Inside Tori's Notebook is a weekly series where Tori re-opens her game notebook to look back at her notes, questions and observations from the Falcons most recent game. Tori breaks down her thoughts and gives her analysis on what happened, and why it's notable. Inside Tori's Notebook is sponsored by Microsoft Surface.
HOPPED-UP ON CAFFEINE -- If you've been following along with my notebook, you know how this works already. I transfer a word or phrase from my notebook to the article and then I elaborate. Well, this week I noticed upon review of my notebook (and the game itself) that I kept writing down specific names, not phrases.
In the margins of my game notes were five names that I underlined and circled. What's interesting, though, is that it probably isn't the names you'd expect. It wasn't Cordarrelle Patterson, or Grady Jarrett, or Kyle Pitts. It was a list of names that is more subtle. And I want to be clear before we move further: This list absolutely does not take away from the performance of someone like Patterson. lf you want to read about him and his record-setting evening, we've already written three stories about him. He got the full workup. We also spent a whole five minutes talking about him on the Falcons Final Whistle podcast (which you can listen to above). We're spreading this love around on this Monday morning, and I think CP would be OK with that.
So, while Patterson was breaking NFL records on Sunday, and while Jarrett was moving up in franchise records, others played a significant role in the win, too. As I sat down to write this notebook, I found myself gravitating towards those names.
Who are these players? I'm so glad you asked.
(And if you didn't ask, just act like you did. It'll make me feel better).
Lorenzo Carter and Arnold Ebiketie
Combined stat line: 11 tackles (three for a loss) | two sacks for a loss of 11 yards
I put these two outside linebackers together for a reason. The reason being that I couldn't write about one without also writing about the other. I wrote early on that I thought Carter was having a really good game. Even if he wasn't making the initial tackle, it felt like he was always around the ball.
The marker of a good game for someone setting the edge is two fold: Are they actually setting said edge? Are they affecting the quarterback? Now, the latter of those questions doesn't necessarily mean: Are they sacking the quarterback? No, it means a lot more than that.
Are they making the quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket? Are they shrinking the pocket in a way that makes a quarterback unable to set his feet? And in the case of Justin Fields, are they keeping him in the pocket long enough to make any of those things happen?
I thought Carter did that. I thought Ebiketie did that as the game went on, too.
I felt Carter and Ebiketie's presence on Sunday. And I would argue I felt it more forcefully than I have in a while. They were affecting the game, and it's evident in Fields' production and stat line.
As I wrote on Sunday night, the Falcons held Fields to 85 rushing yards and less than a five yards per carry average. Fields hasn't had an average like that since Week 2 of the season. A lot of this has to do with what Carter and Ebiketie were able to do on the outside.
It was felt most notably, though, in Chicago's second drive after halftime. That's when both of their sacks came in quick succession, one on second down and the other moments later on third down. First Carter, then Ebiketie. But make no mistake about it, their impact was felt well beyond this moment.
Sometimes a story lands right at your feet and you didn't even have to work super hard for it. That's how Pruitt made his way onto this list.
When Pitts left the game with a knee injury, I made note of Pruitt because his responsibilities were about to expand. With Pitts out and questionable to return and with Anthony Firkser and Feleipe Franks inactive on Sunday, it was up to Pruitt and Parker Hesse to hold down the tight end position. And we all know how Arthur Smith likes to use his tight ends in both blocking schemes and in the pass game as receiving targets for Marcus Mariota. Heck, I'd argue Smith deploys three tight end sets as much as anyone in the league.
He only had two available to him on Sunday, though. But those two - particularly Pruitt - played consistently enough that the offense didn't miss too much of a beat. Of course, it operates differently without Pitts in it, but Pruitt did well in his own right on Sunday.
And look, I get what you're thinking: Tori, he only had one catch for 17 yards, how is that impactful? And to that I would say: Didn't I tell you this list is about subtly?
I'd like to say, too, that Smith was the one who brought up Pruitt unprompted postgame.
"You get to a game, and hopefully Kyle is all right, but that's what coaching is, you have to alter your plans, switch it up," Smith said. "MyCole Pruitt stepped up big time. There were little things, nuances in the game plan that he did that nobody will ever know, but that's our job. That's our job as coaching a football staff and a team, and our guys believe that. Whoever is out there, we have faith in."
Mariota also spoke a little on Pruitt, too. The quarterback brought an interesting perspective as well, as both Mariota and Pruitt's paths crossed in Tennessee with eachother and - yep - Smith.
"He doesn't get a lot of credit, and he deserves a whole lot," Mariota said. "Like not only does he block at the point of attack and do a lot of different things for us. Unfortunately, with Kyle going down, he had to step into a bigger role and had a huge play for us on one of those keepers. It's kind of fun for me. I've known MyCole since we were in Tennessee together, and I have complete faith and trust in him."
At the end of the day, that's sometimes all you need.
I wrote a lot about Anderson after the game but I felt the need to go a bit deeper here as well. Like Pruitt, Anderson stepped into a bigger role on Sunday.
When Ta'Quon Graham was carted off the field, responsibilities had to shift. Anderson knew he had to be a part of that shift.
"It's hard, because TQ is a great player. He's probably one of the best defensive linemen I've been a part of," Anderson said. "… We had to step up. No ifs, ands or buts. We have to step up."
Looking back, he did. As did Jalen Dalton and Timothy Horne, too.
The Falcons defensive line depth was tested on Sunday against a quarterback that loves nothing more than to see a gap and burst through it. For what it's worth, this depth did a pretty solid job - a disciplined job - of making those gaps harder to come by.
"I think we did a good job, especially the inside guys, of pushing the pocket up front and then letting the outside guys rush on the outside," Anderson said.
And like Carter and Ebiketie, Anderson came out of halftime with a plan to get after Fields. He did so, too, sacking Fields for a loss of six to open the third quarter. It was a play that eventually led to a three-and-out. What's more so, is that it was a play that set the tone for the rest of the game.
Prior to the halftime break, Fields had already ran for 70 yards. As you already know, he finished the game with 85 rushing yards. That's the evidence of adjustments being made, and Anderson was a big part of that.
Now for the other Anders(e/o)n.
And no, Andersen didn't have the stats his fellow inside linebackers did on Sunday afternoon. Rashaan Evans led the team in tackles with 11 and Mykal Walker wasn't too far behind with eight, and one tackle for a loss. Walker also deflected two passes.
Andersen, though, made the play that I couldn't stop thinking about after the game. It was a play that showed me why the Falcons valued him throughout the days of the NFL Draft.
It was in the second quarter, and the game was tied at 7-all. The Bears were looking at a third-and-medium situation on Atlanta's side of the field. Fields decided to keep it himself and race to the first down marker towards the Chicago sideline. Tracking him the entire time was Andersen. A foot race to the outside ended with Andersen tackling Fields for a loss of one. Out came the field goal unit for a 41-yard attempt, and though the Bears took the 10-7 lead in that moment, it was Andersen's play that I circled and underlined in my notes with the words: "Great awareness. Great speed. Great tackling," written beside it.
To me, that's what I believe Andersen's value to be. Yes, he's still in his rookie year, but as he evolves I think the chances we see more and more plays like that from him are high.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Chicago Bears during Week 11.