Falcons Dueling Mock Draft: Beginning of a New Era

The Falcons have hit a new era. No more Julio Jones, no more Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley is suspended for a year, and Foye Oluokun and Russell Gage have left in free agency. The roster is in the process of a long, drawn out overhaul. The Falcons have added some nice quality veteran free agents in guys like Casey Hayward and Lorenzo Carter but need more. So here we have some of the Falcons ATB contributors going at it to see who can create the best Falcons mock draft to kick-start the new era.

Hunter’s Falcons Mock Draft (@hthompsonNFL)

Pick 8: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt

I get it, this pick isn’t popular and I know quarterback is a bit of a sore subject at the moment. But hear me out at least. The Falcons can’t expect to compete with Mariota at quarterback. Pickett gives the Falcons a pro-ready QB who was a Heisman finalist in 2022.

He fits what Arthur Smith and the offense wants to do. Pickett is an accurate quarterback who posses the ability to run and pick apart the middle of the defense, perfect for what Smith wants between his time with Tannehill and Mariota in Tennessee.

Pick 43: Christian Watson, WR, NDSU

Yes, we have added a new franchise QB and now we are adding a future star at the wide position. There is a real possibility that Christian Watson isn’t here come draft day, but he was so I had to pick him over some other guys.

Watson is a freak athlete who is 6’4″ 208lbs and runs a 4.36. He is also a guy who can take over games and become a dominant freak as a WR1 for Atlanta. Watson is a YAC Daddy who creates explosive plays anytime the ball is in his hands. Bonus points that Watson has no fear as a blocker. Smith and company will love that.

Pick 58: Travis Jones, NT, UConn

The Falcons add another freak athlete here who can be an immediate plug-and-play within the defense. Yes, the Falcons re-signed Anthony Rush. Don’t let that stop you from getting better.

Travis Jones is a monster at the nose tackle spot and would pair very well with Grady Jarrett on the line. Jones is a powerful and fluid athlete who is a plug in the run game and can help collapse the pocket and free the edges and Grady.

Pick 74: James Cook, RB, UGA

The Falcons brought back Cordarrelle Patterson and added Damien Williams to the backfield, but neither is the future. James Cook would be the future-type of back for the Falcons. Cook is incredibly explosive with the ball in his hands as a runner and receiver and would thrive in Arthur Smith’s zone scheme.

Pick 82: Sam Williams, EDGE, Ole Miss

The Falcons are back to bolstering the defense with this pick of the mock draft. Ole Miss EDGE Sam Williams is a massive talent that I think is a steal here. He struggles a bit in run defense, but man his pass rush arsenal is NICE. Williams is a violent pass rusher who uses his variety of moves to generate pressure and create sacks. Williams ended the 2021 season with 12.5 sacks.

Pick 114: Brian Asamoah, LB, Oklahoma

The Falcons lost Foye Oluokun in free agency to the Jacksonville Jaguars and need to bolster the linebacker room. At the moment it looks like incumbents Deion Jones and Mykal Walker will be the starters, but it never hurts to gain a player to compete with him.

Brian Asamoah is a high energy player who has incredible sideline-to-sideline speed and could step into a special teams role early and develop into a potential starter.

Pick 151: Alex Wright, EDGE, UAB

Falcons double dip on EDGE here with UAB’s Alex Wright. The 6’7″ 260lbs freak is a long, powerful pass rusher who has the tools to potentially develop into a starter. He is similar to Ade Ogundeji in a lot of ways and can add depth to the Falcons EDGE group.

Wright isn’t necessarily a need, but he gives the Falcons another dart throw at the EDGE position, which has been lacking since 2014 when John Abraham left.

Pick 190: Cordell Volson, OT, NDSU

The Falcons have question marks across the offensive line. Former first round pick Kaleb McGary has had mixed reviews during his tenure in Atlanta, and here we have the Falcons drafting a tackle to hopefully push McGary. Or at least become a good swing tackle going forward.

