Atlanta Falcons Receivers: Breaking Down the 2022 Situation

Calvin Ridley, a key player in the Atlanta Falcons receiving corps
Photo Credit: atlantafalcons.com

The Atlanta Falcons receivers group is arguably one of the worst in the 2021 NFL season. They have the least yardage of any wide receiver corps in the league. At tight end, it’s almost the reverse. They have generational talent Kyle Pitts as the starter and quite a few reserves that help out with blocking and can catch short routes as above average No. 2 tight end options. When it comes to groups that need an almost complete makeover this off-season, it’s this one.

Under Contract:

WR Calvin Ridley: 1 year, $11.116 million left on his contract

WR Frank Darby: 3 years, $2.973 million left on his contract

TE Kyle Pitts: 3 years, $26.927 million left on his contract and a potential fifth year option

Kyle Pitts is obviously going to be the primary option for the Atlanta Falcons group of receivers moving forward. He’s the only tight end 21 years or younger in NFL history to gain over 1000 yards. He’s a physical freak and as his routes and catching get more refined, he’s only going to be more impactful. Frank Darby is a very good long-term reserve option for the Falcons as a fourth option in the passing game and is under contract for very little money.

Calvin Ridley is the most unique situation in the NFL as he’s currently under a mental health leave from the league. Should the Falcons want to move on because they aren’t sure he’s in it for their team, they should trade him for the most value they can. It would free up cap space in the amount of $11 million. If he’s ready to go for the Falcons, he’d instantly be an option for No. 1 receiver. Ridley could lead the passing game and mentor Pitts to be an even better player than he is.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents:

WR Chad Hansen

WR Austin Trammell

TE Parker Hesse

TE John Raine

When looking at the exclusive rights free agents the Atlanta Falcons have in the receivers group, this looks like a few guys who can provide a little depth for the camp roster. The only person in this group who could be a regular contributor moving forward is Parker Hesse. Hesse is a good fit for the long-term blocking role in Arthur Smith’s offense. He’s shown abilities as a short-yardage outlet for the Falcons as a rookie and could continue a similar role for the team moving forward.

UPDATE: The Falcons re-signed Hesse, Raine, Hansen and Trammell on 1/10/2022.

Restricted Free Agents:

WR Olamide Zaccheaus

WR Christian Blake

TE Jaeden Graham

Restricted free agents are an interesting situation for the Falcons. While Christian Blake is an obvious non-tender option due to lack of production and lack of talent overall, Jaeden Graham and Olamide Zaccheaus had impacts during their first three years with the team. Zaccheaus and Graham should both be brought back, but ideally, they re-signed for under the original tender offer.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

WR Tajae Sharpe

WR Russell Gage

TE Hayden Hurst

TE Lee Smith

The biggest names from this group in terms of talent and production are Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst. Gage has proven to be a talented third or fourth receiving option in the offense and a good possession receiver needed for those tough third downs. Hurst has shown to be a solid blocker and a good fit for the Arthur Smith offense, but might be looking for a more expanded role in another offense. If the Falcons can get either guy back on a reasonable contract, they should do so.

Tajae Sharpe has been a decent fit for the Falcons as a tertiary receiver and possession guy, but he’s only shown that his value is as a veteran minimum player. If he comes back for that, bring him into camp. Otherwise, let him walk. The same can be said for Lee Smith. He’s been a good blocker, but not much else for the Falcons during the 2021 season.

Current Need

The Falcons need more playmakers moving forward regardless of who’s on the roster for 2022. As much as the team and fans love Kyle Pitts, he can’t do it on his own. Bringing in a competent and talented option to play as the No. 2 to him or even a No. 3 role to him and Calvin Ridley should be a priority for the future. Free agent options to consider that would fill that role include Allen Robinson, Allen Lazard, Juju Smith-Schuster, A.J. Green and Emmanuel Sanders.

At tight end, the Falcons could consider bringing in options that might be able to mentor Kyle Pitts while also working in a similar tight end/wide receiver setting. Jimmy Graham, Zach Ertz and Jared Cook are names that spring to mind that may not break the bank while still providing what is needed. Outside of that, going bargain options for a blocking tight end makes the most sense.

Potential Future Need

In this situation, the potential future need is the same as the current need. The Falcons don’t have a hard contract situation to deal with at this position, but the Calvin Ridley situation brings forth a lot of questions. If Ridley does come back to the Falcons and signs long-term, this would help the Falcons have their No. 1 option settled for the future and remove what this need is.

