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Early Bird Report: Foye Oluokun in line for elite matchup with Darren Waller

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Falcons to face challenge in Darren Waller, other tight ends

When the Falcons take the field on Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders, one of the top tight ends in the league will square off against one of Atlanta's top defenders. Foye Oluokun is likely the player who will match up against Darren Waller on Sunday, which will be a crucial factor in deciding the game.

Waller has been the Raiders' top receiving target this season catching 60 passes for 519 yards and five touchdowns. A tough matchup for any defense so far this year, Waller presents a challenge for an Atlanta defense that has given up some big plays to opposing tight ends. Still, Atlanta is confident that Oluokun, in the midst of a breakout season, is up to the challenge.

"We can put Foye against a bunch of tight ends," interim head coach Raheem Morris said. "He's been able to be out there for some challenges. He's been given a lot of credit for being one of the upticks of the year. He has a great challenge coming this week versus Waller. He'll get a chance to go out there and compete against one of the very best. He's playing like one of the very best right now. So, look forward to that thing happening and being a premier matchup this week for us and for us to be able to go watch in particular in our man-to-man settings."

Jason Butt wrote about what could be the defining matchup of Sunday’s action, as well as a tough upcoming slate of tight ends, for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Falcons bracing to face Gruden, resurgent Raiders

The Falcons will play their second AFC West opponent on Sunday when the Oakland Raiders come to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Under coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock, the Raiders have become contenders with weapons on offense and a defense that has been playing much better of late. They very nearly beat the Kansas City Chiefs for the second time this season on Sunday, and figure to be a tough out for anyone.

As Atlanta's offense looks to get back on track after a down performance against New Orleans, it will need to find a way to protect Matt Ryan and move the ball against a defense trending upwards. D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote more about the matchup for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"They started the season maybe giving up a lot of yardage rushing," Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "But the last month of the season, they are playing much faster on defense. I think when you play 10 games into the season, your stats tell one story, but how they are really playing well over the last month. They are playing much better than their stats indicate."

A look at all eight sacks Falcons allowed against Saints

After showing improvement prior to the bye week, the Falcons' offense allowed the most sacks of the season in their loss to the Saints. Both coaches and players have said that the responsibility for the eight sacks falls across the board, which includes the offensive line, wide receivers and quarterback Matt Ryan.

Jason Butt of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution provided a thorough breakdown of each of the Saints' eight sacks and how they unfolded. For those of you who subscribe to The Athletic, Tori McElhaney ran her own audit of Atlanta’s performance on offense against New Orleans and where things went awry.

"First of all, eight sacks is horrendous by us," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said when asked for his own review of the game. "We just can't do that. Most people are going to look at that and think it was all on the O-line. It really wasn't. There were some coverage sacks in there for sure, where we just couldn't get anybody open and Matt had nowhere to go. There were a couple of times where we did have somebody open and Matt couldn't find them, couldn't see them. And then we had some where they just had pressure."

Falcons' pass protection woes re-emerge on eight-sack day

Jason and Tori weren't the only two to write about the high number of sacks allowed by Atlanta, which makes sense given that it was the defining theme of Sunday's game. ESPN’s Mike Triplett also provided some context for how the offensive line was playing and where things now stand after their performance against the Saints.

"Nevertheless, eight sacks is disturbing enough that the Falcons need to make sure this was just a blip on the radar," Triplett writes. "Unfortunately, now that they have fallen to 3-7, the focus will only increase on long-term evaluations of team needs. And they'll need to decide where the offensive line fits into that. Atlanta has invested a lot in this offensive line in recent years -- including drafting both right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary in the first round in 2019. And the pass protection had shown improvement this year, allowing just 19 sacks in the first nine games.

But now Ryan is suddenly on pace to be sacked 43 times this year after he was sacked a career-high 48 times in 2019."

What we learned from Week 11's Sunday games

The Falcons were building momentum with three wins in four games under interim head coach Raheem Morris, but that came to an end on Sunday with a 24-9 loss to the Saints.

It was a game in which Matt Ryan was sacked eight times and the defense, after holding strong in the first half, gave up two second-half touchdowns that proved to be the difference. The Falcons had their worst offensive performance of the season against New Orleans, which was a standout point for writer Kevin Patra in his recap of the game.

"Life without a healthy Julio Jones is difficult," Patra writes. "The star receiver was in and out of the game Sunday while dealing with a hamstring injury. Jones played only 21 snaps, per Next Gen Stats, just five in the second half. Missing Julio was part of the reason the Falcons offense struggled. Without the field-tilting receiver, New Orleans was able to toss coverage at Calvin Ridley and make Ryan hold the ball longer. Unable to score a TD or hold down Hill, there wasn't much good for Atlanta to take from Sunday's game, particularly in the second half. Losing to a backup QB in his first NFL start at the position is a tough one to swallow for a division rival."

5 things we learned from Falcons' 24-9 loss to Saints

Every game in the NFL provides some lessons about the two teams on the field. Sunday's loss to the Saints was an important reminder for the Falcons about the importance of getting open downfield and providing Matt Ryan with time to find those receivers. The Saints' eight sacks on Sunday were the most Atlanta allowed against an opposing team since the last time it played New Orleans, when the Falcons allowed nine sacks on Thanksgiving Day in 2019. D. Orlando Ledbetter mentioned the pass protection in his five things piece for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"We didn't play well," left tackle Jake Matthews said after the game. "That's completely out there. We have to regroup and watch the film. We felt like we had a solid plan going in. Obviously, we didn't execute. The numbers speak for themselves."

NFL Week 11 grades

With the type of performance they had on Sunday, the Falcons weren't exactly in line to receive high marks. In John Breech's post-weekend grades piece for, they didn't. Breech gave the Falcons a "D" for their loss against the Saints, who were given an "A-" in their win.

"Coming off a bye, the Falcons had an extra week to prepare for this game, but apparently they didn't take advantage of that," Breech writes. "With Drew Brees out, Taysom Hill gave the Falcons defense fits as he rushed for 51 yards and two touchdowns. Offensively, although the Falcons moved the ball well in the first half, they couldn't punch the ball in the end zone. In the second half, Matt Ryan and the offense went ice cold as the Falcons weren't able to cross into Saints territory a single time until there was under six minutes left in the game. Ryan got sacked eight times and rarely had time to throw, and that showed, as he threw two interceptions while completing just 51.4% of his passes."

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In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, Freddie Falcon partnered with Mercedes-Benz to surprise 30 Season Ticket Members with a $250 gift card to purchase all the holiday dinner essentials along with other fun Atlanta Falcons themed gifts!

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