Volson has a good frame at 6’6″ 315lbs and is a multi-year starter. The jump from talent might pose an issue for Volson because he isn’t a dominant athlete or have great technique, but he is a guy worth taking a flier on late who can potentially strengthen some OL depth.

Pick 213: Jordan Stout, P, Penn State

Yes, it’s a punter. The Falcons have been down bad at punter for awhile now, until the ageless wonder Thomas Morstead saved the special teams. As great as Morstead is, he is 36 and not getting any younger. So here the Falcons select Penn State Punt God, Jordan Stout.

Stout has a dominant leg that excels both in the punt game and the kickoff game. While at the Senior Bowl, we watched Stout blasting 75+ yard kickoffs out the back of the end zone into the stands in the pouring rain. And I know that might not be enough to convince some, but hitting a guy in the 6th round who might develop into the best at his position is always a win.

Damski’s Falcons Mock Draft (@Damski32)

Pick 8: Travon Walker, EDGE, UGA

Travon Walker offers massive upside and an athletic freak. I think he has a ways to go as a pass rusher, but the size, strength, and ability vs the run gives you a heck of an EDGE prospect year one.

Pick 43: Christian Watson, WR, NDSU

Christian Watson represents a lot of what Arthur Smith wants to do offensively. Good on crossers, can be a good deep ball wide receiver, and be a good YAC wide receiver. Heck of a pick for ATL here.

Pick 58: Christian Harris, LB, Alabama

Christian Harris is the perfect scheme fit for what Dean Pees wants to do defensively. Gap discipline, physical, and can give you something as a blitzer coming down hill. Love the player, love the fit. One pick that I do hope happens.

Pick 74: Travis Jones, NT, UConn

Travis Jones making it this far is wild, but I’m definitely all-in on him being the NT in our 3-man fronts. Dude is an ox and is super tough to move off the ball. I think he’d be a really good scheme fit, even in our under fronts!

Pick 82: Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC

Drake Jackson for me is a really good sleeper in this class. Flashes lots of bendiness, but also offers some above-average hand play. Combine him doing stunts off the EDGE with Jones, Grady Jarrett, and Walker and you got a ton of mismatches.

Pick 114: WanDale Robinson, WR, Kentucky

WanDale Robinson is just another weapon for the offense. A guy who can take the top off of a defense, but also be a contributor on screens and crossers. I think Robinson would be a fun wrinkle to the O for Arthur Smith

Pick 151: Jerome Ford, RB, Cincinnati

Jerome Ford is a physical runner from Cincy who is really good on one cut and go runs, has surprising speed in the open field, but does want to run through you. I think this late he represents really good value.

Pick 190: Issac Taylor-Stuart, CB, USC

Isaac Taylor-Stuart is an atheltic specimen at the cornerback position who has an incredible athletic profile. Taylor-Stuart is only going to go up from here at this point in his career. Definitely worth a flier at this point.

Pick 213: Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State

Charlie Kolar is a very standard TE. Solid blocker who doesn’t wow you with his physical traits. He uses his frame and size to work crossers and seams in the passing game. And his 6’6″ frame also helps Kolar become a major red zone threat.

Kenny G’s Falcons Mock Draft (@Gritz_Blitz)

Pick 8: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

Have you heard that Kayvon is lazy, selfish, and a bad teammate? Blah, blah, blah. When I watch KT play, I see one of the few blue chip players in this class. He has an insane first step and a rare blend of physicality and athleticism. There’s double-digit sack potential written all over Thibodeaux. His ceiling is sky high, and the Falcons would select him with the idea that he’d be the face of the future defense.

Pick 43: Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota St.

6’4”, 208lbs, 4.36 40 yard dash. You sold yet? Christian Watson is one of the most explosive players in this draft class. He’s a complete receiver who has all the makings of a future number one target. Watson offers a lot of juice to the receiving corps, and could give Arthur Smith the big-play threat his offense so desperately needs.