What the Plan Should Be Moving Forward

The plan moving forward should first be to figure out what Calvin Ridley wants to do. If he wants to be in Atlanta, keep him and set him up long term to be the No. 1 guy. If he doesn’t, trade him for assets that can be used moving forward. If he doesn’t, the Falcons biggest need in this group is a true, playmaking No. 1 wide receiver. And whether they address it in the draft or free agency is to be determined.

Once that situation is determined, figure out the rest of the Atlanta Falcons receivers group and tight end group to complement the strengths and weaknesses of the No. 1 and Kyle Pitts. Having multiple options out there, the Falcons could go in a plethora of directions. What they end up doing isn’t fully up to them due to the Ridley situation, though.

Can We Talk About Calvin Ridley and the Importance of Mental Health?

Calvin Ridley
Credit: Atlanta Falcons

The announcement that Calvin Ridley would be absent from Sunday’s game against the Panthers was sudden; a last-minute blow to a fan base that was riding an uncharacteristic wave of optimism after the Falcons pulled out two consecutive wins.

His statement that followed soon after, stating he would be stepping away from football to attend to his mental health, was equally surprising. Reactions varied, though the majority of fans and onlookers were supportive, but the shock was palpable.

This season was supposed to be Ridley’s coronation as an elite receiver. Falcons fans expected to see Ridley be the greatest weapon on a resurgent offense. However, questions have replaced the high expectations set for Ridley, and everyone is left to wonder if the budding star at wide receiver will suit up again in 2021. It’s a massive blow to a team struggling to find their way. Ridley’s absence is inconvenient, unfortunate, and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter one bit. 

Life is Bigger than Football

Football is a huge business. Billions of dollars move through the NFL every year as people flock to stadiums and gather around televisions to watch the exploits of supremely talented athletes every weekend. It’s a momentary distraction from the mundane, a place to invest and express strong emotions without any great consequence.

Its position in our culture, the extent to which it shapes the rhythms of our lives, gives it an exaggerated sense of magnitude. It is, in the end, just a game, and its importance diminishes to nothing compared to real societal issues. Mental health, and our relationship with those who struggle with it, are just one of those.

It’s heartening to see the outpouring of support that he has received since releasing his statement. It’s not been unanimous; nothing in society ever is. Still, the overarching sentiment has been supportive of Calvin Ridley, signaling a welcome shift in how we discuss mental health, particularly among men. There is no weakness in seeing a problem and seeking help, and I’m grateful we are finally open to having that conversation.

Mental Health Is Health

Mental health isn’t a subcategory of living; some tertiary factor in having a quality life that only deserves a spare thought once in a while. Mental health is tantamount to quality of life. I’m entering my middle-aged years, and I’ve already lost friends and family to cancer, heart disease, and the litany of ailments that come with failing physical health.

However, I’ve said goodbye to just as many due to addiction and suicide. I was 15 years old when my best friend killed herself. A year later, I lost a friend to an overdose for the first time. Those were just my first traumatic losses. There have been more since, and there will likely continue to be more. I know I’m not alone either. It’s a pandemic that permeates the very fabric of our culture. Depression and anxiety are everywhere. It touches everyone. It is part of who we are. 

The only cure for this, the only path forward, is to end the stigma surrounding mental health. We have to accept that all of us face problems and that sometimes we need help. We must openly support those that do seek and not diminish their worth for doing so.

Seeking mental health assistance is no different from going to the doctor because of chest pains or broken bones. This is why I celebrate Calvin Ridley for prioritizing his mental health and seeking to heal himself. If he’d torn his ACL, we’d all wish him a speedy recovery and move on. Despite our knee-jerk tendencies for judgment, there’s no reason to treat this differently.

Calvin Ridley Has Earned His Privacy and Respect

We have no idea what Ridley is going through, and we likely won’t ever learn the details surrounding his absence. That shouldn’t be an expectation any of us have. Despite some strange sense of entitlement a portion of our population has concerning people in the entertainment industry, it’s none of our damn business.

Ridley’s brief statement already exceeds any burden of transparency we should reasonably expect. His responsibilities to inform people of his position end with his employer.

Unlike a broken bone or torn ligament, there’s no precise timetable for a return. That’s the nature of this beast, and any expectations otherwise are unfair. It will take as long as it takes. If he comes back next week, next year, or never at all, that’s a decision for Calvin to make.

Focus on the Big Issues First

There will be a time to discuss the monetary implications of his absence. Still, those conversations should be a part of a more extensive discussion about supporting Calvin Ridley — and all people who struggle with mental health issues. Ridley is privileged in that he has the means to walk away from his job and seek assistance, but that doesn’t diminish his struggle. Instead, that should start a conversation about supporting those who don’t have the same financial resources. 

