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Bair Mail: On Desmond Ridder's progress, A.J. Terrell, Jeff Okudah and the Falcons pass rush

We discuss which cornerback the Falcons should re-sign. Spoiler alert: Both of them.

Bair Mails on back-to-back days?!? Yup. Had to do it. There were too many good questions.

That's a plus, and it's worth a thank you to all who wrote in over the course of the past few days. There's plenty of optimism, though not entirely, which makes some sense considering: 1. The Falcons are in first place and 2. Probably should have a better record than they've got.

So let's double up on Bair Mails with this special Thursday edition, which includes several important topics we'll want to dissect heading into Sunday's clash with the Tennessee Titans.

So, let's get to it in this bonus mailbag:


Mike S from Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Howdy Scott! Do you feel Ridders third round draft status works against him in the eyes of media and fans? I mean, if he was a first or even second round player in his first games as starter would he get a little more rope and less calls to be benched?

Bair: I talked some about Desmond Ridder on Wednesday, but I think this is a good question that I think is worth exploring on a day after QB1's weekly press conference. He was asked about the heat he takes as compared to other young quarterbacks. Some rookies with nearly a similar number of starts get a pass while everything Ridder does gets knocked. I'll let the man answer for himself here. Why? Because I agree with him and think it was a quality response.

"Whether we're 0-6 -- whatever it is – or whether I throw however many touchdowns, there's always going to be something that people are going to come at that you haven't done well at," Ridder said. "You're never going to win and, for me, it's just about how do I win each day and how do I get better each day, and just keep going?

"It doesn't really matter to me what anyone says as long as I'm getting better and as long as I'm continuing to grow within the game, within the offense, and within the team as a whole, I feel like it's an improvement. There have been costly turnovers and costly situations at costly times, and sure that's where you can get the criticism, but then you've got to look over all the aspects of the game too. I felt like over the past couple of weeks I've been playing fast, been seeing it well, knowing where to go with the ball, getting the ball out of my hands, and at the end of the day it results in a win as everyone knows, and I know myself, you got to get rid of those costly turnovers and costly errors."

Fans are obviously not thrilled about his recent fumbles with goal-to-go, and Ridder address that, too. It's important to include his response here, because it's not part of our Falcons Daily budget for the week. The Falcons did additional ball security drills on Wednesday, with quarterbacks involved in them for the first time that I can recall. Here's what Ridder said about what's being done to avoid costly turnovers:

"Ball security, you see the drills out there, just being able to work through whether they're pulling at it, you have people punching at it, I'm sure ya'll will see some of it …today," Ridder said. "Just going through ball security drills as far as from the quarterback position for us and then after that, it's just thinking about it. You go out there and it's like the red zone one there, whether you thought it was in or not, you know you've got to finish in that endzone, finish with the ball, handing it to the ref, and it's just about your finish. It's about, at the end of the day, just protecting the football, but you talk about five points to ball security, just hitting all of those, and those are the little details that you think about, but you don't really think about, but that you just have to hone in on, especially when you think you might have something."

David Hicks from Marshalltown, Iowa

It's great to be talking about a much-improved Falcons defense! Last year, the team racked up 21 total sacks. So far this year (7 games) we sit at 13 - with one game being an outlier. I think we could have a good shot at hitting 30. What's been the difference maker -- scheme, personnel, coaching? All of the above?

Bair: Always great to hear from you, Dave. Appreciate the regulars chiming in. As odd as it sounds, I agree that defense has been the bedrock for a team relying a bunch on offense. The pass rush has really picked up the last two weeks, though I'm sure the coaching staff would pressure we don't focus solely on sacks.

I think sacks are a premium play, with the prospect of a punt or a turnover sky high after taking the quarterback down. Falcons sacks are up, and I think 30's a real possibility after getting eight over the last two games. That might even be a low bar, honestly.

Another positive, they're getting pressure with a relatively low blitz rate. Ryan Nielsen is bringing at least one extra rusher 26 percent of the time, per NFL Next Gen Stats, which is somewhere in the middle of the road. That's not bad, because it means more folks back in coverage. They've gotten off the mat when it comes to quarterback pressure percentage (30.9%), but they're still in a bottom tier. Over the last two weeks, though, the Falcons have a 37.8 pressure percentage, which is an improvement.

So, back to your question. What's responsible for this increase? A lot of it is talent. A lot of it is new, so we're seeing an uptick as these good players learn how to work together. And it's also Ryan Nielsen. He's an excellent defensive line coach and has that front going strong without selling out to pressure the quarterback.

Devan Strickland from Atlanta

Hey Bair, …, I wanted to bring up our secondary. If you were playing GM, would you feel better about re-signing Terrell or Okudah? To me, Okudah has looked like a shutdown corner with qbs electing to throw Terrell's way instead. I think Okudah fits Nielsen's scheme also a lot better as he plays more man than zone…think New Orleans Marshon Lattimore. If it were me, I would lock up Okudah before his cost goes up. And I wouldn't stress letting Terrell walk.

Bair: Hey Devan, thanks for the question. Different topic. For one, I would pick re-signing one player over another. I think it's possible to get them both. That said, if I'm GM, there NO WAY I don't re-sign Terrell. No way. He's a homegrown product and a Falcons draft pick. And he has been excellent save a few too many touchdowns allowed in 2022.

The reason why he's targeted more – I'm sure you were looking at the Tampa Bay game as an example – it's because he's shadowing the top receiver more often than not. Baker Mayfield throws to Mike Evans a ton and AJ was on him most of the time. He has allowed a few big plays, but he has generally been a rock. He's tough, physical and technically sound.

I don't want to steal Amna Subhan's thunder – please read her Thursday afternoon Falcons Daily on Jeff Okudah – but the first-round cornerback acquired in trade has been really good when active. He's now in the last year of his contract and will surely want to get paid. He's also a supreme athlete who has played really well to this point. He can be really good.

The only way I go with Okudah over Terrell, though, is if one extension price is out of this world and the other is super affordable. The Falcons could spread things out a bit considering they exercised Terrell's fifth-year option – Okudah's an unrestricted free agent next year — but you don't want to tax Terrell talks by making him wait for tons of guaranteed money.

In a perfect world, though, the Falcons roll with Terrell and Okudah over the long term. I don't think that's unrealistic, either, if the Falcons play their cards right.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Tennessee Titans.

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