Pick 58: Travis Jones, DT, UConn

Travis Jones is a mammoth of a man who can be the force in the middle of a defense for years to come. He’s got a club move that’ll knock you silly, and offers real pass rush upside not often found in players his size. He’d slide in as Dean Pees’ starting nose tackle and force opposing offenses to double him.

Pick 74: Leo Chenal, LB, Wisconsin

A thickly-built player who measured 6’2” and weighed in at 261lbs, Leo Chenal is one of the most physical linebackers I’ve seen in some time. He’s a sound tackler who’s quick to diagnose plays and shoots gaps like he’s being fired out of a cannon.

His run stuffing ability would be welcome in Atlanta after some of the LB play we saw last season. Chenal is a three down LB who’d be a leader on this team from day one.

Pick 82: James Cook, RB, Georgia

I wasn’t going to take a running back — until I imagined having both James Cook and Cordarrelle Patterson on the field at the same time. Selecting Cook gives the Falcons yet another versatile young play-maker. He can line up in the backfield, in the slot, or even out wide. James will find a way to make plays no matter what position he’s playing.

Pick 114: Sam Williams, EDGE, Ole Miss

Double dipping in this edge class offers so much potential for a team in dire need of a pass rush. Do you know what pairing Sam Williams with KT could do for our edge group? In the words of MJ, “The ceiling is the roof.”

Williams tested like a crazy athlete, running a 4.46 at 261lbs, and you see the burst on tape. Adding a pass rusher this explosive in the 4th round feels like tremendous value.

Pick 151: Coby Bryant, CB, Cincinnati

The Falcons need more help at corner, and while Bryant may be getting a bit overshadowed by Sauce, make no mistake: Coby can ball. The 2022 Thorpe Award winner has the size and athleticism to develop into a starter after playing behind Casey Hayward for a year or two.

Pick 190: Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State

The Falcons previously met with Charlie Kolar and attended his pro day. Atlanta needs tight end depth, and Kolar has potential to develop into a future Y tight end who can complement Pitts well. He’s a bit raw, but has great size, good hands, and is a willing blocker in the run game.

Pick 213: Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor

SPEED! You can’t have enough of it, and nobody offers more of it than Thornton. He ran a blazing 4.28 40-yard dash. He’s got a thin frame, but he’s tall and plays strong enough to beat press on the outside. Tyquan would be a legit deep threat from day one and has potential as a future starter.

Check out our previous Falcons mock draft pieces on atbnetwork.com and be sure to choose a winner for this version of dueling mocks!

Atlanta Falcons Mock Draft: Post Senior Bowl

Atlanta Falcons Mock Draft
Image by Tom Pennington//Getty Images

Finally getting back into the Atlanta Falcons mock draft writing mood. After a week in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, I am running a seven round Atlanta Falcons mock draft! The Falcons are a team that don’t have much of a foundation and I attempt to fix that while still improving the roster all the way through.

Round 1 Pick 8: David Ojabo, EDGE Michigan

Falcons add a dominant EDGE prospect here. David Ojabo is incredibly athletic with great bend and power. He is also incredibly disruptive at the line of scrimmage. Ojabo is no where near his ceiling as he has only been playing football since his junior year of high school, so the sky is the limit. Ojabo has the potential to really develop into a menace for the Falcons and would give them a good cornerstone on defense.

Round 2 Pick 43: Desmond Ridder, QB Cincinnati

Desmond Ridder is a bit more of a controversial figure at the quarterback position. Some scouts and analysts love him, while others don’t. Ridder is here for a couple different reasons. First, he is heavily linked to the Falcons: read more here. Also, Ridder gives the Falcons a quarterback of the future on roster who can learn from Matt Ryan.

Ridder has some tools that should make him appealing: he has a solid arm, he can run and excels on bootlegs and plays out of the pocket. Ridder fits Atlanta schematically, and with the rumors flowing about Atlanta’s interest it makes sense here.

