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Bair Mail: On Ryan Nielsen's impact, Desmond Ridder and NFL trade deadline possibilities

The Falcons recently acquired Van Jefferson from the Rams. Will Terry Fontenot make another deal before the deadline?

The Falcons are in first place in the NFC South. Yeah, I know, it's only Week 8, but it's a step in the right direction.

They seem poised to play better than in recent seasons, which is sending optimism northward. Takeaway critical mistakes and I'd bet the Falcons can compete with just about anyone.

There's a big game coming up Sunday against Tennessee, with a Vikings team that just beat San Francisco after that. They'll need to be focused and execute well to start stacking wins like the really good teams do.

So let's discuss some reasons why the Falcons got here and how they can stay on top in this Wednesday Bair Mail:


Ron O'Neal from Dudley, Ga.

I think Ryan Nielsen should be assistant coach of the year at this point of the season. He has done a remarkable job with this defense. What do you think? The defense has played well enough to win every game so far. I think if the offense plays within itself, we got a real shot at winning the division. Your thoughts?

Bair: I agree with Ron on this one, Ryan Nielsen has been excellent in his first year as Falcons defensive coordinator. While this is the Falcons defense and there's talent plus excellent coaching at the positional level – plus Jerry Gray – Nielsen has been instrumental in this team's success.

He set a proper tone during the offseason and got great buy-in from the veterans and young players. He always talks about attacking and playing aggressive; that's exactly how the Falcons play.

They're solid in critical moments and never back down, even in tough situations. We've also seen improved defensive line play, which is Nielsen's specialty. That's no coincidence.

Another underrated part of this year's defensive performance. The reserves have stepped in well when asked. Part of that is talent. Another part is development by the coaching staff, which preaches that everyone's starter.

Prefer numbers to my analysis? Then, check this out:

Owen E. from Alpharetta, Ga.

What positions do you think the Falcons could target at the trade deadline? Maybe a DE or O Lineman?

Bair: The NFL trade deadline is coming up fast with teams having less than a week to make deals before the Oct. 31 finish line. Could the Falcons make a deal to help secure the NFC South?

Sure. But it would be another deal, considering the front office made one not too long ago to get receiver Van Jefferson. He's a talented player still working his way into the system, never an easy thing during the regular season.

The Falcons aren't afraid to make deals, and their current division standing suggests they should be buyers if they make a move. So, back to Owen's question. Which positions should they look at should they want to make a deal?

Their defense is shored up and you have seen the pass rush ratchet up over the last few weeks, but another edge rusher, either defensive end or SAM linebacker, wouldn't hurt. Those guys can also just step right in and make an impact working in obvious passing situations. I'm not saying someone like Danielle Hunter or a big-name player but adding depth there wouldn't hurt.

I like Storm Norton as a swing tackle, and I think their secondary is set. You can never have too many pass rushers, though, so I would look there if I were GM.

All that said, I think they could stand pat at the deadline, with Jefferson counting as their big in-season move. We'll just have to wait and see.

Will Smith from Summerville, Ga.

Hey, Scott. It seems that almost every NFL "expert" is down on Ridder. Of those three fumbles, in my eyes only the end zone one was 100% his fault. And he did execute the scoring drive at the end. As an original member of Tori's Ruckateers, I want to remind everybody that he's only started 11 games and for the most part has not repeated his mistakes. I say give him room to grow and learn and get off his back. Your thoughts, Sir?

Bair: Love that you brought up Tori's Ridder Ruckus. Had forgotten about that campaign from fans (appropriately named by Ms. McElhaney) to get Desmond Ridder to start over Marcus Mariota. In hindsight, which is always 20/20, starting Ridder sooner may have helped the 2023 Falcons.

I agree that there's a development process involved, and that Ridder has made some improvements. I'm also comfortable saying that the Falcons need more consistent quarterback play. The best part about his earlier starts was avoiding major negative plays. That has happened too often recently.

The conundrum is this: Do you want him playing super conservative to maintain possession or do you want him pushing the ball downfield like he has? Probably the latter. I can live with some turnovers if you're being aggressive. The toughest are throws that shouldn't be made, no matter what, even if there's a miscommunication or a protection breakdown or whatever. Like Matt Ryan said during the Washington game, quarterbacks must be problem solvers. I don't think it's unrealistic to expect Ridder to be a little better at that. I don't think the conversation has moved beyond a quarterback change to how he can be more consistent in his role.

Call for questions

We have another Bair Mail coming up soon. Get amped for that. That also means you've got to get your questions in now, right here, for inclusion in that mailbag.

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