There will be a time to discuss the impact this has on the team moving forward. However, that’s a discussion that exists in a bubble of its own. It’s a far less meaningful conversation. For many, the NFL is life, but life will always be bigger than the shield. 

Most of all, I ask we all be thoughtful in how we discuss this issue publicly. Ridley deserves respect, but, more importantly, you never know who else is listening to how you respond. Our world is full of people who need help but don’t know how to ask.

Don’t let a flippant comment or tweet be a reason a friend suffers silently. Don’t reinforce the toxic behaviors that hold us back. Allow this moment to be an opportunity for us all to grow, to take the next step, small as it may be, towards a happier, healthier society. 

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.

Preseason Preview: Week 2 Falcons @ Dolphins

Acknowledgement:

Before we delve into the game preview, I would just like to thank and credit Hunter Thompson of Falcons ATB, for his contributions and insights in putting together this preseason matchup article.

Training Camp

Q. What do you hope your team will gain from the joint practices held in Miami?

Falcons:

HT: “I hope the team really decides to step up and compete and stays tough and physical with Miami this week. I know going against new players is huge for development, so I hope we see them gain confidence and have good meaningful reps.”

Dolphins:

Heading into the joint practices with the Chicago Bears, I stated how the primary focus would be how to deal with the mobility of Justin Fields. The starting defense to a certain extent did manage to contain Fields, however never really exerted a lot of pressure with Fields having all day in the pocket never really needing to scramble. Coming into the second week of preseason, the Dolphins will face its second kryptonite; elite receiving tight ends. Facing the likes of Kyle Pitts and Hayden Hurst, all eyes will be on Eric Rowe and the rest of the Dolphins’ defense as to how they contain the threat that Pitts poses.

Coming out of the 2021 NFL Draft, Pitts’ NFL comparison was Darren Waller, a player that torched Eric Rowe Week 16, despite him being right on him nearly every play. Rowe v Pitts will be the biggest matchup to watch out for. Also look out for how Miami’s linebackers especially Jerome Baker looks in coverage.

Nevertheless, the receiving threat posed by the Falcons extends far beyond containing Pitts, especially with the likes of Calvin Ridley coming off the back of a 1,374 yd season where he averaged 15.3 YPC. The whole secondary will for sure be tested after a very good first week of preseason.

UPDATE: Following the first day of joint practice, the battle has been as anticipated. Thankfully for Dolphins fans, aside from the play shown above, by most accounts Eric Rowe had a fantastic day.

Highlight of the day would be where Rowe had a PBU on a touchdown pass intended for Pitts.

Q. A lot of Dolphins fans had their hearts set on Kyle Pitts, how has he performed so far?

HT: “We have yet to see Pitts play in the Falcons uniform, but based on the Training camp we’ve been hearing, he is a standout in camp. He is helping fill the hole left by Julio Jones when he got traded to Tennessee. If Pitts plays this game, look for him to take over the game if he is as good as he is being advertised. “

Fan Q. How strong is the receiving unit this season without Julio? How much involvement do you anticipate Russell Gage having this year? Is he the definite WR2?

HT: “The receiving unit without Julio will look very different. Look for the Falcons to implement a lot of two tight end looks to take advantage of having both Kyle Pitts and Hayden Hurst on the roster. And for Gage, look for him to be a potential flex option or low-end WR2 for you and your fantasy team. I think he will still be the third option, but who knows for certain.”

Preseason

Q. How did you fare Week 1 of preseason? What went well? Who stood out? What/who concerns you?

Falcons:

HT: “We lost 23-3. And it was a tough game all the way around, we struggled in the trenches on offense and only amassed 139 total yards. Nothing really on offense went well which is concerning, but the defense actually had some standouts in Ogundeji and JTM at the EDGE positions. Marlon Davidson (who is out this week) also managed to stand out in the DL department.”

Dolphins:

The Good:

Despite losing 20-13, the Dolphins started preseason very positively. Box scores in such games are largely irrelevant. The Dolphins starters and second team played very well. By the half, the Bears had barely managed a first down against a defense not featuring, Howard, Jones, Phillips or Ogbah. The offense were successful at moving the ball down field with Tua going 8/11 and 99 yards. However, Miami did struggle in the red zone, being stopped on the goal line and then the eventual pick to end Tua’s evening. Nevertheless, I would not be worried about this, as Tua has excelled in red zone drills all throughout camp.