Round 2 Pick 58: Christian Watson, WR North Dakota State

Getting Christian Watson here is a major steal. The 6’4″ freak out of North Dakota State was one of the standouts at the Senior Bowl. If you go back on his tape, it’s obvious to see why. Watson is a gifted athlete who can really takeover games. He is a smooth route runner who can turn on the burners.

One big thing that should make Watson appealing to the Falcons is that he lacks no fear as a blocker. Watching some of his tape, he isn’t afraid to get down and dirty and block. Keep an eye out for Watson to really establish himself in the league.

Round 3 Pick 74: Isaiah Spiller, RB Texas A&M

Isaiah Spiller is one of my favorite running backs in the class, and would be a huge get here for Atlanta. Spiller is a powerful runner, who at 6’1″ 215lbs, could become the bell cow for the Falcons offense. Spiller feels like a good fit for the Arthur Smith offense as he demonstrates good vision and power.

Round 4 Pick 112: John Ridgeway, iDL Arkansas

Here we have the Falcons grabbing an interior defensive lineman. John Ridgeway is a mountain of a man at 6’4″ 327lbs who can be that nose tackle next to Grady Jarrett we have been missing since Dontari Poe. Grabbing a guy like Ridgeway would help free up our linebackers to hit running lanes and holes freely. Ridgeway has the ability to be a plug early, and transition into a more complete player throughout his career in Atlanta.

Round 5 Pick 150: Dominique Robinson, EDGE Miami (Ohio)

Added another EDGE here because the Falcons haven’t had any real semblance of a pass rush since John Abraham played for the Dirty Birds. Adding Robinson would give us another EDGE to compete with Adetokunbo Ogundeji and Ojabo (In this mock at least). Robinson is 6’4″ and 254lbs, so he doesn’t really lack in the size department. Robinson isn’t as refined as other prospects, but getting him here is a nice add to a team that needs all the pass rushing help it can get.

Round 6 Pick 188: Chase Lucas, CB Arizona State

Chase Lucas is a nice add here and is a guy I’ve been high on for a while now. He does everything pretty well. He is a solid tackler, not afraid to be a force in the run game, and is good in zone coverage. Lucas is also an experienced starter. My biggest question is how much higher Lucas could get in terms of level of play. Adding Lucas here gives the Falcons some solid outside cornerback depth and even a potential starter to play opposite of Terrell.

Round 6 Pick 211: Jordan Stout, P Penn State

Punters are people too and deserve to be drafted. Jordan Stout was one of the best players in Mobile as a punter. His kickoffs in the rain were blasting out of the end zone and into the bleachers during practice. He kicked a massive bomb during the Senior Bowl game itself that went 63 yards. The Falcons had issues at punter the past couple of seasons and Stout would resolve that issue for the Dirty Birds.

What did you think of this Atlanta Falcons mock draft? Let us know on Twitter! @falcons_atb

Senior Bowl Rumors: Falcons Edition

QB Desmond Ridder is a hot name in Atlanta Falcons rumors
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week I had the opportunity to go down to Mobile, Alabama for the Reese’s Senior Bowl. I had the opportunity to meet tons of super cool, and plugged in, people out in the practices and out in other networking opportunities. But at the Senior Bowl things get leaked and rumors start swirling. So, naturally, I decided to take advantage of the rumors that were floating around about our Atlanta Falcons. Here they are! Enjoy and feel free to believe whichever you want.

Falcons are in on Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder:

This might be one of the hotter rumors, but there are reasons to potentially believe this one. While in Mobile, one of the biggest rumors of the week was that the Atlanta Falcons were in on QB Desmond Ridder. Ridder has most draft analysts split on how to value him. But there are a couple reasons to believe this link.

One reason is that Ridder himself compared his style of play to Ryan Tannehill and attempts to model his game after him. Tannehill had the best seasons of his career under Arthur Smith, who could see Ridder as a similar type of quarterback to fit the offense.

Another big piece of this evidence comes from this tweet from Luke Fickell. While at the Senior Bowl, Arthur Smith was seen on the field talking with Coach Fickell next to the quarterbacks and wide receivers. Could it have just been a talk of all the players? Sure. But while this rumor was floating around that was happening.

