Have the Atlanta Falcons Found Their Closers? 

Atlanta Falcons closer Grady Jarrett
Photo Credit: Todd Kirkland – Getty Images

The top teams in the NFL all have closers. Yes, like in baseball. When it’s the fourth quarter with the game on the line, a closer is someone you can trust to put the game away for your team. For the teams that are constantly competing, you can find them on both sides of the football: Justin Herbert and Nick Bosa, Aaron Rodgers and Jaire Alexander, Josh Allen and Von Miller, to name a few. When you look at Atlanta Falcons teams in the recent past, there haven’t been any closers to speak of.

That is, maybe, until now. Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith may have found themselves two bonafide closers, one that fell in their lap, one that needed a bit more work to find.

(All stats come from Pro Football Reference and rbsdm.com unless otherwise stated)

The Falcons May Have Found Their Closers

Cordarrelle Patterson

Or should we say “Scordarrelle Patterson”?

*crickets* *crickets*

Even if you don’t like the nickname, you can’t say that he hasn’t deserved the recognition. Out of 38 touchdowns scored since he has been on the roster, Patterson has scored 13 of them. That accounts for more than one-third of the end zone trips for the Atlanta Falcons.

That may not make you a closer, but consistent play at the end of games will. On the drive that ended unceremoniously in a Marcus Mariota lost fumble, Patterson showed off his ability to keep the Atlanta Falcons offense on the field. Patterson kept them on schedule with an average of 7.5 yards per carry, including an 18-yard romp off left tackle to get the Falcons toward mid-field. The drive ended up in field goal range before the turnover, and when Richie Grant did get the ball back to the offense, Patterson decided to put them away for good.

Patterson’s two five-yard gains on the final drive eradicated the last few percentage points on the probability scale that offenses in the past had trouble eliminating.

That’s right. The entire stadium knew where the ball was headed, and the closer for this Atlanta Falcons offense decided it didn’t matter.

Every broadcast discusses his kick-return prowess and how it contributes to his one-cut ability as a running back. What is not being discussed is how his 6.2 yards per carry are sixth-most in the league and the most by anyone with over 50 rushing attempts. Or how his 100.7 yards per game is the third-most in the league, and his 17 first downs by rushing, the most in the league.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: The Atlanta Falcons have a running back that they can rely on again.

Grady Jarrett

While the offense thrives, the defense hasn’t necessarily been stout in 2022. There have been flashes and bright spots that can give the Falcons fans hope for improvement, but to push them over the top, they need somebody to make a play at the end of games.

Geno Smith and company got the ball off the Mariota turnover and drove down the field. Then, the Seattle defense showed a hole in their armor. Mykal Walker forced a hold on offensive guard Damien Lewis to force them into a second and long. A slight inconvenience that is followed by a six-yard screen that made a would-be third-and-long, third and eight. Much more manageable.

Defenses of old would find a way to give Geno Smith four or five seconds to find the open receiver and keep the drive alive. But not this one. Not this iteration of the Falcons defense. Grady Jarrett would not allow center Austin Blythe to touch his hands as he chopped his way into the pocket and demolished Geno Smith and any momentum that Seattle had mustered.

And, for Jarrett, that wasn’t enough, early pressure on the 4th down attempt forced Smith out of the pocket and into a bad throw that ultimately ended up in the hands of Grant. The ball game was over.

Atlanta’s defense has been quite underwhelming throughout the season but Jarrett’s ability to help finish off this game gives hope that things may be looking up for the future. His leadership ability will be the saving grace for a particularly young Falcons defense.

Future Atlanta Falcons Closers?

In a rebuild, you would think that the primetime performers at the end of the games may be a bit younger. It makes sense. The entire foundation of a rebuild is built on the long-term productivity of the team’s young talent.

And for the most part, the Falcons are relying on their young talent for production. Their top talents in the receiving game are two top-ten draft picks in the last two seasons. Outside of Grady Jarrett and Lorenzo Carter, the defensive line is littered with individual contributors from the last two drafts. From Arnold Ebiketie and Deangelo Malone to Ta’Quon Graham.

