LONDON – Check the dateline. The Falcons have officially made it across the Atlantic Ocean in advance of Sunday's game against the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium. The historic venue isn't too far from where these words are being typed and is a place where the Falcons will look to reach 3-1 by beating a tough Jaguars squad desperate to avoid a record with those numbers flipped.
The Falcons practice in England on Friday, have a walk-through at Wembley on Saturday and then play Jacksonville on Sunday afternoon local time (9:30 a.m. ET).
The Falcons must play better, more consistent and complimentary football in this game than they did in Week 3 against Detroit – did y'all see what they did to Green Bay?!? – a slog of a game where not nearly enough went right to emerge victorious.
The fan base's reaction to it was, well, vocal, pointing out problems evident in the first two games excused somewhat by positive results and excellent fourth-quarter play.
There's a group screaming to add a pass rusher (more on that later), and many more putting Desmond Ridder's every decision and pass attempt under a stern cross-examination. Let's dig into all that and more in this Friday edition of Bair Mail, written on a bus, plane and the team hotel while traveling from ATL to LHR and beyond.
Jimmy Brooks from Brunswick, Ga.
Bair why are a lot of people hating on Desmond Ridder what are they expecting from him? He has only played in 6 games total Peyton Manning's first season he only had one win. Not saying he is the next great QB but give him time to develop. He is going to have bad games and good games just give him time and be patient and maybe he might become something special also 7 sacks says a lot but we are a young team and we are growing I'm expecting good things from the Falcons and i really like what they have been doing in building this team.
Bair: You're right that quarterback Desmond Ridder has taken some flak from the fan base after a loss in Detroit where the passing game failed to find a good rhythm. I wouldn't call it a trend, but passing struggles have popped up in each of the first three games.
Before we dive into some details, let's not forget that this season is (partially) being played to figure out if Desmond Ridder is the long-term solution at quarterback. That's an unknown at this point, and we need may more evidence before jumping to conclusions of any kind.
Has Ridder missed on some passes and missed some open men? Yes. Has he dealt with some protection issues? That's also an affirm. You have to look at the Ridder situation in full context and adjust expectations based on experience. You're right to point out that he's essentially a rookie. And, even rookies drafted far higher than Ridder make rookie mistakes. Those will come. Lock it. But he needs to overcome them well and find ways to make plays when it matters most. He has done that twice in three tries this season.
The Falcons need him to do so again Sunday against Jacksonville. He could show improvement by starting faster, being better on critical downs and getting the ball out faster when the pressure's closing in.
I'm nowhere close to down on Ridder at this point, though I do see tons of room for improvement from the quarterback position. If Ridder gives that to them, the Falcons will be pretty tough to stop and defenses won't be able to sell out trying to stop the run.
John Ryan from Breckenridge, Colo.
Let's talk about Jake Matthews and this salary restructure. Surely this wasn't just an exercise to give the office employees some busy work...What/who do you think Terry is looking at with added cash?
Bair: To catch folks up on what John's referring to, per Field Yates, the Falcons reportedly restructured left tackle Jake Matthews' contract, converting base salary into a signing bonus, a move that frees up roughly $7.1 million in cap space.
Social media spiked over that news, with dreams of big-name players coming to Atlanta. Moves are always a prospect, I would heavily caution against making an assumption that a major addition is on the way.
The Falcons, as a matter of fact, were low on cap space. They need a decent stash just to get through the year, especially as players with guaranteed base salaries get hurt and new players are signed.
According to the NFLPA's public salary cap report from Thursday, the Falcons have roughly $7.1 million in space, which takes the Matthews deal into account. OverTheCap.com states that the Falcons have $7 million.
This is what Arthur Smith had to say about the restructure in a Wednesday press conference.
"A lot of time that happens, there are all kinds of accounting tricks that there are reasons why you do it, just to make sure – things happen during the season," Smith said. "When you restructure those things, sometimes they mean things, sometimes they don't. It's just kind of being safe. None of them are ever the same. That was why."
