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Bair Mail: On Calais Campbell, Desmond Ridder's progression, and Van Jefferson's potential impact

We discuss three premium players in this Friday mailbag, the last one before the Falcons play Washington on Sunday. 

This Falcons season seems to be going by fast. Can you believe we've nearly reached a Week 6 contest versus Washington? Yeah, me neither.

The Falcons are 3-2 at this stage, looking to go two games over .500 with a home win over Washington at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where they have been darn good, especially in the fourth quarter.

We saw Desmond Ridder put the best performance of his career together against Houston. Can he do it again? We've seen Calais Campbell play excellent run defense. Can he get better in the pass rush? The Falcons traded for Van Jefferson. What kind of impact can he have on the offense?

Those are all great questions we'll address in this Friday mailbag. Now, as a note – because many have asked -- we only go through three/four questions per Bair Mail because we do more than one per week. Gotta space them out. Ha. But we'll hit between six to nine questions per week, I promise. So keep sending those questions in.

Now let's get to your submissions in this Friday edition:


Kevin Gomez from Atlanta

Will the coaches eventually get over the DE promise to Calais and slide him inside on pass rush downs to collapse the pocket and clog throwing lanes with a bigger body?

Bair: Calais Campbell is a defensive end in this scheme, for a few reasons, Kevin. First, they generally operate in hockey-style line changes. Campbell is on a crew with David Onyemata and Grady Jarrett, and they wouldn't and shouldn't pull those guys from the interior line in any package.

Also, Campbell is playing better than you may think. He has been an excellent run defender. He has 15 defensive stops and six run stuffs, per NFL Next Gen Stats. In sum, that means he's making plays close to the line of scrimmage.

And, while he doesn't have his 100th sack just yet. He has nine pressures, including three quarterback hits. His quarterback pressure rate isn't high at 7.9% and probably needs to get better, if we're being candid. There might be an argument for others getting more snaps rushing the passer, but he's so savvy that even that seems sudden after five games.

He played inside a lot more in 2021 and 22 in Baltimore. But, again, in this defense and on this depth chart, I think he should stay outside.

As a minor note, Kevin, I know you submitted more questions, but it's easier to focus on one and give others a chance to get in the mailbag. Thanks for writing in, my friend.


Dustin Nunn from Marietta, Ga.

Desmond Ridder played pretty well against the Texans, but I need to see him do it more than once. Were there moments from the Texans win that suggest QB1 is making strides?

Bair: In short, Dustin, yes. I believe so. Now, of course, we have to see it over and over again. But I like how decisive Ridder was in the pocket. I thought he trusted top pass catchers Drake London, Bijan Robinson and Kyle Pitts to go make plays even if they weren't WFO. His trust was rewarded by all three guys at different points in that Week 5 win.

As important as anything, he looked really good on that game's decisive drive. To the tune of 5-for-5 for 4 for 45-yards, including a 23-yard fastball to Drake London to set up Younghoe Koo's game-winning field goal. We always talk about Ridder as a gamer and that was clear against the Texans.

I also like that his best game came when he was under fire after a poor performance against Jacksonville prompted questions about a Falcons quarterback change. Another thing: Houston sold out to stop the run (as Detroit and Jacksonville did in consecutive Falcons losses) and Ridder made them pay.

"If we have to throw it, we can throw it," head coach Arthur Smith said. "That was a good step in the right direction more than anything."

That is so key. If Ridder can counter a defense stacking the box, then the Falcons are tough to beat.

One note of hesitance: He was under pressure just eight times vs. Houston, roughly half the mound of the previous three games. Now, he has handled the blitz well, with a 112.5 passer rating in those situations. He has a 75.6 rating when not blitzed and 64.4 under pressure.

What happens if protection isn't great? This won't be the only stress test Ridder faces this year. We need to see how he performs, pre-snap and post-snap, when the pressure's on. We need to see him be better on the road.

While everyone's ready to make absolute statements about Ridder, they're all premature. That includes those who claim that Ridder's most recent performance means that he has turned a corner. We need soooooo much more evidence. The dude has nine NFL starts to his credit. Nine. Let him stack passes and drives and games and make calls. While I have been critical of Ridder in this space, especially with some critical mistakes, this win over Houston is a positive turn. It will be important for Ridder to follow that up with another strong performance against a Washington defense ranked No. 31 in scoring.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Van Jefferson #15 during practice at Atlanta Falcons Training Facility in Flowery Branch, Ga. on Thursday, October 12, 2023. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

Ethan Parsons from Schroon Lake, N.Y.

How will the Van Jefferson trade impact the way the Falcons offense operate?

Bair: I know we just talked about Van Jefferson in Wednesday's Bair Mail, but I've received so many questions I figured it wouldn't hurt to address another angle on this trade with the L.A. Rams.

The obvious answer is that we'll have to wait and see. We'll also have to wait maybe more than a game to find out. Learning a playbook on the fly is tough, and he'll probably be involved in a package or two if he shows well enough in practice.

But, after reading up on him and listening to Bijan Robinson and college teammate Kyle Pitts talk about the Florida product, he seems like a quick and smart route runner. You see a 4.39-second 40-yard dash and think he'll spread the field as a deep threat who can open up room for others.

I would expect him to be an active third receiver who is a legitimate offensive weapon. I think it's less about taking snaps from the top receivers or Kyle Pitts and more about making the Falcons tougher to defend. I do think he'll increase one-on-ones for London and Pitts, especially if he can catch some deep balls and force defenses to respect him as a threat. Someone asked about receiver spacing and yards after catch, and Jefferson should have a positive impact on both. Time will tell there, though.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Washington Commanders, presented by Fast Twitch.

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