It’s an exciting and fun time to be a Falcons fan (never thought I’d say that again). If there is anything that this trip to the west coast has taught us, it is that this team is young, scrappy, and won’t go down without a fight.

As Terry Fontenot builds this roster back up, the Atlanta Falcons faithful will find other potential closers emerge. However, having veterans like Patterson and Jarrett take the pressure off these young, talented players and allow them to develop their leadership abilities. Hell, A.J. Terrell has already reached captain status in only year three. Who’s next? Kyle Pitts? Drake London? Mykal Walker?

After years of wondering how much talent is on this roster, it’s nice to have a bit of hope going into the future.

2022 Atlanta Falcons Offseason: Breaking Down the Defensive Line

Grady Jarrett, star of the Atlanta Falcons defensive line
Photo Credit: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons defensive line is one of the worst units in the NFL in terms of pass rushing and run defending. Adding more talent should be imperative for the Falcons moving forward on their defensive line. Grady Jarrett is great, but he’s the only one with any sort of super star talent. The rest of the line is average at best. That needs to change moving forward.

Under Contract:

DL Grady Jarrett: 1 year, $23.833 million left on his contract

DL Marlon Davidson: 2 years, $4.085 million left on his contract

NT Tyeler Davison: 1 year, $5.013 million left on his contract

DL Ta’Quon Graham: 3 years, $3.083 million left on his contract

EDGE/DL John Cominsky: 1 year, $1.087 million left on his contract

DL Nick Thurman: 1 year, $825,000 left on his contract

The Falcons have one of the best defensive line talents in the league in Grady Jarrett. However, his contract situation for the long term should be addressed. In extending Jarrett, they can create more cap space for the 2022 season and lock up one of the best defenders on the roster. Marlon Davidson, Ta’Quon Graham and John Cominsky are all solid depth guys, but shouldn’t be more than that moving forward based on their play.

The biggest move the Falcons should make is cutting Tyeler Davison. He’s been inactive for almost half the games this season. When he has been active, he’s been outplayed by Mike Pennel and Anthony Rush. The Falcons should let the former Saint walk and save the $3.5 million that they would save from the move. That money would be better spent on another player that could actually compete for a starting role and not just a low-talent rotation player.

With the amount that it cost to bring him back, Nick Thurman is a good candidate for a re-sign. He isn’t expensive and will allow the Falcons to have some more depth along the front of the line.

Restricted Free Agents:

NT Anthony Rush

Anthony Rush was a huge surprise for the Falcons in the 2021 season as a competent, cheap nose tackle for the rotation. The Falcons shouldn’t tender him, but they should try and re-sign him for a minimum deal like they did with Younghoe Koo before free agency starts.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

DL Jonathan Bullard

NT Mike Pennel

Jonathan Bullard and Mike Pennel played quite a few snaps for the Falcons in 2021. They should be allowed to walk in 2022. Neither one was impactful, and both are replacement-level guys. Atlanta would be better off spending the money on other players.

Current Need

The biggest need for the Falcons in the coming draft and free agency periods will be on the defensive line. They need someone who can help Grady Jarrett create interior pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Focusing on the free agents available, someone like Akiem Hicks, Ndamukong Suh, or Jadeveon Clowney for a deal that averages around $7-8 million per year for 2-3 years makes a ton of sense for the Falcons.

Potential Future Need

The Falcons could end up striking out on the extension attempt for Grady Jarrett in the offseason. If they do, they could potentially move on from the excellent defensive tackle after 2022, and this would create a huge need for the team. Players in the draft that could signal a potential long-term move away from Jarrett include DeMarvin Leal from Texas A&M. However, the Falcons could still get Leal and keep Jarrett and end up with a pair of wreckers on the interior.

What the Plan Should Be Moving Forward

Moving forward, the Atlanta Falcons biggest move along the defensive line should be to extend Grady Jarrett and lower his cap hit for 2022 while extending him through 2026. After they do that, focusing on high-level talent in the draft like Aidan Hutchinson or DeMarvin Leal makes a ton of sense. The Falcons should also look for mid-round options at nose tackle who can also pass rush. Guys like Travis Jones from Connecticut or Phidarian Mathis from Alabama would be high on the list.