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Analysis: Loss to Baltimore shows Falcons what their offseason priorities should be

Atlanta isn't where it wants to be. The Falcons have money and opportunities to play with this offseason to get them there. 

BALTIMORE -- After a would-they, won't-they, can-they, should-they make the playoff scenario, the Falcons are officially eliminated from playoff contention following their 17-9 loss to the Ravens, Carolina's win over the Lions and the Saints win over the Browns on Saturday.

There are two games left on Atlanta's schedule, both at home against the Cardinals on New Year's Day and Tampa Bay to close out the 2022 season.

The Falcons are 5-10 after the Baltimore loss. The offense has not scored over 20 points in a game since their win over the Bears in Week 11, while the defense has held firm in the red zone, never allowing more than 25 points in any of their last seven games.


Arthur Smith said after the game that Desmond Ridder made steps in the right direction. Ridder said he was much more comfortable in the pocket, which resulted in a better statistical game for him than in his first start in New Orleans. All of this even though the Falcons were 0-for-4 in the red zone on Saturday.

Ridder, along with Grady Jarrett, spoke after the game about what the Falcons have left to play for with two games remaining in the 2022 season. Jarrett best summed up what mindset the team should have postgame.

"You can't let circumstances dictate the effort and the want-to and the will and the passion that you play with," Jarrett said. "If that's a determining factor in how hard you're going to go, that's not the right person for us. You have to go out and put your best foot forward."

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith and Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh shake hands after their game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland on Saturday, December 24, 2022. (Photo by David Dermer/Atlanta Falcons)

In all, the Falcons loss on Saturday did two things: 1) it eliminated them from playoff contention, but 2) it showed them what their priorities should be this offseason.

According to OverTheCap,com, the Falcons are currently projected to have $71.6 million in cap space. That number should only increase as cuts are made after the season ends and before the start of the new league year in March. So, that number may actually be closer to $80-$90 million once everything is said and done.

The Falcons took Matt Ryan's and Julio Jones' contracts (and all of the dead money that came with their trades) on the chin this year to have the second-most cap space in the league next year. You'd imagine a chunk of that money will go to keeping someone like Chris Lindstrom, but that'll still allow the Falcons to make bigger moves in the offseason than they were able to in the last two years.

They should be major players in the free agency market, and don't be shocked to hear their name thrown around when trade offers start coming in for players across the league.

And all of that's not even getting into 2023 NFL Draft plans. If the 2022 season ended when the actual year does in a week, the Falcons would have a top-10 pick.

So, let's not waste time breaking down a game in which many would rather forget. Let's take a look at what we know the Falcons will have to prioritize this offseason, positionally. Why? Because the Falcons loss to the Ravens on Saturday showed them.



We've been a broken record for the last month and a half of the season. We know what the Falcons have in their run game. We know that the pass game's production has to catch up. They were a bit more balanced on Saturday in Baltimore, but that balance means little if you can't punch the ball into the endzone.

Most importantly, the Falcons have to be better situationally. Going 0-for-4 in the red zone is never going to cut it, nor will being 1-for-4 on fourth downs and converting third downs at a 33 percent clip. So, here are three positions the Falcons should be hot on this offseason.

Quarterback: We're two games into Ridder's four-game evaluation period. He made noticeable steps in the right direction from Start One to Start Two. His completions and passing yards increased by a large margin. He looked a bit more comfortable in the pocket. He made some rookie errors, but he was clean for the most part. The Falcons still didn't have a procedural penalty like a false start. Ridder also didn't throw an interception on Saturday.

Because of this, the Ridder experiment is still on-going. What's notable, though, is that regardless of how Ridder fairs in these final two games, the Falcons have to be looking for a quarterback in the offseason. This position is still very much in flux, and don't count on a return of Marcus Mariota. The Falcons will save $12 million in cap space by releasing Mariota prior to June 1.

If they want to continue with Ridder as the starter in 2023, cool.

If they don't, cool.

Either way, the thought should be the same: The Falcons have to fill that room with viable, starting-level talent. Atlanta needs to find that in whatever way they can, whether it be through the draft, free agency or - as we've seen a lot in the last few years - a blockbuster QB trade.

