The Atlanta Falcons are a bit of a paradox. They want to run the ball, and they want to run the ball a lot.
They want to run the ball a lot in part because of Arthur Smith’s long association with heavy running systems dating back to his time under Mike Munchak in Tennessee, and also in part because they’ve got the horses to do it. Behind a strong offensive line the Falcons can trot out three hard-charging backs: Tyler Allgeier, a big-bodied 220-pounder who averaged 4.9 yards per carry last year, Cordarrelle Patterson, another 220-pound back who was miscast for years as a wide receiver, and Bijan Robinson who, at a sleek 222 pounds, was considered by some to be the best player in this spring’s draft.
And if that’s what you’ve got, it makes sense to lean on it. From a philosophical and personnel perspective, the Falcons are well-equipped to be a run-heavy team. But the Falcons are in the odd position of being better equipped than most to roll out an electric passing attack, one in keeping with current league-wide offensive trends.
In 2021, the Falcons drafted athletic marvel Kyle Pitts fourth overall, giving them virtually unprecedented athleticism at the tight end position. The next year, they added wide receiver Drake London who, if not quite as athletic as Pitts, has more than enough size and speed to overwhelm just about any defensive back.
And yet Pitts and London were virtually ignored in Week 1. With 2022 third-round pick Desmond Ridder at the helm, the Falcons attempted just 18 passes in Week 1, and Pitts and London combined to receive just four targets. Pitts caught two of them, and London ended the game without a catch.
One game doesn’t make a trend, but it’s worth wondering if the Falcons will try to change their approach for Week 2 and how the Packers could counter it.
Forcing the Falcons to throw might not be a terrible idea, even if they do have two potentially scary receiving options. Ridder hasn’t been exactly an electric thrower through his first five starts. Dating back to last season, Ridder has averaged just 6.2 yards per attempt for an average of under 165 yards per game. Even if he leans on Pitts and London, it’s probably to the Packers’ advantage to force the Falcons out of their run-heavy attack if they can.
If the Packers can get the Falcons to abandon the run — which might be easier said than done — they’ll have plenty of opportunity to send their waves of pass rushers after Ridder. The Falcons’ offensive line did much better run blocking than pass blocking in Week 1, and with Rashan Gary continuing to get his legs under him, the Packers should have plenty of options at their disposal to stress the Falcons in that area.
But the simplest solution might be to get the Falcons into third down situations — of any distance — and let things come naturally from there. The Falcons went just 2 of 10 on third downs in Week 1, and either lost yardage or gained no yards on six of their eight failed attempts. Even with Pitts and London on the field, the Falcons were almost comically inept on their money downs. Putting them in situations where they have to attempt to improve might be the best way to neutralize the Falcons’ weapons in the passing game.