GAME OVERVIEW ::
BY MIKE JOHNSON >>
- This game features two teams who rank in the bottom three in the league in Pass Rate Over Expectation (PROE)..
- Falcons head coach Arthur Smith continues to find new ways to underwhelm, and at this point, seems to be stuck in his ways merely because changing would prove others right.
- The Cardinals defense ranks near the bottom of the league against both the run and the pass, opening the door for Atlanta’s offense to look more functional.
- Arizona had one of the worst offensive performances you will ever see in Week 9 against the Browns, but will have a new look this week thanks to the return of quarterback Kyler Murray.
- James Conner also has a chance to return from injured reserve, which would also serve to solidify this offense’s ability to sustain drives.
How ATLANTA Will Try To Win ::
The Falcons’ rise to mediocrity continued last week, as they found new ways to lose and mismanage a game. While head coach Arthur Smith would rather lose games than prove those who question his approach right, the Falcons enter Week 10 with one of the more hollow 4-5 records you will ever see. They have one win by more than three points, a 24-10 Week 1 victory over the downtrodden Panthers. Their other three wins are by a combined six points against the Packers, Texans, and Bucs. Atlanta ranks 19th in the NFL in red-zone TD percentage, converting on only half (50%) of its opportunities, despite the Falcons’ heavy investments in offensive skill players in the last three drafts. Through nine games, eighth overall pick and unquestionably talented Bijan Robinson has 13 red-zone opportunities compared to 28 for Tyler Allgeier. Fellow high draft capital studs Drake London and Kyle Pitts have combined for 15 red-zone targets this year. If my math checks out, that means that Smith has given the ball to Allgeier in the red zone as many times as he’s given it to Robinson, London, and Pitts COMBINED. As much as we preach “process”, this is a results business. It would be one thing to have that kind of touch dispersion if your team is racking up points and wins, but to misuse your players in that kind of way while not even cracking .500 against a soft schedule is pretty damning. Smith can give condescending answers and long monologues trying to convince everyone how sharp he is, but the reality is that he’s making things far more difficult than they need to be. In high-leverage situations, find ways to get the ball to your most talented players. End of story/rant.
NFL + NBA + MLB
Atlanta’s run of a ridiculously soft schedule continues this week as it heads to Arizona to face a Cardinals team that has the worst record in the NFL and has lost five of their last six games by double digits. Unfortunately for Smith, the Cardinals are expected to get Murray back this week, which should invigorate their offense and force opponents to be more aggressive offensively. Atlanta should have their choice of how to attack, as Arizona’s defense ranks 30th against the run and 31st against the pass by DVOA metrics. Atlanta’s offense has all the ingredients to be special and can move the ball at a high level, especially against inferior opponents. Robinson and Allgeier are a terrific backfield pairing and run behind PFF’s #3 graded offensive line. Pitts and Jonnu Smith have combined for more receiving yardage than any other tight end room in the NFL. London should return from injury this week and KhaDarel Hodge is emerging as a legitimate threat at wide receiver as well, thanks in large part to chemistry with new starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Atlanta has no problem moving the football, as most of the Falcons’ issues stem from failing to punch the ball in when they get to the red zone. This week, they face an Arizona defense that is ranked 30th in the league in opponent red-zone TD percentage over the last three weeks. Atlanta has a bye after this week, and if the Falcons can’t put up some significant points in this matchup, then some serious changes will likely be considered. The Falcons have been playing with increased pace and throwing at a higher rate over the last month, and we should expect those aggressive tendencies to continue this week as Smith seeks to silence his critics.