Behind Enemy Lines: Falcons look to build in final 2 games
The bottom of the NFC West meets the bottom of the NFC South this week.
It’s just that the Arizona Cardinals (4-11) had playoff aspirations, whereas the Atlanta Falcons (5-10) entered the 2022 season clearly in rebuild mode. As for the latter, a surprisingly strong start faded into a switch to see what Atlanta’s young talent is all about.
Behind Enemy Lines brings you the key storylines and latest news for the Cardinals’ opponent each week this season.
Falcons look to build hierarchy over final 2 games of season
By Wills Rice
The Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons are two teams that both are sitting at the bottom of their divisions but are heading in two different directions.
The Falcons started 4-4 on the season before winning one game over the next seven tries and are staring at 5-10.
ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter Michael Rothstein said that despite the playoffs being out of the picture, he doesn’t expect the Falcons to target a young quarterback early in the draft (currently sitting at No. 6) and that the team wants to win, build confidence and string together wins moving into next season.
“For Atlanta, this actually means something,” Rothstein told Burns and Gambo on Wednesday. “(Head coach) Arthur Smith isn’t going anywhere. He’s trying to build something, this was always going to be a rebuild-type year without using the word rebuilding. They want to win so they have something to, lack of a better word, build off of.
“It’s a young team. Right now their starting quarterback is a rookie, their starting running back is a rookie, No. 1 wide receiver is a rookie and one of two inside linebackers is a rookie. There is a lot of use on this team in their rookie contracts that are trying to build something.”
One young player that has turned eyes for Atlanta has been wideout Drake London, a first-round draft pick from USC. In 15 games over his rookie campaign, London has hauled in 61 passes for 699 yards and four touchdowns.
He jumped off the page to start his career, catching 16 balls for 214 yards and two touchdowns in his first three games. He had a midseason lull, not gaining more than 40 yards or seven targets for nine consecutive games.
Despite the average play during those nine games, he seemingly has picked up confidence to end the year and is building a rapport with fellow rookie QB Desmond Ridder. London has 23 catches for 216 yards but no touchdowns over the last three games, averaging nearly 11 targets per contest.
Arthur Smith optimistic about young Falcons
By The Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — From 4-4 to 5-10, the Atlanta Falcons have collapsed in the second half of a season that was seen as a rebuilding year from the start.
Even so, that doesn’t take away the sting of losing for coach Arthur Smith, who is 12-20 in nearly two years on the job.
“Ultimately, it’s about winning, but you can look at a lot of progress being made,” Smith said after Saturday’s 17-9 loss at Baltimore. “Our guys are a resilient group. We need to win. I’m thankful we have another opportunity next week at home.”
When the Falcons bring a four-game losing streak into a likely half-full Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face Arizona on Sunday, they will do so knowing they haven’t had a winning record at any point since the end of the 2017 season. They have missed the playoffs for five straight years and have lost six of seven, even with a change at quarterback from Marcus Mariota to rookie Desmond Ridder.
All this gloom hasn’t affected Smith’s outlook on the final two games of the season. Seven of Atlanta’s losses have been by 10 points or fewer. Five of the last seven losses were one-possession games.
“There has been a ton of progress,” Smith said. “It’s different from last year when we were in some one-score games, completely different team and different situations going back and looking at them. We’ve got to find a way to get over that hump.”
The Falcons will spend the next two weeks and plenty of time in the offseason evaluating whether Ridder, a third-round draft choice from Cincinnati, is the answer at quarterback. Four games as a starter is a small sample size, and Ridder has yet to show he can win in the NFL.
He hasn’t been terrible, either, completing 35 of 59 passes for 315 yards. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass but hasn’t been intercepted, either. His passer rating is a mediocre 73.8. Atlanta’s offense under Smith is run-first.
“I thought his decision-making was good, and he was pretty accurate,” Smith said after Ridder completed 22 of 33 passes for 218 yards against Baltimore. “I thought he made some big-time throws when the pressure got on him in the second half, and that’s what you want to see. He was calm and collected, and I thought he delivered the football.
“A couple things here and there that we have to look at down in the red zone. Short yardage and things like that. But I thought from the pocket presence against a quality defense that gives you a lot of looks, I thought he had pretty good poise.”
Rookie Tyler Allgeier, who led the team with 74 yards rushing on 18 carries against Baltimore, has developed into a solid starter for a fifth-round draft pick. Allgeier is hard to bring down once he hits a hole, and he’s shown durability, playing in every game except Week 1 and not missing practice. He leads the team with 817 yards rushing, and his 4.9 yards per carry is second.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The red-zone offense was abysmal. Four of Atlanta’s final five drives ended inside Baltimore’s 20-yard line, but the team was held without a touchdown.
Second-year safety Richie Grant led the defense with seven solo tackles and 10 total stops and is second on the team behind linebacker Rashaan Evans with 61 solo tackles and 106 total stops. Grant, who didn’t start for much of last year, has two interceptions, and his seven pass breakups are second on the team to A.J. Terrell’s eight.
Drake London, the eighth overall draft pick and the first receiver chosen, had a costly fumble for the second straight week. He refused to use the cold weather as an excuse. Last week’s game was indoors at New Orleans.
“I’m shooting my team in the foot, it’s as simple as that,” London said. “I’m the one who (messed) up. I’m the one who keeps putting the ball on the floor, and that shouldn’t be the case. I want to make sure that this team knows I’m surehanded, and right now, I’m not doing that. It definitely hurts me and kills me. All I can do is just learn from this.”