Skip to main content

Nerdy Birds: The Desmond Ridder-Drake London connection, A.J. Terrell and Jessie Bates lock down the backend 

Plus: Bijan Robinson chases history. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It's no secret that Desmond Ridder and Drake London have a strong connection. Both members of Atlanta's 2021 rookie class, the duo quickly built a friendship that has carried over to the field. Take this passage from the venerable Tori McElhaney's Falcons Building Blocks series about London's production after Ridder took over the starting job.

"Nearly 40% of London's total receiving yards in 2022 came in the four games Ridder was his quarterback. London's catch percentage jumped from 58% with Marcus Mariota as his quarterback to 69% with Ridder. Of course, sample sizes are different, London played with Mariota for the first 13 games and only had the chance to play with Ridder for the final four, but the numbers are quite striking, nonetheless. If anything, these statistics depict a relationship (and production) to hope for and build off of."

That hope and promise have been actualized in 2023 with London hauling in 56-of-84 targets (66.7%) for 745 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers may not jump off the page but London is on pace to set career highs in receptions and receiving yards in his second season. When you consider the fact that Atlanta has the eighth fewest pass attempts this season and the second-fewest over the past two seasons those numbers begin to stand out a little more.

Given Atlanta's lean toward the run game over the last two years, it's rather surprising to see that London is 78 yards shy of passing Calvin Ridley (1,687) and Bert Emanuel (1,688) for the second-most receiving yards in a player's first two seasons in club history. Julio Jones' franchise record of 2,157 yards isn't out of the question with four games to play. London is also just six catches away from breaking Jones' mark for the most receptions in a player's first two seasons in team history (133).


This season, Ridder has completed 54-of-81 attempts (66.7%) when targeting Drake London for 717 yards and two touchdowns. Ridder has a 92.5 rating and a +7.9 completion percentage over expectation and is averaging 11.4 air yards per target on those throws. He has also posted 0.11 EPA per attempt with a success rate of 54.3%.

The duo has been particularly effective on deep throws with Ridder completing 8-of-12 attempts of 20+ yards when targeting London. The duo has been among the best in the NFL in terms of connecting down the field as their 66.7 completion percentage ranks fifth and his CPOE of +26.7% ranks second among all duos with at least 10 attempts thus far this year.

Deep Passing (20+ yards)

Table inside Article
QB-WR Duo Comp. Pct. xComp. Pct CPOE
T. Lawrence/C. Kirk 75.0% 44.7% +30.3%
D. Ridder/D. London 66.7% 40.0% +26.7
C. Stroud/N. Collins 69.2% 42.9% +26.4%
D. Prescott/B. Cooks 54.4% 42.9% +23.0%

When targeting London deep, Ridder has averaged 27.6 air yards and generated 0.91 expected points added per attempt. The duo has a 66.7% success rate on deep throws despite only 8.3% being classified as "open" (where the receiver has three-or-more-yards of separation when a pass arrives).

All eight of London's deep receptions have come from Ridder as he was targeted just twice on deep routes by Taylor Heinicke. According to Next Gen Stats, London has averaged 5.5 yards per route run on 43 total deep routes and has a 32.6% target rate on deep routes.

Their connection has taken another step over the last three weeks, with Ridder completing 69.6% of his passes to London (16-of-23) for 271 yards, the fifth-most yards of any QB-WR duo over that span. On deep passes, they have connected on 3-of-5 attempts for 98 yards, including London's 45-yard catch in the fourth quarter against Tampa Bay.

If Atlanta is going to make a late-season push to challenge for the division title and a trip to the postseason, the team will need Ridder and London to continue to make the most of their connection.


Lock it Down

A.J. Terrell has proven himself to be one of the top players at his position over the first four years of his career.

This season, he has allowed just 55.4% of the passes thrown his way to be completed. He has a completion percentage over expectation of minus-1.5 and ranks seventh in the NFL and third among cornerbacks with at least 350 coverage snaps in coverage success rate (62.5%).