UPDATE: Confirmed that Ridder did talk to the Falcons from Falcoholic Kevin

Falcons are in on Florida RB Dameon Pierce:

This was an Atlanta Falcons rumor I heard around the end of the week. Florida RB Dameon Pierce is a very powerful runner with his 5’9″ 220lbs frame. Pierce is very similar runner stylistically to what Falcons fans hoped Mike Davis would bring.

Adding Pierce would be one step closer to the Falcons establishing an identity on offense. Plus, after passing on Javonte Williams last season, Pierce could mend that bridge with some fans as he would give the Falcons a real bruiser out of the backfield.

Falcons are targeting a WR:

This Atlanta Falcons rumor comes first hand. Each day during the Senior Bowl during the National Team practice, you’d see a combination of Arthur Smith, offensive coordinator Dave Ragone, and another staff member eyeballing the wide receivers. This group for the National team had Christian Watson, Alec Pierce, Romeo Doubs, Khalil Shakir and others.

Watson had one of the best weeks of any player in Mobile and I hope that is who the Falcons could be targeting. But it seemed incredibly obvious about us targeting a wide receiver. Maybe even multiple ones.

Falcons want an EDGE or WR Early

I talked to one source about the Falcons and they said: “The Falcons will probably go with either a game changing EDGE or YAC Daddy wide receiver early.”

The two names that come to mind for me are David Ojabo, the EDGE from Michigan, and Treylon Burks, the wide receiver from Arkansas. Neither name has been super loved by fans when talking about potential picks, but both are worthy of that first pick for the Falcons.

Patriots Stay Hot Against Falcons

The Patriots took care of business against the Falcons plus 14 observations from the Thursday Night shutout by @Colbyfau.

Patriots vs Falcons
Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

It wasn’t sleek. Or shiny. Or really that sexy. But if you’re complaining about the Patriots’ 25-0 drubbing of the Falcons on Thursday Night Football, you were probably the kid that complained they didn’t get enough presents on Christmas. Don’t be that kid.

While it may not get many points in the style category it certainly beats a “pretty loss.” The Patriots handled their business on a short week against the Falcons an unfamiliar opponent. And if you think New England should have beat them by more, just look at the results from Sunday and appreciate the W.

The Bills got dominated by the underdog Colts. The best team in the conference, the Titans, lost to the worst team in the conference, the Texans. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: a win is a win is a win. Doesn’t need style points.

Patriots vs Falcons Recap

Here are 14 observations from the Thursday Night Shutout.

1.) Kyle Van Noy was the lead story. He’s been coming along slowly throughout the season before erupting against the Falcons. He had 8 total tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for a loss, and one interception return for a touchdown. On a defense full of playmakers, one of the original boogeymen is rounding into form. Bad news for 31 other offenses.

2.) The Pats had 12 QB hits on Matt Ryan, a season high. That pressure goes a long way in explaining the team’s recent success on third downs. The Falcons were 2-11 on third down. The Browns were 1-11 a week before. Games are won on third down and the Patriots defense has been dominating opponents on the money down in recent weeks.

Over the last four games, the defense has pressured opposing QB’s on 48.5% of their drop-backs. Ryan was pressured on 59.4% of his drop-backs against the Pats.

3.) It’s a poorly kept secret that here at Around the Block Sports we’ve had a bit of a crush on Christian Barmore. He continued to be disruptive despite a quiet stat line (1 tackle for a loss). If you want teaching tape on what interior pressure does to an opponents’ passing game, watch Barmore against the Falcons.

4.) Staying with the big fellas up front, Carl Davis had himself a great game. He re-established the line of scrimmage in the Falcons backfield multiple times, including the critical fourth-down stop sequence in the third quarter.

5.) The Pats’ use of “big nickel” is a big reason for their defensive success and ability to match up with opposing offenses. In a typical nickel defense, a third corner enters the game, for the Pats they’ve been putting a third safety on the field. Devin McCourty has played 92.3% of defensive snaps this season, Adrian Phillips 81.5%, and Kyle Dugger 80.9%.

