Question 1: How has Desmond Ridder looked through the first three weeks of his sophomore season? Has he shown any ability to elevate the offense, or does Atlanta’s play-calling seem to hide him, or somewhere in between?
Desmond Ridder has been extremely hot-and-cold through three weeks, but after a dismal outing in Week 3, the bad has definitely outweighed the good. Ridder has the highest turnover worthy play rate in the league and is incredibly fortunate that opponents have dropped a lot of interceptions thus far. His flashes are enticing: Ridder played a stellar fourth quarter in both Week 1 and 2, headlined by a 12-point fourth quarter comeback against the Packers. There’s something there to build off, but right now, he’s dealing with a lot of issues. Many of those stem from the offensive line’s massive regression: he was sacked seven times in Week 3. But he’s not reading the field quickly enough and not making good decisions with the football. Again, not unexpected for someone with just a handful of starts under his belt, but many fans were hoping for more.
Question 2: Bijan Robinson is the best running back to enter the league since ___?
Bijan is a special player, and he’s yet to be fully unleashed. I’d say he’s the best running back to enter the league since Saquon Barkley at this stage. Much like Kyle Pitts and Drake London before him, it remains to be seen if the Falcons offense will be able to fully utilize his talents and make him the star he deserves to be. Given Arthur Smith’s propensity for the run game, Bijan seems like a much safer bet to excel early.
Question 3: Anyone who follows the NFL knows that Drake London and Kyle Pitts don’t have the production to match their talent. Is that a real problem with the Falcons offense or is Arthur Smith cooking anyway?
It’s a real problem, but the solution is complicated. For one, Arthur Smith simply doesn’t have a high-volume passing game. The passing concepts themselves are too basic and don’t do much to put London and Pitts in favorable situations. The bigger issues stem from the offensive line’s sudden inability to pass block, as seemingly every starter has taken a step back to start the season. Even stalwarts like Chris Lindstrom and Jake Matthews have had uncharacteristic struggles. Finally, Desmond Ridder is a young quarterback who is dealing with all the above issues in addition to being...a young quarterback. As a result, he’s not having much success either. So it’s really a full-team issue, and will require a lot of small fixes. That being said, those things are fixable, so I still expect this offense to ascend as the season progresses. How much improvement we see is the biggest wild card in where Atlanta finishes in 2023.
Question 4: Defensive coordinator Ryan Nielson and a handful of free agents came to Atlanta from New Orleans this offseason. Does the Falcons defense have a similar philosophy to Dennis Allen’s Saints (which specializes in cover 2 man)?
Ryan Nielsen has been a fantastic addition, and the immediate returns he’s gotten out of this defense have been nothing short of miraculous. In many ways, it does look fairly similar to New Orleans scheme. Nielsen is working with a lot of players from Dean Pees’ 3-4 scheme, so it’s a bit more multiple up front than the Saints. That being said, he deserves a lot of praise for turning this unit around quickly. They’ve been down an outside corner all season (although Jeff Okudah should be back and possibly ready to start this week) and managed to hold up really well in pass defense despite a very average pass rush. If anyone had told me the Falcons would be a top-7 defense in multiple categories three weeks into the season, I’d have called them crazy. But after facing a real test against the Lions passing attack, this defense appears to be legitimate.
Question 5: The Jaguars are favored by 3 points according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Which side of the spread are you taking, and are there any player/game props that stand out to you?
Put simply, the Jaguars just match up really well with the Falcons. Jacksonville’s defense has shut down the run and Atlanta’s offense is completely dependent on it to sustain drives. While this team can potentially run the ball on anyone, they struggled mightily against an undermanned Lions team last week. Atlanta will need to hope for the Jaguars’ offensive slump to continue, along with continued turnover luck, to pull out the win in Week 4. That being said, I’d still target the Bijan Robinson receiving over if it remains in the 20s. He’s going to be a primary target every single week and might be the most reliable of the bunch.
Thanks to Kevin for taking the time to answer our questions!
What are your thoughts on this week’s matchup, Jaguars fans? Let us know in the comments!