Falcons hate week has arrived for the New Orleans Saints as the NFC South’s favorite “rivalry” jumps back into action Sunday afternoon. The Saints come into Sunday juiced after a very important win versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
They also have added adversity with the announcements of season-ending injuries to both Jameis Winston and Michael Thomas. With Trevor Siemian named the starting quarterback and Taysom Hill scheduled to return from injury, a majority of the attention again for the Saints will start and end at the QB position.
For more on Atlanta, we grabbed David Choate from SB Nation’s The Falcoholic. David was nice enough to answer a few questions for us, and neither side chose to be petty towards the other. We hope you enjoy the latest extension of Outsider’s Perspective and WHO DAT!
1. After another start to the season that looked to have Atlanta heading for another high draft pick, the Falcons started to turn things around. A recent loss and Calvin Ridley’s temporary departure don’t help them going forward, but is there any belief from you that the Falcons have the parts as an overall unit to be a borderline good football team the rest of the season?
I think they have enough talent on offense to be a fun team, even though that’s less true without Ridley. The defense has some legitimate foundational pieces, including breakout cornerback A.J. Terrell and the great Grady Jarrett, but they’re still a massive work in progress. Special teams are pretty good—Younghoe Koo is terrific—and I’d say the coaching staff looks like they’re making strides with the pieces they do have.
What does that add up to? I think probably a team that winds up below .500—I know it’s not really .500 any more with 17 games, but bear with me—but manages to be pretty competitive in most of those and occasionally really fun. If Ridley does come back and is a major contributor later in the year it will only help, but this is a really flawed team that’s going to need another quality offseason or two to make any kind of real playoff run.
The Panthers loss reinforced that this team has a rookie head coach and plenty of roster spots where a player learning on the job or a veteran stopgap are holding things down, and that combination means teams with excellent game plans or simply more talent will just run over them. I didn’t expect one of those teams to be the Panthers, which is also a bit worrying.
The Falcons can beat the bad teams on their schedule, which is progress over last year. They’ll likely need to make some pretty rapid, surprising strides in the next couple of weeks to do more than that and take a couple of games away from favored opponents. We knew this would be a work in progress, so as much as I’d love to see them put the pieces all together, I’m not expecting it.
2. We know about the athlete Kyle Pitts is at the Tight-End position. But can you explain some of the underrated elements to his game that people don’t talk about enough?
It’s really everything with him. Lee Smith has been in the league forever as a reserve tight end, and he couldn’t talk enough about Pitts’ maturity and preparation, which is part of the reason he’s been able to contribute at such a high level so early in his career.
The problem with Pitts is that he’s big enough to cause matchup problems for just about everyone, can flat-outrun most linebackers and safeties, and has incredibly sticky hands. He makes impossible catches look manageable with his catch radius, and he’s already made multiple one-handed grabs. Certainly, he can be slowed or shut down—the Panthers mostly did it—but he just turned 21 and he’s this good already. It’s crazy.
You asked about underrated elements, though, and everyone already talks about the size and speed, and catch radius. I think what people don’t talk as much about is that he just seems so grounded and savvy already, and teams just don’t expect a rookie tight end to be able to come quite so prepared and so ready to make an impact. That rapport he’s built with Matt Ryan in such a short time, where Ryan now feels comfortable forcing throws into very small windows, is something I can’t say I expected to develop so quickly.
3. Speaking of underrated, what the hell has gotten into Cordarrelle Patterson? We know about his ability as a returner, but ATL has found a consistent way of unlocking him as a weapon on offense again. What has made him such a threat in Atlanta’s offense, especially in the red zone?
I genuinely think teams just weren’t seeing Patterson’s potential in the past, at least clearly. If you look at his rookie season in Minnesota, the Vikings only gave him 12 carries, but he blew up for nearly 160 yards and three touchdowns. He was also a solid receiver, but his chances were few and far between. It was only in Chicago under current Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone and current Falcons quarterbacks coach (and then running backs coach) Charles London that a team really started to look at him as a versatile weapon and a capable runner.