A big reason this defensive personnel package has found success is the hybrid ability of all three players. Phillips played primarily linebacker for the Pats last year. Add in Dugger’s train wreck level collisions and you aren’t losing a lot of physicality with the extra DB on the field. Not only does Dugger hit hard, but he shut down Kyle Pitts one on one in multiple instances Thursday night.

6.) The Browns scored 4:55 into the first quarter of their game against the Pats. Since then, opposing offenses have had 19 possessions with zero points. In that same time, the Pats have scored 70 unanswered points.

7.) The red zone defense is another reason this team has found success. They are allowing touchdowns on 48.3% of opponents’ trips into the red area. Last year they surrendered touchdowns on 65.3% of opponents’ trips, good for 28th in the league in red-zone defense. The Pats have 9 red zone stops this year, good for tops in the league.

8.) Going into the game, the theory was the Pats may revert to their roots in man coverage as the Falcons had struggled against it more than they had against zone. The Pats didn’t care. They played zone on all but 6 defensive snaps against the Falcons. It might have caught the Falcons by surprise as all three quarterbacks on their roster threw an interception.

It was the first time three quarterbacks on the same team each had thrown an interception in a single game since 2000. Current Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh was one of the offending parties for that Chargers team.

9.) Receiving stats since October 24: JC Jackson- 4 INTs, 91 yards, 1 touchdown. Odell Beckham Jr.- 3 catches, 24 yards.

10.) Belichick’s love for special teams had a palpable effect on the game. The Falcons’ average starting field position was their own 21-yard line. The Pats’ average starting field position was their own 33-yard line. A significant advantage in hidden yardage for the Patriots.

11.) Mac Jones is completing 83.7% of his passes over the last two games. Jones now has seven games on the season where he has a completion percentage north of 70%. No other QB has more than four.

And before we start screaming to the masses that Mac is a dink and dunk QB, his yards per attempt is greater than Patrick Mahomes’ or Justin Herbert’s.

12.) Despite his accuracy and usual good decision-making, he did struggle to identify multiple Falcons’ defensive looks on Thursday night. The Falcons were able to fool him with multiple defensive back blitzes. His interception may have been a case of misreading a post-snap coverage roll as well.

13.) The good news for the Pats having sustained success as the weather turns colder is their pair of absolute bruisers at running back. Damien Harris played 25 snaps while rookie Rhamondre Stevenson got 22. Stevenson had more touches than Harris, 13 to 11. Not a lot of defenses will enjoy seeing this team in the frigid northeast later this season.

Especially behind massive Trent Brown and human wrecking ball Shaq Mason. 104 of the Patriots’ 134 rushing yards against the Falcons came behind that destructive duo.

14.) The Patriots played the Bucs on a Thursday Night in 2017. The Buccaneers kicker missed three field-goal attempts that night and wouldn’t play in the NFL for two full years after being released the next day. That same kicker is now 25 of 27 on-field goals this year including going 4 for 4 Thursday night against the Falcons. Incredible comeback for Nick Folk.

Can Patriots Extend Win-Streak to Five Against Falcons?

Things can get weird on Thursday Nights. Get an in-depth Patriots vs Falcons breakdown to see if the Pats can extend their winning streak.

Patriots
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Patriots made a statement last Sunday, beating the Browns handedly at home, and announcing their return to legitimate contender status. The Pats are riding high on a four-game win streak. They will look to stretch it to five with a win over the 4-5 Falcons.

While the Pats are gaining attention as one of the hottest teams in the league, the Falcons seem to be caught in purgatory. Each Falcons win has been by a single possession, their largest margin of victory being 7 points over the Jets. They feature two losses by a single possession but also three more by 23-points or more. The Falcons’ record has them just outside the NFC playoff picture despite low ratings from advanced metrics.