Stand out performers include Tua (despite INT), Justin Coleman (the one man hit sticking machine, who needs to learn to wrap players up), Nik Needham, Mack Hollins, Eric Rowe, Salvon Ahmed, Jakeem Grant and Noah Igbinoghene who made some good plays, despite a rather troublesome camp.

The Bad and the Ugly:

Without sounding like too much of a broken record, the offensive line struggles exhibited during Week 1 of preseason will be the primary focus heading into Saturday’s game. Facing the Bears elite defensive line, the offensive line was decimated throughout the first day of joint practice. Despite some bounce back during the second day of practice, the offensive line remained an issue heading into the preseason debut. While the starting pass protection was fairly good, with Tua Tagovailoa complementing the line for giving him a relatively clean pocket, run blocking was almost none existent.

As Chris Spooner eluded to in his recent article, the left side of the line including Austin Jackson and Solomon Kindley was especially problematic in establishing the run. Consequently, PFF gave Kindley a 45.7 run-blocking grade while Austin Jackson graded even worse scoring a dreadful 38.1.

For a full recap of the game, go check out Tanner Elliott’s post game analysis.

Q. What are your expectations going into the game? What do you hope the team takes away from it?

Falcons:

HT: “I am going into this game with low expectations for a few different reasons. Mainly because it’s the preseason and I don’t think the game itself matters as much as meaningful reps for each player. Last week we saw a few standouts even though we as a team struggled, and that’s the biggest plus of the preseason for me. But I hope we see the offensive line step it up. Last week against the Titans the line struggled the entire game and we can’t afford two weeks of that. When the line struggles it makes the evaluation process for skill positions so much harder.”

Dolphins:

Going into the second preseason game, the main thing I hope to see is consistency. If Tua can string together another couple of good series to his depleted options at receiver, it will be a success, even against a shaky Falcons secondary. I would like to see a lot more of Jaylen Waddle in this game as a receiver, as he left week one without a catch. I would also like to see more of our pass rush in getting pressure in at the QB.

However, all eyes will be on how the offensive line performs. As aforementioned, pass blocking was relatively good during the first game. I want to see this continue with consistency while beginning to open up running lanes for the backs. The return of Liam Eichenberg can bring some optimism to fans, although I wouldn’t get your hopes up.

Q. Are there any injury concerns affecting the team heading into the game?

Falcons:

HT: “I don’t really have any major concerns coming in, I’d like to see Marlon Davidson playing in the game, but it is what it is.”

Dolphins:

In contrast with that of Atlanta, Miami’s situation is a lot more tenuous, especially at wide receiver. As I stated in a previous article when healthy the Dolphins have an elite receiving threat, however we are yet to see it. Coming into the first day of joint practice, the following receivers were missing:

In addition, Preston Williams remains on PUP and Allen Hurns has been placed on IR.

While availability for a preseason game is not a big issue for the likes of Parker and Fuller, until those players are on the field we will not see the full capability of this offense. With the offensive line woes many people have questioned the decision to pass on Penei Sewell. However, with the options at receiver now, thank god for Jaylen Waddle.

Outside of the receiving room Jaelan Phillips returned to practice this week, but given his value, he will be brought back form injury very slowly, making him an outsider to feature heavily in the second preseason game. Liam Eichenberg, Brandon Jones and Ogbah have all returned to practice this week. Rookie TE Hunter Long has been dressed for practice, but has not participated in team drills due to ongoing pain stifling his return.

Q. Which player on the other team scares you the most?

Falcons:

HT: “Jaylen Waddle. 100%. His explosiveness is concerning for the young defense we are going to be fielding.”

Dolphins:

Calvin Ridley no doubt. His route running is truly elite and one of the most technically gifted receivers in the game. Any one who can torch Xavien Howard the way he did in camp, deserves fearing.

Q. What are your expectations going into the season?

Falcons:

HT: “We are at a weird point where we are retooling the roster while still trying to be competitive, which looks strange. But looking at what we did in the draft and how some of those picks are playing we are running a pretty decent first offseason under the new regime. But that also makes this conversation difficult because no one really knows what to expect from this current roster. Some fans are expecting a playoff push, while others are expecting another top 10 draft pick.”

Dolphins:

Dolphins fans you will just have to keep your eyes peeled for the Dolphins ATB staff’s expectations and season prediction article in the coming weeks.

Conclusion

Once again I would like to thank Hunter for his help and insights throughout this article. Be sure to go follow him on Twitter. Many have predicted this game to be the “dress rehearsal” for the season with the final game intended for those players on the edge of the roster. As such expect Tua to get more reps and thus hopefully more highlights for us fans to revel over until the season. Fins Up!

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