No matter what, though, quarterback has to be a priority.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder #4 prepares to take a snap during the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland on Saturday, December 24, 2022. (Photo by David Dermer/Atlanta Falcons)

Tight end: When Kyle Pitts was placed on injured reserve, Smith said his season-ending knee injury wouldn't carry over into 2023. He'll be back. But the tight end room could use a little fleshing out around him. Nothing against the likes of Parker Hesse, Anthony Firkser and MyCole Pruitt. They played their roles well this year, and stepped up when called upon.

However, if Smith is going to continue to use multiple tight end sets, it wouldn't hurt to find someone with a notorious record of some play-making ability at tight end, both in blocking and receiving.

There should also be some talk of a return on investment for Feleipe Franks. Franks officially made the move to tight end this offseason. He's been active in almost every game in 2022 when not injured. He's a tight end. If he's to remain there and take up a potential roster spot, there should be a payoff.

Wide receiver: London's career-high 96 receiving yards on Saturday was overshadowed by the loss and a fumble. But that shouldn't take away from his potential, and London has a lot of it. The fumbles in his rookie year don't look good, no, but London knows that and wants to rectify it.

After drafting Pitts and London with their first-round picks in back-to-back years, perhaps using a top draft pick on another pass catcher when the quarterback position is so in flux isn't the answer right now, but it wouldn't be out of the question to hit the open market to find some trusted assets at the position.

The Falcons could keep someone like Olamide Zaccheaus around, but they need long and speedy receivers like a Ja'Marr Chase or Tee Higgins. This isn't me saying go after those two. I am just using them as a prototype example. It's something to think about when looking at the wide receiver market this offseason.


How this Falcons defense would operate in 2022 was a bit of a mystery. And though they are not close to the top of the league statistically, they have been reliable in keeping Atlanta in games. They've given the Falcons offense chance after chance to not only stay in games, but opportunities to win them. 

The last month and a half the season has seen this Falcons defense take quite the stride in their progress as a unit. Some key play makers could continue to shape this defense into a productive unit, and hopefully get those stat lines to match what these defense has really done for this team in 2022.

Interior defensive linemen: Grady Jarrett isn't going anywhere, neither should Ta'Quon Graham when he returns from injury. The Falcons could use obvious depth at the position group, though. 

They tried to acquire it last offseason, but circumstances like injuries and retirements changed the ability to execute that plan. 

The Falcons released Marlon Davidson and Anthony Rush from the team during the season. Vincent Taylor's season ended before it began. And the Falcons were forced to play Abdullah Anderson, Timmy Horne and Jalen Dalton alongside Jarrett. Nothing against those three players. They filled in very, very well. It also wouldn't be surprising if they stuck around, too. But even in that the Falcons need help at the position. 

They need someone to actively pair with Jarrett and Graham (who made significant strides in his second year). 

There are some intriguing defensive linemen in this year's draft class. Could the Falcons look there for more able bodies? 

Outside linebackers: When Dean Pees inherited this defense, rebuilding the edge rusher position was going to be a two- to four-year endeavor. They began that process - truly - during this year's draft, taking Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone with two of their picks. Ade Ogundeji continued to grow in his second year, and Ebiketie showed flashes of why the Falcons traded up to get him. The Falcons need more, though, and they finally have the ability (i.e. the money) to bring in a long-term talent at the position. 

In the last two (even three) years, this position has been the microcosm of the entire team: Pieced together with rookies and players on short-term deals. With Ogundeji, Ebiketie and Malone developing well, a sack-happy centerpiece should be a priority for the Falcons in 2023. 

They need someone with the stats to strike fear into offensive linemen. They could find that in a lot of areas across the league, but it should be said that the pressure is on to hit at this position. The old regime missed too often when it came to edge rushers. This new group can't afford the same mistakes.

Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Arnold Ebiketie #47 warms up prior to the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland on Saturday, December 24, 2022. (Photo by Mitchell Martin/Atlanta Falcons)

Cornerback (opposite A.J. Terrell): Losing Casey Hayward early was a major hit. No one may ever really know that because of how little Hayward actually played in 2022, but Hayward's track record in the league speaks for itself. 

It also goes without saying that the Falcons have struggled to find a replacement for him since he went on injured reserve. Darren Hall hasn't really worked out yet as Cornell Armstrong has essentially taken over at that outside cornerback spot opposite Terrell. Armstrong was a player fighting for a roster spot in August.

The Falcons need solidity. If that's bringing back Hayward, OK, but they need someone with similar capabilities to what Hayward could have provided. They need someone who can come in and make a difference at that spot immediately. Wouldn't it just be nice to clone Terrell?

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens during Week 16.


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