The Falcons are 32nd in total VOA, 29th in OVOA, 31st in DVOA, and 32nd in STVOA. VOA is an advanced metric that measures total team (total VOA), offensive (OVOA), defensive (DVOA), and special teams (STVOA) value over average. Frankly, the Falcons are rated as the worst team in football. Particularly incredible when you see them on the bubble of the NFC playoff picture. The average winning percentage in single possession games is .500, meaning the Falcons have found some luck in these games which have boosted their win percentage.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Patriots are 5th in total VOA, 16th in OVOA, 5th in DVOA, and 8th in STVOA. This is including their slow start to the season on offense and special teams. Despite recent trends, a short week against an unfamiliar opponent can cause problems. If the Pats want to be viewed as a good team, they need to handle their business against the Falcons. A repeat of the Houston performance would show an immature team that isn’t ready for success.

Without further ado, the game preview written in “who has the advantage when…” format.

Pats Pass the Ball

Mac followed up two poor showings with his best career game against the Browns last Sunday. Since Week 6, Mac is 9th in the NFL in yards, 5th in TDS, 4th in TD:INT ratio, 2nd in EPA per play, and 7th in average depth of target while the Pats to a 4-1 record and the highest points per game during that stretch. Not only that, but on the season the Patriots trail only the Raiders in plays of 20-plus yards. The Pats had 51 such plays all of last season. In ten games this year they already have 48. While the weather turns colder, it is becoming apparent it’s also becoming “Let Mac Cook” season.

In the past four games the Pats are averaging 37.5 points per game. All around impressive numbers for an offense led by a rookie quarterback who had concerns regarding his arm strength while coming out. 

A large reason Mac has had such great success has been the stellar job of the big guys upfront. The Patriots’ offensive line is allowing pressure on only 15% of Mac’s dropbacks over the last month. That 15% is good for second-best in the league during that stretch. Even more impressive is the competition the offensive line has faced during that time. Premier pass rushers Joey Bosa, Haason Reddick, Myles Garrett, and Jadeveon Clowney were largely nonfactors in games against the Pats.

That’s all good news for the Pats as they face a defense that has struggled against top competition. While the Pats have shut down opponents’ edge rushers, the Falcons Grady Jarrett will present a new challenge. Mac is the prototypical pocket passer. Jarrett is the prototypical pocket penetrator from the interior defensive line. The success of the passing game will largely come down to the trio of Ted Karras, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason keeping the structure of the pocket for Mac. If Mac has time, Mac is going to cook.

Advantage: Pats

Pats Run the Ball

A week ago, the Pats’ top two backs didn’t practice and Rhamondre Stevenson was cleared to play on Saturday. The result was the Patriots’ single-best rushing output this season against a typically stingy defense. This week the Pats cleared Damien Harris from concussion protocol to return the running back room to full strength. After seeing what Stevenson could do as a feature back, having him splitting carries to keep him and Harris fresh is sure to have given the Falcons defense headaches before the game even started.

Toss in a newly returned 6’8”, 360 pound Trent Brown and the Pats are primed to play hardnosed football down the stretch. Last week we saw a Mason-Brown-Onwenu right side of the line average 6.7 yards per carry. The Patriots’ success on first down in the running game has led to the team converting on 46.9% of their third downs this season. That success rate is good for fourth-best in the league, trailing only the Chiefs, Bills, and Buccaneers. McDaniels could go with that grouping all night against the Falcons and have unlimited success. The Falcons are middle of the pack in terms of defending the run. On a short week, a physical game plan by the Pats may make quick work of the Falcons defense.

Advantage: Pats

Falcons Pass the Ball

While Mac has been cooking, Matt Ryan was nowhere near the kitchen last Sunday completing nine, NINE!!!, passes against the Cowboys. The Falcons passing offense was supposed to be a potent, multi-layer attack with the addition of uber-talented rookie tight end Kyle Pitts. Unfortunately for the Falcons, starting wide receiver Calvin Ridley has missed multiple games this season and backups Russell Gage and Tajae Sharpe have not picked up the slack. Backup tight end Hayden Hurst is usually involved in carrying some of the weight of the passing game but will miss Thursday’s game against the Pats.

