Updated: Sep 23
So we are all agreed that we shall not speak of last weekend, right? Right? Good.
This Sunday, we welcome the Dirty Birds to Ford Field. This will be their first trip away from the nest this season. Will they be able to soar, or will they squawk under the pressure? Can our defensive line finally help Hutchinson while stopping the run, or will Sack City be as devoid as the list of seasonal 4000-yard passers for the Bears?
The Falcons are one of those rare teams whose base lineup on offense is not 11 personnel. Instead, Atlanta favours 12 personnel, lining up in this set on 36% of their offensive snaps this season. Out of this personnel, they pass the ball on 51% of the time for 0.12 EPA per play. They have used four other personnel sets on more than 5% of their offensive plays. They also favour 21 personnel, running this on 28% of snaps for a 38% pass rate and -0.09 EPA/p. They even run 13 personnel more often than the traditional 11. On the 14% of snaps they run 13 personnel, they pass the ball 61% of the time for 0.38 EPA/p. They run 11 on an ironic 11% of their offensive snaps, passing the ball 57% of the time for -0.4 EPA/p. Atlanta also uses 22 personnel on 8% of snaps, passing the ball on 64% of these snaps for -0.28 EPA/p. Overall, they average 0.01 EPA per play and pass the ball at the same rate as they run it.
This season, the Falcons are riding with Ridder. However, he hasn't exactly hit the ground running this season. He has a 45.2 offense grade and a 43.9 passing grade from PFF. On his sixty dropbacks so far this season, he has attempted 50 passes for 34 completions (68%), 352 yards (7.0 yards per attempt), eighteen first downs, two touchdowns, one interception, a 6.9-yard average depth of target, a 1.8% big-time throw rate, and a 7.6% turnover worthy play rate.
By traditional metrics, Ridder is weakest targeting the deep centre, only completing one of his four attempts in this area for 22 yards and one interception. He is also weak targeting the intermediate left, having not completed a pass in that zone yet. Inversely, Ridder is best targeting behind the line of scrimmage to his right, completing both of his attempts there for 20 yards and a touchdown. He is also strong in targeting deep outside the numbers, completing all three of his passes to these areas for 103 yards.
According to PFF grades, Ridder is weakest targeting the aforementioned deep centre (28.9 passing grade in this area), and the short left. In the short left area, Ridder has completed three of his five passes for 14 yards and a touchdown for a 30.5 grade. He is strongest in the deep left (84.4 grade) and the short centre. In this area, he has completed seven of his nine passes for 58 yards and a 91.6 grade. Along this line, Ridder actually performs better when under pressure than when not per PFF's metrics. On the 58.5% of snaps he is kept clean, he posts a 44.7 grade. However, on the snaps he is pressured, this grade jumps a couple of points to 47.8. Likewise, on the 56.7% of snaps Ridder is not blitzed, he posts a 26.6 grade. When he is blitzed, this grade more than doubles to 78.2.
Given this data, we can form a reasonable game plan to make Ridder's game more difficult on Sunday. Firstly, we actually shouldn't blitz. This might seem counter-intuitive, but given the PFF grades listed above, it seems Ridder is an instinctual passer and when he is given time, he overthinks and overprocesses, leading to bad plays. It could also be that when he is pressured, he can use his legs to extend plays, giving his receivers more time to uncover themselves to be open for the ball. Secondly, we should dare him to throw the ball deep. I know we have had some injuries on the defence, most notably to C.J. Gardner-Johnson, but Ridder doesn't have top-tier arm talent so daring him to go long could lead to turnovers in our favour. Finally, despite how desperate we are as a fan base for the defense to get more sacks, we should focus on containing Ridder than getting home as his strength is making plays off-script and he could burn us with his legs if we overreach on our rushes.
Six Falcons have caught the ball from Ridder so far this season. Former Cougar Tyler Allgeier has caught all three of his targets (100%) for 19 yards (6.3 yards per reception, 5.3 yards after the catch per reception, 0.95 yards per route ran), one first down and no touchdowns on an average depth of target of 1.0 yards for a 65.0 receiving grade. He also has earned an 83.5 pass-blocking grade on 9 such snaps. His backfield partner Bijan Robinson is the team leader in targets (11) and receptions (10) (90.9% catch rate), taking his ten catches for 75 yards (7.5 ypr, 9.6 yac/r, 1.6 y/rr), one drop (9.1%), an ADOT of -1.9 yards, 100% contested catch rate (1/1), five first downs and one touchdown for a 75.5 receiving grade. He is not perfect though, on his two pass-blocking snaps he has earned a 5.0 grade.
