grasp how to take advantage of the gaps in zone coverages. He has had reps where corners with a distinct size disadvantage have defeated him in press overage. Despite the promise he showed at Florida, he is far from a finished product. That’s ok. None of us should expect him to be an all-pro from day one. He is going to get better at all of those things, but it will take time. We got a taste of it last Sunday, but it won’t always be a smooth trip to the top of the NFL. Be patient.

The Legend of Lee Smith

The rest of the tight end group has been one of the most shocking things I’ve seen so far from this squad. Hayden Hurst, who I had penciled in as a very productive member of this team, currently grades out as the 69th of 70 qualifying tight ends, per PFF. Lee Smith, who I imagined as nothing more than a sixth offensive lineman, ranks 9th. Hurst is currently fourth in receiving yards for the Atlanta Falcons with 103 yards and a TD. Meanwhile, the great Lee Smith is only five receptions away from matching his career-high of 12.

To be fair, fumbles are behind Hurst’s poor grade, but I do expect more from him. His emergence as a viable threat will be even more critical if Calvin Ridley isn’t able to rejoin the team soon. Hurst has already proven he can be a productive tight end in 2020. Smith needs to find a way to get him more involved, and when his number gets called, Hurst needs to prove he can protect the football.

TLDR: Atlanta Falcons Receivers

With the departure of Julio Jones, everyone wondered how effective this group would be. Kyle Pitts is loaded with promise, but it’s never safe to gamble on a rookie. Calvin Ridley has everything it takes to be a primary receiver, but he has been miscast in this offense, and now his availability is murky. Depth is an issue across the board for the Falcons, but it is incredibly thin at wide receiver. Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus are effective slot receivers, but neither has proven effective as a #2. Tajae Sharpe has been a lunch pail guy, but he isn’t someone you want to start. Frank Darby has run the same number of routes this season as I have.

Considering the relative inefficiency with the run game, this receiving group needs another player to emerge. My money is still on Hayden Hurst, but someone needs to step forward and prove they can be counted on to help keep the offense on schedule. The Falcons have been lucky to face a few incompetent defenses, and the schedule isn’t as favorable moving forward. Generally speaking, early bye weeks are undesirable. In the Falcons case, it came at the perfect time. Hopefully, it allows them time to get Russell Gage and Calvin Ridley back on the field, while Arthur Smith has an extra week to tweak the offense to better suit the players on the roster.

Wrapping Up the Atlanta Falcons Offense

All in, it’s been a less than ideal start for this offense. Despite the stellar performances in weeks four and five, this group still hasn’t put together a game where they are firing on all cylinders. It may be asking too much to expect a good performance from every unit on this offense this season. There is so much youth and inexperience on this team from the top down. We may need to find a way to be contented with flashes of promise rather than total fulfillment. If this offense can’t offer up a near-perfect game against the 7th softest defensive schedule so far, it may be too much to expect them to pull it together against better defenses. The Falcons face four of the top ten defenses (in DVOA) over the next five weeks. The sledding gets a lot tougher from here.

Still, there are numerous reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Matt Ryan has strung together a pair of games that surpass anything he’s done since the Sarkisian era. Arthur Smith’s offense is predicated on a strong run game, and if this offensive line can continue to progress, we will see what this offense looks like when it doesn’t have to play left-handed. The most promising sign is this is a team that shows it can learn from its mistakes. Arthur Smith was needlessly cautious, and it cost them a game. The following week he didn’t hesitate to attack when the same situation presented itself. Ryan seemed hesitant to throw into contested windows early, but we saw him firing balls into tight windows last week. Jalen Mayfield is cleaning up his technique. Mike Davis is still fighting for yards. This team is close to putting it together on offense; it’s just a matter of time.