Inside Tori's Notebook is a weekly series where Tori re-opens her game notebook to look back at her notes, questions and observations from the Falcons most recent game. Tori breaks down her thoughts and gives her analysis on what happened, and why it's notable. Inside Tori's Notebook is sponsored by Microsoft Surface.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- I am nothing if not a woman of my word. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to you that the phrase, "big-boy fight" graces the headline of my notebook this week.
In Arthur Smith's post-Browns win press conference, I told him as much, because I really did think this was the crux of the Falcons success on Sunday.
"When the line is running like that, that's what you call being in the flow," Smith said. "Proud of those guys. We knew it was going to be a big boy fight... and I always thought the team that ran the ball better today was going to win. That held true, thankfully."
I'll be honest with you: This week's notebook is filled with run-heavy topics. And honestly, you should have known this is where I would go! It was the story of the game, after all. Heck. Smith said as much postgame.
So, yes, there's a lot to get into when it comes to running the rock. Let's break it down. Shall we?
This is who the Falcons want to be
A major question I had coming into this season was: Who are the 2022 Atlanta Falcons? What is their identity?
Through four games, I feel like I can answer this question. The identity of the 2022 Atlanta Falcons is physicality.
Look, the Falcons haven't played a perfect game. They've made mistakes. They've faltered offensively. They've missed tackles and assignments on defense. Sure. It's nearly impossible to be perfect in this league. However, the Falcons show up with a physicality in their back pocket every time the ball is kicked off. That's just the truth.
They're kinda scrappy, ya know?
In my takeaways after the game, I made the comment that the Falcons red zone defense over the last two games has not only kept Atlanta in games, but in the position to win them. Looking back over the last four games, I have begun feeling this way about their physicality, too.
This offensive line's run blocking is as good as we have seen it be in Atlanta in years. Years, I tell you.
This defensive front is on pace to easily double its sacks, tackles for a loss and quarterback hits from a year ago. Don't believe me? Here are the numbers:
In all of 2021, this defense accumulated 18 sacks, 58 tackles for a loss and 59 quarterback hits. Through four games in 2022, this defense has eight sacks, 15 tackles for a loss and 22 quarterback hits.
On Sunday, the Falcons knew that physicality was going to be the difference.
Looking back? It was.
"We knew the end goal," Arnold Ebiketie said after the game. "We knew we had to dominate up front. We knew it was going to be a physical game given the type of backs they have with Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb. We had to lock in, hit them early... The goal was to stop the run and be more physical than they were. I think we did a good job of doing that."
Keep. Feeding. Caleb. Huntley. Dagnabbit.
I would be remiss if I didn't break down a 10-play drive that saw the Falcons run the ball... well... 10 times. In said drive, Caleb Huntley had eight of those carries and accumulated 54 yards and a touchdown. Pretty dang good for a guy who was just elevated from the practice squad on Saturday.
I wrote this note after his third carry, which resulted in a 14-yard pick up for Atlanta, which brought them right to the end of the third quarter. It was interesting because this drive - to me - felt like the drive (and one of the major stories) of the game.
The Falcons needed a spark in this moment, seeing as majority of the third quarter involved three-and-outs by both teams. The Falcons defense had just come up with a stop on Atlanta's side of the field. The offense needed to do its part. It needed to - as Smith said - "make a statement." So, they trotted out Huntley, and sprinkled in Tyler Allgeier. Together, they got Atlanta into the endzone.
"We knew we wanted to get back to our game," Smith said of the decision to hand the ball off to his young backs in that moment.
After the game, Smith gave credit to running backs coach Michael Pitre when it came to the decision to give Huntley a chance. According to Smith, it was Pitre who came to him and suggested letting Huntley have a couple of reps.
"He was right," Smith said, and a "couple reps" turned into a drive that showcased Atlanta's overall improvements running the ball. For Smith, it was something that - he said - excited him about this offense.
"You're not creeping up on anybody. People know that we want to run the football. That's what fires you up," he said. "It won't be that way every week. We know how competitive it is. But when you can run the ball when they know you're gonna run it that speaks volumes about your guys."
In the end, the Falcons accumulated over 200 rushing yards on Sunday, and Allgeier (almost) quietly averaged 8.4 yards a carry while Huntley averaged over five yards a carry. Kaleb McGary and Chris Lindstrom continue to impress on the right side of the line of scrimmage. According to Next Gen Stats, Allgeier and Huntley combined to rush nine times for 97 yards on outside rushes to the right side.
It was - by all accounts - a win for the Falcons offensive progress.
Where was Amari Cooper?
OK. Let's be honest, here. No one was really talking about Cooper in the week leading up to the game, right? Almost everything coming out of the Falcons camp throughout Week 4 had to do with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, as well it should considering Chubb is the NFL's leading rusher and the Browns offense leads the league in time of possession (even still).
However, when you look at the full scope of the Browns offense, you cannot - and should not - overlook Cooper. In all actuality, it seems the Falcons didn't. Entering into Sunday's matchup in Atlanta, Cooper had just come off back-to-back 100-plus yard games receiving. He was averaging 11 yards a catch on the season, and was an important compliment to a Browns run game that often took center stage.
On Sunday, the Falcons held Cooper to just one catch on four targets. It was for nine yards, and it was a stark contrast to Cooper's 101 receiving yards against the Jets and Steelers.
Oh, and let's not forget the role of the defensive front in this, either. Grady Jarrett's fourth quarter sack shouldn't go unnoticed, but neither should Ebiketie's three quarterback hits and Ta'Quon Graham's ability to shrink Jacoby Brissett's pocket. They all play a role in this, too.
*underline. underline. underline*
I know what you're thinking: Tori, what the heck did you underline? And did you run out of ink doing so?
The answer is no, I didn't run out of ink, and let me tell you what I underlined. It was a quote by Lorenzo Carter. OK. I lied. It wasn't the quote I underlined, but a time stamp: 45 seconds. That's the point in my recording when Carter said something that I couldn't help but take note of.
"We got some dogs. We're deep," he said. "It's a team, first of all. We don't have big superstars, or guys who everybody is looking at, but when it comes down to it, everybody is going to fight. That's what I love."
This quote - right here - is how I think about this 2022 roster.
If the identity of this Falcons team is physicality, then this quote is its rallying cry. Sure, those on the outside looking in know who Kyle Pitts is. They could also probably tell you a little bit about Drake London. Oh, that Cordarrelle Patterson dude? They may say it's cool to see him doing what he's doing at 31 years old. But other than that? Carter is right.
This team is pieced together with young, raw talent and players on one-year deals just looking for a chance to make a name for themselves in 2022. Perhaps it's this view that sparks the fight in this team as they head into each new week.
And to be honest? This quote is going to stick with me for a while.
We take a monochrome look at the win over the Cleveland Browns on October 2, 2022.