Game Overview ::
- The Falcons went into their bye week knowing they would be making the change from Marcus Mariota to Desmond Ridder, giving them a full two weeks to prepare their new quarterback for action.
- That said, the situation with Mariota has been a distraction as he reportedly just ghosted the team once he found out about his benching. He has since been placed on injured reserve.
- Neither of these teams has been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, which speaks to the state of the NFC South – that said, both need a win this week to keep that pipedream alive… desperation factor, engaged.
- Chris Olave and Drake London have been nothing short of remarkable in their rookie seasons, largely limited by the design of their respective offenses (and maybe some quarterback play thrown in there).
How Atlanta Will Try To Win ::
While we know how the Falcons have tried to win this season (second lowest pass rate, second lowest pass rate over expectation, and below average pass rate over expectation in every game played this season), we have some uncertainties introduced through the change at quarterback. Rookie third-round quarterback Desmond Ridder will be making the first start of his career, which basically comes in a “win or go home” game for the Falcons. And while their offensive tendencies are highly unlikely to flip on their heads, we at least have to acknowledge that there could be some surprises here. Ridder has some rushing upside to his fantasy profile as well, having rushed for 957 yards and 12 touchdowns over his final two years at Cincinnati. That said, his mobility is more escapability when compared to the more elite rushing upside of Jalen Hurts or Justin Fields. While Ridder’s pocket presence was a plus at the collegiate level, that tends to be one of the areas that takes rookie quarterbacks longer to adjust to, as the speed at the NFL level is a different animal altogether. Finally, Ridder lacks the top-level arm strength to make some tight window throws and his downfield ability sometimes suffers. Considering everything laid out, I would expect an offense designed to minimize mistakes and ease Ridder into the fold, with heavy rush rates, designed short area throws based on timing, and an effort to keep from getting behind the sticks.
Lead back Cordarrelle Patterson missed four games in the middle of the season, returning for Week 9. Since that time, he has played more than 49% of the offensive snaps just once, peaking at 58% in Week 12 (for comparison, he played 59-65% in his three fully healthy games to start the year). What we’ve seen since his return is a two-headed backfield that works in conjunction with fullback Keith Smith, with Tyler Allgeier matching or beating Patterson in snap rate (as has been the case in all but one game since Patterson’s return). Patterson has been between 11 and 16 running back opportunities in four of five games back, with Allgeier seeing nine to 11 opportunities in each contest. Mariota typically only carried the ball five to seven times, meaning Patterson and Allgeier could see a slight decrease in workload with the more mobile Ridder at quarterback. Realistically, the range of work we’ve seen from the duo over the previous five games is likely to remain rather static moving forward, with Ridder potentially taking on slightly more rushing work than Mariota did while starting. The matchup on the ground yields a well above average 4.655 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Saints defense ceding 4.46 yards per carry and 22.1 DK points per game to opposing backfields. Of note, the Saints don’t blitz a lot (16.6%) but play some of the highest rates of man coverage in the league, which has made them susceptible to mobile quarterbacks.
Rookie wide receiver Drake London ranks eighth in targets per route run rate, 10th in team target market share, and first in average cushion (a measure of how far off a defender is playing the pass-catcher). Due to the nature of the Falcons offense, opposing teams have utilized zone coverages against Atlanta at the highest rate in the league (like a stupid-high 83.1% of the time) – which is important considering London currently holds PFF’s 12th-highest grade against zone coverage this season amongst wide receivers with 10 or more targets. The only thing holding this dude back is an offense that has averaged a paltry 23.1 pass attempts per game this season. London is joined by veteran role wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus as the only pass-catchers to play nearly every offensive snap on this offense, with Damiere Byrd the preferred WR3 and tight end snaps split amongst Parker Hesse, MyCole Pruitt, and Anthony Firkser since Kyle Pitts was shut down for the season. Zaccheaus has one game all season over five targets while no Atlanta tight end has seen more than three targets without Pitts. As in, this pass offense is a case of “London or bust.”