While making jersey swaps of Danielle Hunter or Maxx Crosby may be fun, those dreams might not become reality just because the team altered Matthews' deal. All that said, never count general manager Terry Fontenot out. He's always on the hunt for ways to improve the roster with moves both big and small.
Adam Bennett from Lawrenceville, Ga.
This will be the first time we'll face Calvin Ridley wearing a different uniform. What do you expect from him?
Bair: Those who have watched Calvin Ridley a bunch knows he's one of the best route runners on this planet and can make explosive plays and tough catches in traffic. He has 13 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown, stats that would lead the Falcons if he were still in Atlanta. He was traded to Jacksonville for what could be a lucrative return – there are some conditions that increase the quality of draft capital – and seems to be thriving there. Good for him.
Head coach Arthur Smith said he'll be happy to see the receiver, who played part of 2021 with the team before leaving the squad for personal reasons. He also missed the 2022 season for violating the league's gambling policy.
"Always appreciative of the time that I got to spend with Calvin," Smith said. "It's good to see him back out there. He's a good player. When things come up, you try to do what's right for everybody involved and have win-wins, but it does, as a person, it does make you feel good to see somebody back doing what they love. Again, you have a lot of friends in this business that are people or relationships and you're playing close family or friends, we're out there to compete, but from a human side and as somebody that got to work with somebody personally, very happy to see him – and it will be good to see him, hopefully in pregame – but it does bring me a lot of joy to see him doing well."
Chad Peek from Ballston Lake, N.Y.
I keep reading analysis that Kaleb McGary is struggling with protection due in large part to his slow feet allowing faster rushers to get around the edge. What happened from last year to this year for this to become an issue? Or was this an issue last year, but the Falcons had a way to give him help that they don't have this year? How do the Falcons deal with this going forward?
Bair: The stats don't show that Kaleb McGary has done terrible work in pass protection thus far, as some fans believe, but he also isn't up to his par. The right tackle has given up five total pressures in three games, but two of them were sacks and Brian Burns in particular was dominant in the first half of Week 1.
Those sacks allowed get replayed over and over, which is not what you want as an offensive lineman. His pass-blocking efficiency is down less than one percent, but he'll tell you that has to increase moving forward. Arthur Smith has also schemed help with tight ends and running backs that has eased pressure at times.
Overall, though, the Falcons pass protection stats don't look good. That'll happen when allowing seven sacks in a game with just three total to average out. Chris Lindstrom has actually allowed more pressure, with Matthew Bergeron, Drew Dalman and even Jake Matthews having some trouble at times.
Ridder says he needs to get the ball out faster sometimes and that's true. Pass protection is obviously vital for a young quarterback. Right now, Ridder's completing 41.7 percent of his passes under pressure and 70.3 without it. He has done well against the blitz, so slowing the opposing four-man rush is vital moving forward.
Jacqueline Nelson from Atlanta
I am headed to London to see the game tomorrow late afternoon wanted to know is there an official pub or an official pregame for Falcon fans… I am a season ticket holder and heading to London. Thank you 🙏
Bair: Here's a list of public events from our marketing department, Jacqueline:
Date: Saturday, September 30
Location: The Admiralty in Trafalgar Square
Time: 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Details: Join the Atlanta Falcons for appearances by Freddie Falcon, Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders and Legend Brian Finneran! Enjoy photos, autographs, trivia and more.
Pub Website: https://www.admiraltytrafalgar.co.uk
Date: Sunday, October 1
Location: The Green Man Pub outside Wembley
Time: 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. (pub will remain open through the game)
Details: Meet up with other Falcons fans, Freddie Falcon, Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders and Legend Brian Finneran before the game! Fans with game tickets are invited to join the Falcons fan march into the stadium. The march will depart from The Green Man Pub at 12:00 p.m.
Pub Website: http://www.thegreenmanhotelatwembley.co.uk
The Falcons take flight to London to face the Jacksonville Jaguars in week four's international game of the 2023 regular season. #RiseUp