It’s time for our weekly installment of 5 questions. This week Kevin Knight of The Falcoholic and I exchanged questions leading up to Sunday’s contest between the Tennessee Titans and the Atlanta Falcons. Be sure and head over to The Falcoholic to check out Kevin’s questions with my answers.
1. We miss Arthur Smith! How do Falcons fans feel about him as head coach so far?
It really depends on who you ask. Many fans are already tired of Arthur Smith and think he should be on the hot seat in Year 3. The Falcons went 14-20 under Smith in 2021-2022, and many believe it should be “playoffs or bust” this season. Given Smith’s attitude towards fantasy football and the occasionally puzzling usage of players like Kyle Pitts and Drake London, he also seems to have made enemies of that community. And yet, Smith’s seat is among the coldest in the NFL. He, along with general manager Terry Fontenot, have had to rebuild this roster from the ground up whilst cleaning up a significant salary cap mess left by former GM Thomas Dimitroff. The results haven’t exactly been stellar yet, particularly on the offensive side of things, but ultimately I still have a lot of faith in Smith.
2. Explain the situation with Bijan Robinson last week. Is he good to go this week?
Bijan Robinson reportedly developed a severe headache on Saturday night that continued up until game time. Apparently, it wasn’t bad enough to make him inactive, but it still should have been disclosed to the NFL per the rules. So the Falcons may see a fine from that, we’ll see. His availability will not be affected going forward, so I’d expect to see Bijan play his usual core role on the offense. He’s among Atlanta’s leading receivers and has been their most efficient running back. In short, he’s everything we could have hoped for thus far.
3. Does Desmond Ridder have a chance to be a franchise quarterback? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
It may be a hot take, but yes, I think Ridder has *a chance* to become a franchise quarterback. He’s been the most volatile starter in the NFL through seven games and has cost Atlanta wins with his turnovers. After a disastrous stretch in Weeks 3-4, Ridder rebounded with a terrific game against the Texans in Week 5 and followed that with two good passing days. Against the Commanders, he threw a very bad interception—against the Bucs, he fumbled three times inside the 10-yard line. That being said, he’s clearly developed a command of the passing offense and is playing much better overall. In Week 7 against the Bucs, Ridder led the NFL in CPOE (Completion Percentage Over Expectation), showing just how far he’s come in that regard. Ridder has a good, not great, arm but he’s very trusting of his receivers and is unafraid of attempting tight-window throws. For the most part, he hits them, though early in the season he threw a number of picks. In college, he was great at pre-snap reads and figuring out where to go with the ball, and we’re finally starting to see that in the NFL.
Unlocking his rushing ability will be key to elevating him to franchise-caliber, but there have been some flashes in that area. He’s a very athletic QB and runs a 4.5, but he’s generally been slow to trigger on runs and has not looked comfortable when running the ball. He could’ve had two rushing TDs against Tampa Bay, but his inexperience showed up on the fumble he lost at the goal line that wound up as a touchback. At this point, it’s all about cleaning up the mistakes and keeping the momentum going in the passing game.
4. Give us a player we haven’t heard of that will have an impact on this game.
Former UDFA linebacker Nate Landman was elevated to the starting lineup after 2022 second-rounder Troy Andersen wound up on season-ending IR. Since then, Landman has emerged as arguably a top-10 linebacker in the NFL (according to PFF, where he has an 82.2 overall grade). He’s remarkably sound with his run fits and has been a dominant run stuffer, and his coverage has also been far better than expected. He’s not as dynamic or as effective as a blitzer as Andersen, but overall, he’s outplayed both him and veteran addition Kaden Elliss—who has been good too. Terry Fontenot appears to have struck gold twice, as another former UDFA in Dee Alford has also emerged in the starting lineup at nickel cornerback—he’s also top-10 at his position, according to PFF (80.6 overall grade). Those two have combined with a series of more well-known moves—safety Jessie Bates III, defensive tackle David Onyemata, defensive lineman Calais Campbell, and cornerback Jeff Okudah—to give Atlanta their first top-10 defense in over a decade.
5. The Falcons are 2.5-point favorites over at DraftKings Sportsbook here. Where are you putting your money on this game?
I know Mike Vrabel is 5-0 coming off a bye, so it’s a risky proposition to bet on the Falcons—especially considering their offensive inconsistency and Desmond Ridder’s propensity for turnovers. That being said, I trust Atlanta’s defense (it feels very weird to say that) to be able to handle a rookie quarterback in his first start. Derrick Henry will certainly get his, but I don’t think it’ll be enough for Tennessee. Give me the Falcons, 20-13.