That’s what Smith and Ragone have done in Atlanta, really, is just given him a larger opportunity and slotted him in as a running back first instead of a receiver. It’s strange to think about, given the success he’s having now, but teams didn’t look at his ability to make things happen in the open field and power through contact in the open field plus his size and strength and think he might be a good back.
But Smith was lacking a Derrick Henry type in Atlanta and saw Patterson’s potential to platoon effectively with Mike Davis in this backfield, as Davis can help grind defenses to dust and Patterson is a bit more explosive.
That plus some creative looks for Patterson have allowed him to become incredibly dangerous because he’s way too fast and clever to be covered by slow-footed linebackers, but also too physical for many defensive backs and lighter linebackers to handle.
The Falcons have taken pains to give him favorable looks in the red zone and let his speed and ability to power through contact do the rest, and while the sledding is getting tougher in that regard with Ridley out, he’s been effectively matchup proof. Given that he’s been such a great fit for this offense and the Falcons clearly love him, I’m hoping he’ll be back to continue to wreak havoc next year.
4. What’s the biggest misconception about the Atlanta Falcons right now?
I think there are still some quarters of the Falcons fanbase and certainly, the larger national fan and media landscape that think Matt Ryan is washed. I was an advocate for the team to try to get a Trey Lance or Justin Fields this offseason because I had seen what Ryan did stepping in as a young quarterback and delivering huge results right away, and these Falcons had the added advantage of being able to develop a player like that for a year or two with Ryan in the fold.
I thought Ryan would still be a pretty good quarterback in 2021 and beyond, but he’s surprised me by really turning it on when he’s had the time behind this offensive line to make things happen, as he did in stellar efforts against the Jets and Dolphins.
Ryan’s durability and savviness have helped him age pretty gracefully, but he’s gotten better at moving in the pocket and trusting that he can make risky throws under pressure because his arm is still alive enough for it, especially on short-to-intermediate routes.
The loss of Ridley was a problem last week and this offensive line is profoundly up and down with young starters at left guard and center, but Ryan’s played well enough that I think the team is likely to stick with him over the next couple of years, at least. The hope is that they can build the roster up around him quickly enough to take advantage of him continuing to play well.
5. Your outsider’s perspective on the New Orleans Saints?
It’s going to be physically painful to write some of this, but here goes. The Saints are a good, well-balanced team again, one that will probably only be limited this year by an unenviable quarterback situation and questionable set of pass-catchers.
I don’t think the Falcons specifically hired Arthur Smith to try to get their own Sean Payton in the building, mostly because I hope I don’t end up hating Arthur Smith’s face, but they were hoping for the adaptability and canny offensive mind Payton has brought to the table. We certainly make fun of him for Taysom Hill, but Arthur Smith is already dabbling with former Florida and Arkansas quarterback as a tight end/special teamer/quarterback, so I think we’ll have to drop those jokes soon.
What is impressive and unfortunate about the Saints is how well they weather the kind of big waves that capsize so many teams. Ancient Drew Brees? Still a playoff team. Lose Jameis Winston mid-game? Plugin Trevor Siemian and beat the defending Super Bowl champions.
Deal with a massive annual cap crunch and bleed key players? Somehow add 1-2 key pieces and confidently rely on the roster you’ve painstakingly built over years. New Orleans should be a bad football team by now—we all know most franchises in similar situations would be—and the fact that they’re not makes me sick but also earns my grudging respect.
As always, I wonder what happens a year from now when the Saints are currently $52 million in the hole per Spotrac when three straight years of relatively lean (at least in terms of picks) draft classes catch up to the team’s depth, and what they do at quarterback if they do continue to contend and can’t get a crack at a top guy they like in the 2022 NFL Draft. While I hate to admit it, I can’t bet against them figuring it out somehow, regardless.
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