We haven't had a Bair Mail in a while. More than a week as a matter of fact, while I was out with what would read like "personal matter – not injury related" on an official participation report.
I'm back now, baby, right after what was hopefully a happy Thanksgiving for all. I'm writing this Bair Mail slowly, knowing full well I've got to hang Christmas lights and pull the tree my wife just bought at Home Depot out of the box and set it up. Talking Falcons sounds waaaaaaay better than all that. Ha.
So let's get to your questions in this mailbag just before Sunday's pivotal clash with the Washington Commanders.
David Hicks from Marshalltown, Iowa
The team's record is right in line with where we were at this point in 2021, so it is a little hard to measure improvement in terms of win-loss. I do think one area of improvement has been sacks. I think we tallied less than 20 in 2021, however we sit at 17 with several more games to go. While its not nearly as many as I'd hope, it does show growth. Obviously with a mobile quarterback, we've also been able to finally have a good run-game. Any other stats you can share that show improvement from the 2021 season thus far?
Bair: As we all know, situational football is key to winning games. Maybe more so than in previous eras. The Falcons have improved in important categories and rank high in a few of them. Offensively, they're eighth in red-zone efficiency and 12th in third-down conversions and scoring. Their points per game is particularly impressive considering they don't generate tons of yards. They're efficient important areas and have more building blocks than could've been identified this summer. The stats don't tell as flattering a story on defense, but there are young players you could look at as longer-term options, though that depth chart needs some upgrades, especially around Grady Jarrett within the defensive front seven.
Aarya Avant from Duncan, Ariz.
I wanted to ask you how you felt about our running back room. I personally feel like it's too underrated. Even with CP back both Huntley and Allgeier are proving to be a valuable asset to our run game. Huntley specifically I feel doesn't get talked about enough, he is one tough SOB to bring down. I'm excited to see what Arthur Smith can do with the young guys in the near future.
Bair: I agree with you, Aarya, that the running back room seems set for this year and the next. Cordarrelle Patterson is an explosive playmaker, even though his post-IR-stint rushing stats haven't been equally stellar.
Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley have been solid contributors and earned the carries they've gotten this season. Huntley is one tough runner who almost never gets stopped at or before the line of scrimmage. Allgeier is proving a solid overall back, as a runner, pass protector and receiver out of the backfield.
Patterson and Allgeier are under contract next season and Huntley's an exclusive rights free agent is easily retained if the Falcons choose. All three guys are solid scheme fits who make decisive cuts and runs behind an impactful offensive line.
Stacy Dawn from Buford, Ga.
It was nice to see Arnold Ebiketie get a sack against the Bears. How do you think he has done during his rookie year? He's getting a lot of playing time.
Bair: The Penn State product has been sharing one edge rusher spot with Ade Ogundeji, and has been impactful pass rusher with talent worthy of his selection early in the NFL draft's second round.
He has two sacks and a bunch of quarterback hits and hurries, a sign that he's able to win one-on-one matchups on the outside. He'll learn to finish better and be more efficient in time, able to close the time gap between a hit and a sack. He's second on the team with 26 total pressures, including two sacks, eight hits and 15 hurries. His run defense has been decent as well, providing well-founded optimism that Ebiketie can bee a steadily productive pro. He'll need another edge-rush partner acquired in free agency or the draft as the Falcons continue to enhance its pass rush.
Mill Woods from Atlanta
What is the status of CB Casey Hayward? Falcons site updated status of AJ Terrell but not Hayward, who is also '1st string.'
Bair: The Falcons certainly miss Casey Hayward, as much as they did A.J. Terrell when he was out with a hamstring strain.
Hayward's shoulder injury was more significant, requiring surgery to repair. There's no guarantee that he'll even be available to return off injured reserve this season. Time will tell on that front, though no one has stated Hayward is done for the year.
Darren Hall has stepped in and started for Hayward following the Hayward injury and has played well at times and better of late. The second-year pro and San Diego State product is in the middle of a long-term test where the Falcons will see if he's a long-term solution at one outside cornerback spot. He has the talent and physical traits to be a regular contributor but must cut down on some mistakes and show greater consistency.
Hayward would still step in and start if he's available, but there's no guarantee that will happen in 2022.
I'm also going to use this space to Joseph Anderson's question about John FitzPatrick. The rookie tight end is done for the year, placed on injured reserve before the regular season started. Receiving the designation when he did means he's ineligible to return. He'll get another crack at starting his NFL career in earnest next summer.
Take a look as the team puts in the work in Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the Washington Commanders, presented by Gatorade.