While Pitts has provided one bright spot for the Falcons, WR/RB Cordarrelle Patterson has provided the other. The return-man-turned-offensive-weapon leads the team with 5 receiving touchdowns and trails Pitts for the team lead in reception by one catch. He’s also the team’s leading rusher. His status for Thursday night will be determined in pregame but an already unfavorable matchup could get downright ugly if he can’t go.

The Falcons have had issues against man-coverage this season, something that does not bode well for them as they prepare to play the league leader in Cover 1 use. The Pats have utilized zone coverage 70.5% of the time over the last four weeks but have always been a gameplan team under Belichick. The Falcons average 4.69 yards per play against man coverage, completing 60.9% of their passes. Those numbers jump to 5.87 and 72.4% against zone. The recent success of the Pats zone coverage should not lull them into a faulty game plan against the Falcons. If Patterson can’t go the Pats can focus resources on stopping Pitts and taking the motor out of this offense.

Advantage: Pats

Falcons Run the Ball

The Falcons’ issues don’t stop here. Their rushing attack doesn’t crack the top 30 in any advanced metric. The lack of balance on offense has led to a bottom-six team in terms of offensive drives that result in points and a team that trails only the Jets and Lions in offensive drives that result in turnovers.  The Pats were gashed early against the Browns before changing their approach and finding success. The feeling here is the Pats might not need to change much to find success in stopping the Falcons run game. Ja’Whaun Bentley and Dont’a Hightower form a formidable core to the Patriots run defense that should continue to find splash plays against the Falcons.

Advantage: Pats

Special Teams

The Falcons had a punt blocked last week that added to already dismal season performance from their special teams. The Pats had a rough start but have returned to their dominance in the third phase of the game. Last week saw some hidden yards lost in the return game as Jakobi Meyers’ hesitance to field punts led to some favorable Cleveland bounces. Thankfully Gunner Olszewski cleared concussion protocol and should be back to his spot in the return game.

Of note, but not necessarily game impacting, this will be Matthew Slater’s 200th career game with the Patriots. He joins Tom Brady (285), Bruce Armstrong (212), Julius Adams (206), and Stephen Gostkowski (204) to become the fifth Patriots player to do so.

Advantage: Pats

Coaching

The Falcons hired Arthur Smith this offseason in hopes of turning the teams’ fortunes around. He comes to Atlanta from Tennessee where he served as offensive coordinator under Mike Vrabel. Belichick has historically dominated rookie head coaches and with a short week of prep, the hoodie gets all the advantages here. Belichick’s ability to self-scout has taken the Pats from a 2-4 team to one that is 6-4 and looking like a legitimate contender. McDaniels had perhaps his best game of the year against Cleveland and should continue to let Mac cook.

Regardless of coaching the officiating crew tonight is one of the more flag-happy crews in the league. Land Clark will serve as referee. His crews average 17.4 accepted penalties per game, second-most among crews.

One thing to keep in mind in regards to Thursday night games; teams usually stay with their bread and butter plays as they had limited time to install game-specific game plans. The good news is the Patriots’ power-trap run game is one of their staples. It’s been a big part of their offensive success this season and will be again against the Falcons.

Advantage: Pats

Prediction

A unanimous favoring of the Pats in the breakdown should be reflected on the field. However, a year ago the Pats were riding high after a 45-0 beatdown of the Chargers before dropping a dud on Thursday Night Football, losing to the Rams 24-3. A week ago, division rivals, and heavy underdog, Miami Dolphins took down the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday Night Football. Belichick will have focused on the narrow victory against the Texans to have his team focused regardless of the opponent. While the Pats should win big, the ultimate goal is to walk out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium 7-4. A win is a win is a win. Wondered if predicting 28-3 would be taboo. 28 points for the Pats in this one seems low. Pats win 34-13.