The 2023 Falcons finally have a regular-season game to their credit. And it was a win over an NFC South opponent.
That formally brings an end to speculation season. Sweet sassy molassey, that's good news. We spend most of the spring and summer projecting what a collection of talent might do. Don't have to do that much anymore. We can look at what has happened, the pluses and minuses, and analyze what's going well and what must be fixed heading into a particular matchup.
I wholeheartedly welcome this change, though I'll always answer a 2024 draft question or trade prospect query. Bair Mail, after all, tries to give Falcons fans what they want. Ha.
Right now, though, it seems like you want to know about improvements that must be made and, of course, about some of the standouts from a Week 1 win over Carolina.
Let's get to your questions in this Wednesday mailbag.
Joshua Bennett from Marietta, Ga.
What did you make of the defensive line's performance? I thought it was a mixed bag. They gave up too many rushing yards at the beginning, but the pass rush made a real impact at the end.
Bair: I agree with you on both points, Joshua. The run defense should be better overall, especially on the interior. Run defense was an issue, but ultimately, any struggles they may have had cost them just 10 points. The line was also overwhelming in the fourth-down defensive stop deep in Falcons territory that was as pivotal as any play in that game.
When it came to the pass rush, we saw the Falcons defensive front take over after helping build a two-score lead. Panthers quarterback Bryce Young was under near-constant duress in the fourth quarter, effectively shutting down any last-ditch Panthers comeback attempt.
The Falcons had 28 total quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Focus. They sacked Young twice, both times on critical downs, and tallied seven total quarterback hits.
I thought the defensive interior was most impressive, especially rushing the passer. Per ESPN/NFL Next Gen Stats, David Onyemata and Grady Jarrett were Nos. 4 and 7, respectively in pass-rush win rate among defensive tackles in Week 1.
That's what we expected from two veterans playing together for the first time, and I expect it to be a productive partnership for the individuals involved and the defense as a whole moving forward. Jarrett hasn't had a player like Onyemata next to him in a long time, maybe never. It will be interesting to see what they can accomplish together as they anchor the Falcons defensive line.
Richard Head from Nashville, Tennessee
Our passing game really concerns me because there was no improvement shown from last year to this year. I think our 1-2 punch at RB is top 5 in the league. However, if we can't throw the ball, teams will just put 8 in the box to beat us. How do we fix our passing game?
Bair: We can all agree, Richard, that the Falcons passing game wasn't where it needed to be Sunday. Blame for that falls on everyone from the line to the receivers to quarterback Desmond Ridder.
"It takes 11 on offense, it does," Arthur Smith said. "Whether it's protection, spacing, operation – so many things that go into it. At the end of the day, I can promise you, this team is not going to play in their fears. That's why you launch the ball. It was good for Kyle to go get that. (Ridder) threw a hell of a football. Same thing, I trusted him right there, everybody thinks you're going to run. Great. Coverage took him over to Drake (London), you're talking about a play that was designed for the X. Quarterback knows, 'I've got the look.' They tried to take Drake out. It went to Mack Hollins. That's how you win football games. That's what I'm proud of.
"It's not perfect. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but I'd much rather do that 1-0. We've got a bunch of real guys in that locker room. Happy as hell I get to coach them."
I thought the Falcons adjusted well to what was available to them, including a horizontal passing game that paid dividends. That, plus a steady run game, opened up the opportunity to Kyle Pitts' 35-yard, fourth-quarter reception that Smith referenced above.
While it's fair to be critical of the Falcons having zero net passing yards in the first half, Ridder was 7-for-8 for 91 yards, averaging 11 yards per pass attempt, in the second. That's efficient and something to build on. Do you want Pitts and London to be more involved? Of course. Do you want greater offensive balance? Sure.
Here's the good news about all that: This is not a talent issue. These technical, timing things are fixable.
Will the Falcons correct issues that cropped up Sunday? Time will tell. We'll have to see how the Falcons improve in that area and where they go from here, because I don't think it's sustainable long-term to have Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier carrying such a heavy offensive load.
Seth Mason from Philadelphia
I'm a Philly guy, so you'd probably guess I'm going to ask about Kyle Pitts. His stat line wasn't great but that catch was amazing! How would you put his first game back from injury in perspective?
Bair: I agree with you on both fronts, Seth. I would like to see Pitts more involved overall – I think everyone would – but I'm not going to turn this into a conversation about targets. That's a slippery slope and more of a complicated nuance than most realize.
We saw in that second half, though, that Pitts is a special talent. Watch his catch again (above). I'm mean, wow.
I don't think he should be graded by stats or catch volume in a scheme structured in its current form. I think it's about his impact on the game. And in Week 1, Pitts set up a fourth-quarter touchdown that put the game out of reach. That's a profound impact, right there.
He's such a big body and so athletic that I would trust him to make plays even while covered, especially when pushing the ball down the field. And in big moments, when you've got to throw, you go to your best pass-catcher. In my opinion, Pitts is that dude.
Call for questions
We're going to have two Bair Mails per week from now on – unless we need an emergency postgame edition – that will run on Wednesdays and Fridays. Submit your questions right here for our end-of-the-week mailbag.
Happy Monochrome Monday! Take a look at the Atlanta Falcons win over the Carolina Panthers during Week 1.