At tight end, Jonnu Smith has gotten a 66.0 receiving grade on his six targets. Smith has four catches (66.7%) for 47 yards (11.8 ypr, 8.0 yac/r, 1.34 y/rr), a 100% contested catch rate (1/1), three first downs, one interception and no touchdowns. His running mate Pitts has caught four of his seven targets (57.1%) for 59 yards (14.8 ypr, 2.3 yac/r, 1.07 y/rr), has caught his one contested target, an ADOT of 13.6 yards, gained two first downs; all for a 67.2 grade. On the outside, Mack Hollins has nine targets on the season, catching six (66.7%) for 91 yards (15.2 ypr, 1.7 yac/r, 2.28 y/rr), two first downs, a 50% contested catch rate (1/2), an ADOT of 12.8 yards and a 62.3 receiving grade. The Falcons WR1 Drake London has six catches on nine targets (66.7%) for 67 yards (11.2 ypr, 3.7 yac/r, 1.29 y/rr), an ADOT of 8.7 yards, one drop (14.3%), a 100% contested catch rate (1/1), one forced missed tackle, three first downs and a 66.7 grade.
Given the receiving data, along with Ridder's overall numbers, one can see that the receivers are big deep threats whose run blocking is more valued than their route running. Pressing them won't work as they will have both a height and weight advantage over our corners, so this could make us lean more into zone coverage, which would have the added benefit of allowing our corners to have their eyes on Ridder so they could help in run support if he takes off on a scramble. As for covering their tight ends, this is where CJGJ will be a real miss as he could have taken one away, leaving the other to be covered by Campbell or Branch. All we can do is hope that Glenn doesn't get the grand idea to put an edge rusher in coverage on a tight end in a zone blitz again...
As for the guys up front for Atlanta, their starting five have played all 133 offensive snaps (must be nice...). At center, Drew Dalman has earned an 83.3 run-blocking grade and a 59.6 pass-blocking grade, having allowed two hurries for a 98.3% pass-blocking efficiency. At left guard, they are starting the rookie out of Syracuse Matthew Bergeron. He has a 51.2 run-block grade and a 53.4 pass-block grade, having allowed two hits and two hurries for a 96.7% pass-blocking efficiency. The veteran LT Jake Matthews has allowed one sack and two hurries for a 96.7% pass-blocking efficiency, giving him a 63.9 pass-block grade and a 75.2 run-block grade. The newly re-signed and flushed with cash Chris Lindstrom has a 79.7 run-block grade at RG and, having given up a sack, a hit and two hurries (95.8% pass-block efficiency), a 47.1 pass-block grade. At RT, Kaleb McGary has given up a sack and three hurries (95.8% pass-block efficiency) for a 44.7 pass-block grade and an 84.8 run-block grade. All but Bergeron have been charged with one penalty so far this season, who has been charged with two. Given how run-centric the Falcons' offense is, it is no surprise that they grade well in the run. However, given their lack of size due to their zone run game focus, they lack anchor and so are weaker in pass protection. This means we should be able to have our way with them on passing downs.
Only three players have toted the rock for Atlanta. Going in reverse order of PFF rushing grade, Ridder has been the least efficient runner. Over the two games of the season so far, he has carried the ball six times for 38 yards (3.5 yards per attempt, 0.36 yards after contact per attempt), three first downs, one touchdown and one fumble for a 56.3 grade. Allgeier has carried the ball 31 times for 123 yards (4.0 ypa, 3.332 yco/a), 6 forced missed tackles, 8 first downs, two touchdowns and a 65.2 grade. The headliner of the Falcons' rushing attack is the eighth overall pick out of Texas in this year's draft, and the man Gibbs will be compared to for the span of their careers: Bijan Robinson. On his 29 carries so far this season, he has gone for 180 yards (6.2 ypa, 3.97 yco/a), 7 forced missed tackles, 11 first downs, no touchdowns or fumbles, and earned himself an 89.0 rushing grade.
As a team, they favour running up the A- or D-gaps and the right-hand side of the line. They are weakest running up the left A-gap, gaining 3.1 yards an attempt up this gap. They are best running it up the left C-gap, gaining 9.0 yards per attempt up this gap. Allgeier is best running up the right B-gap, gaining 7.7 yards per attempt up this gap, as is Bijan who gets 9.8 yards per attempt up this gap. Ridder is best running through the left D-gap, getting 7.5 yards per attempt there.