Terrell drew a tough assignment in Week 14 as Atlanta welcomed Mike Evans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Fresh off celebrating his 10th consecutive 1,000-yard season with a 7-catch, 162-yard performance against Carolina, Atlanta limited the explosive Evans to just eight yards on one reception. It was his lowest output of the season and the first time he's been held to a single catch since Week 15 of the 2021 season.

According to Next Gen Stats, Terrell followed Mike Evans on 26 of his 28 routes, shadowing the four-time Pro Bowler on 92.9% of his routes. He played press coverage on Evans on 24 of those routes and did not allow a catch in coverage. Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield only targeted Evans twice with Terrell covering him. Evans' lone reception came on a crossing route from the slot with Atlanta in zone coverage.

This marked a significant change in Atlanta's defensive philosophy from the first meeting, in which Terrell lined up on Evans on 20-of-35 routes, shadowing him for just over half of his routes (57.1%). According to Next Gen Stats, Terrell allowed a season-high six receptions for 100 yards and one touchdown on 10 targets as the nearest defender in that game.

The former Clemson Tiger's performance on Sunday was indicative of the impressive run of form he has enjoyed as of late.

Since Week 10, 70% of Terrell's targets have been classified as tight windows, meaning Terrell was less than one yard away from the targeted receiver when a pass arrived. His tight window percentage leads the league over that span and is 20% higher than the next player, Dallas' Malik Hooker (50%). Terrell has also allowed a CPOE of minus-23.9.

Terrell at a Glance - Last Three Games

Table inside Article
Stat Terrell
Coverage Snaps 99
Targets 10
Completions 2
CPOE -23.9
Yards per Target 1.9
Success Rate

According to Next Gen Stats, Terrell has played 99 coverage snaps and has been targeted 10 times over the last four games. He's surrendered just two completions for 19 yards and has four passes defensed. Terrell has allowed a passer rating of 39.6 and a target EPA of minus-4.9. His 90% coverage success rate ranks third among all defenders with at least 99 coverage snaps and his 40% ball hawk rate ranks 11th.

Atlanta will need Terrell to continue his strong play down the stretch as they look to return to the postseason for the first time since 2017.

Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell #24 during practice at Atlanta Falcons Training Facility in Flowery Branch, Ga. on Thursday, December 14, 2023. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

JBIII Digits

Last week, Jessie Bates III finished the game with nine total tackles (seven solo), one tackle for loss and one pass defended, bringing his season total to 101 tackles in 2023. The sixth-year safety and team captain became the first Falcon and the third player in the NFL to record at least 100 tackles, five interceptions and three forced fumbles in a season since at least 2000.

While it's not normally a great sign when a third-level defender has more than 100 tackles in a season, Bates has been extremely active along the line of scrimmage.

So far this year, Bates has 21 tackles on opposing runs where the back gained fewer than five yards, tied with Tampa Bay's Antoine Winfield for the fewest in the NFC and second fewest in the NFL among defensive backs. The NFC's leading Pro Bowl vote-getter among safeties added to that total last week when he dropped Buccaneers running back Rachaad White for a 5-yard loss on 4th-and-1 before halftime.

Additionally, Bates has brought down ball carriers 49 times on runs this season – most among all DBs – and more than 70 of Bates' 100-plus tackles have occurred within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Bates was everywhere in the first meeting with Carolina, intercepting Panthers quarterback Bryce Young twice and forcing a key fumble late in the third quarter, earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in Week 1. If Bates and the defense can force multiple turnovers again this week, look for that to lead to success seeing as Atlanta is 4-1 this season when the defense has multiple takeaways.

Chasing History

Bijan Robinson found the end zone last week and has now scored touchdowns in three of the last four games for Atlanta.

If Robinson is able to find the end zone again on Sunday, he will tie Julio Jones (eight) for the third-most touchdowns scored by a rookie in franchise history. Additionally, the Falcons rookie is 65 yards shy of surpassing Tyler Allgeier (1,174) for the second-most yards from scrimmage by a rookie in team history. Only Ring of Honor Inductee William Andrews (1,332 in 1979) has more.


Related Content