Given the Falcons' propensity for running up the A-gaps, this game could be the return of Buggs as well as Brodric Martin's rookie debut. Playing them will plug up these gaps, allowing Alim and the linebackers to focus on the remaining gaps while the edges run contain to funnel the backs back inside to be tackled. However, the linebackers should also be ready to go sideline-to-sideline if the Falcons lean on the outside zone concepts that Smith's background relies on.
Atlanta only run three sets of personnel on more than 5% of their defensive plays. They use 335 nickel on 56% of their defensive snaps, facing a pass on 51% of these plays, allowing -0.17 EPA/p. They use 34 base on 24% of the defensive plays, giving up 0.41 EPA/p on a 53% pass rate. They also use 245 nickel on 16% of their defensive plays with the ball being thrown on 90% of these plays and allowing -0.29 EPA/p. Overall, the Falcons face a pass on 60% of their defensive plays, giving up -0.08 EPA per play.
The Falcons' best starter in run defence is their FS Jessie Bates III. On his 22 run defence snaps, he has earned an 83.1 grade with one of his five solo tackles being run stops (one on 2.0% of his run defence snaps), one forced fumble, and an average depth of tackle of 6.4 yards. He has also missed one of his tackles for an 11.1% miss rate. David Onyemata is the best run defender on their defensive line with an 82.8 grade. Two of his three solo tackles have been run stops (6.7%) and an average tackle depth of 1.3 yards. Both the other starters on the defensive line have also graded well against the run, with Grady Jarrett earning a 74.4 grade with his 3 run stops (10.5%) and average depth of tackle of 1.3 yards, and Calais Campbell getting a 72.1 grade with four run stops (14.3%) and 2.0 yards tackle depth. Starting linebacker Kaden Ellis has graded around averagely, with a 64.5 grade, with one of his eight tackles on the season being a run stop (2.0%) and an average depth of tackle of 5.5 yards.
However, both their starting edge rushers have graded below average in run defence. Bud Dupree has two tackles on the season, with one of them closing as a run stop (3.4%) and an average depth of tackle of 2.0 yards, earning a 49.7 grade. On the other side, Arnold Ebiketie has a 52.7 grade on the season, having only made two assisted tackles. The other Falcons starter at inside linebacker, the former Montana State Bobcat Troy Andersen, has graded slightly below average at run defence with a 58.9 grade. One of his four solo tackles has been a run stop (3.4%) with an average depth of 1.0 yards, but he also missed two of his tackle attempts (28.6%). Given the strength of the Falcons' defensive line, and the relative weakness of their linebackers, against the run, we should attack the edges with wide runs that will get their backers moving sideline-to-sideline. Dare I say that this could be a "breakout" game for Gibbs as this matchup seemingly fits his skillset to a tee.
It perhaps should be concerning for a team if both of their starting safeties have higher pass-rushing grades from PFF than either of their edge rushers. Yet that is the case for Atlanta. The Falcons' top edge rusher is Arnold Ebiketie, who has five pressures (two hits and three hurries) on twenty-one pass-rushing snaps and won 5.9% of his pass-rush snaps for a 68.4 grade. His bookend has actually graded out the worst on the team in pass-rushing. On his fifty-two snaps, he has won 4.1% for four pressures (all hurries) for a 45.0 grade. Up front, Onyemata has won on 28.9% of his forty-one pass-rushing snaps for five pressures (two hits and three hurries) and an 84.2 grade. Beside him, Jarrett won on 19.2% of his snaps for seven pressures (one sack, two hits and four hurries) and a 73.2 grade. Despite the potential of missing Decker at LT again this week, it isn't pressure from the edges that I am worried about. Instead, it's the prospect of the defensive line exploiting the newly installed Glasgow at RG (39.6 pass-blocking grade) and the relatively weak pass-blocking of Jonah Jackson (54.8 grade) to get to Goff. However, we can negate this by playing Craig Reynolds on third downs as he has posted a 72.4 pass-blocking grade so far this season.
As for the secondary that the pass rush is supposed to protect, only three of the starters have above-average in coverage. Former Lion Jeff Okudah has been out with injury but is looking likely to take his first snaps in a Falcons uniform in a familiar setting. In his place, Tre Flowers has completions on 60% of targets in his direction for 12.7 yards per reception on an average depth of target of 15.1 yards, also conceding four yards after the catch per reception and two penalties so far this season, all for a 36.1 coverage grade. On the other side, A.J. Terrell has allowed catches on 46.2% of his targets for 7.3 yards a pop, 5.2 yards after the catch per reception, and an ADOT of 10.6 yards for a 69.1 grade. He also has broken up two passes, dropped an interception and conceded one penalty so far this season. At slot corner, Dee Alford has given up a catch on 88.9% of his targets, 8.9 yards per reception and 6.9 yards after the catch per reception, with two touchdowns on the season, with an ADOT of 2.7 yards, earning himself a 59.0 grade.
In the linebacker room, Elliss has allowed an 80% completion rate, giving up 6.8 yards a reception on an ADOT of 1.2 yards, also allowing 4.8 yards after the catch per reception for a 74.0 coverage grade. On the backend, Bates has been elite in coverage, only allowing catches on 25% of throws his way for four yards (two after the catch) a reception on an ADOT of 8.5 yards, along with hauling into two interceptions, for a 91.4 coverage grade. Beside him, former podcast favourite Richie Grant has not been as good. He has allowed catches on 75% of his targets for 9.0 yards per reception, 1.3 of which were after the catch, and a touchdown on an ADOT of 10.0 yards for a 51.9 grade. The long and short of it is that the short-to-intermediate routes should be open for Goff to hit, but if he wants to go deep he must avoid Terrell and Bates.
All in all, the Falcons defensive line is stout against the run and the pass and they have some pieces in the secondary to be wary of. However, their edge rushers are not to be scared of and they have weaknesses on the backend that Ben Johnson will be able to exploit in his game plan. Given the weakness of their edges in the run game, despite the injury to Monty, we should be able to move the ball with Gibbs, Knight and Reynolds on outside zone and counter concepts. In the passing game, LaPorta and St Brown should be able to do work in the intermediate game while we can hit whoever is not facing Terrell on deep shots off play action. Hopefully, we can see more of Leaf on the field as his speed will bring another dimension to the offense to stretch the field both vertically and horizontally.
Younghoe Koo has earned himself a 57.7 grade on field goals, having missed one extra point.
Pinion has gotten a 69.2 grade on kickoffs, with only 16.7% of his being returned for an average of 27.5 yards with a hangtime of 3.93 seconds. His punts have earned him a 76.9 grade, with 37.5% landing in the opposition's 20-yard line, one being downed by his own team, two going out of bounds, and the other three being returned for an average of 4.7 yards.
Former Lion Mike Hughes is the only Falcon who has attempted a kick return for his team, earning a 58.1 grade with his 19-yard effort. He has also gotten a 62.3 punt-returning grade for his 10-yard average. Scott Miller has a 60.7 grade for his 4-yard return, and Alford fair-caught his only attempt for a 61.0 grade.
Three Keys to Victory:
Dust off the defensive playbook from Week 17 last year- Despite his struggles with game-planning for Geno Smith and the Seahawks last week, Glenn should have a headstart on this week's game plan as he executed an almost perfect plan for a similar QB last year in Justin Fields. I'd even say that Fields is more physically talented than Ridder, so what we did last year to contain him and get him ruffled should work this week. Dust off that game plan, adjust it slightly for our new personnel and shut down Ridder. Because if the defense looks weak again this weekend, the baying calls for change may grow louder.
Get Gibbs running- The Falcons' run defence is weak against runs to the outside. Gibbs has the perfect skill set to exploit this. Shut the fantasy nerds up, quieten the hot takes from draftniks who just want to pile on to their previous views, and let Gibbs torch Atlanta to show people why the team valued him over Bijan.
Hit the intermediate areas of the field- We have many weapons that can exploit the middle of the field. Use them, both to draw coverage inside to get one-on-one matchups on the outside, but also to set up the run in a roundabout way by making the linebackers and safeties guess pass instead of the run.
Hot Take for the Game: Koo misses yet another extra point, continuing the streak of Mason Crosby's spirit haunting kickers visiting Ford Field.
Prediction: The Lions exorcise the bad memories of last week and put up four touchdowns on Atlanta, clipping the Falcons' wings and sending them home to roost.
Detroit Lions 34, Atlanta Falcons 19
How do you think the game will go? Will our Lions return to winning ways and take sole control of first place in the North, or will the Falcons clip our wings? Who do you think will be the stat leaders, and what will the final score be?
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