A Christmas eve trip to Baltimore looms as the Falcons look to snap a three-game losing streak and keep their playoff hopes alive in Week 16. Saturday's matchup will be just the seventh in the series history between the two teams. You might be asking; didn't the Ravens move to Baltimore from Cleveland? What about all those games? When the Ravens moved to Baltimore in 1996, the NFL and the city of Cleveland settled a deal with the club that it would leave all the Browns history, records, name, and colors in Ohio for an eventual replacement, the current Cleveland Browns.
Despite the fact that the Ravens formerly occupied Cleveland and took the team's staff and players to Baltimore in 1996, the Ravens began their history that year as a wholly separate team. Baltimore leads the all-time series against Atlanta, 4-2, with wins in each of the last two matchups, including the last meeting at M&T Bank Stadium in 2014.
The Falcons are in search of their first win in Baltimore, dropping that game in 2014 as well as their only other previous game there in 2006. Sunday will be a matchup of strength on strength, as the Falcons will put their top-tier rushing attack up against Baltimore's stingy run defense. Let's take a look at some of the players and stats that will, no doubt, impact the outcome of Saturday's game.
Running back Tyler Allgeier had a breakout game in Week 15 at New Orleans, setting career highs with 139 rushing yards on 17 carries. The BYU product also rushed for one touchdown and a two-point conversion in a game that confirmed the promise that he has shown over the course of the season.
To date, Allgeier has rushed 148 times for 743 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. He has been a major part of a Falcons rushing attack that ranks third in the NFL in total rushing yards (2,297), rushing yards per game (164.1), and fourth in yards per attempt (5.03). Atlanta has built its ground game on the back of a three-pronged approach that featured Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Caleb Huntley.
Despite taking a by-committee approach in the backfield, Allgeier has been one of the best rookie rushers in the NFL this season. His 743 rushing yards rank second among all rookies this season and is the highest total by a running back drafted in the fifth round or later through 15 weeks since Elijah Mitchell's 759 in 2021.
Since 2000, Allgeier's single-season rushing total ranks seventh among all rookies drafted in the fifth round or later. Excluding undrafted players, he enters Week 16 with the most rushing yards by a rookie drafted in the fifth round or later with fewer than 200 rushing attempts. Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, only Thomas Rawls (Seattle, 2015) and Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville, 2006) have had more yards on fewer than 150 carries through the first 15 weeks of a season.
Selected in the fifth round with the 151st overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the California native has made the most of every one of his opportunities. According to Next Gen Stats, Allgeier leads all rookies with +136 rushing yards over expected this season and ranks seventh among all running backs.
Allgeier is the only rookie running back with more than 100 carries to post a positive rushing EPA (7.0) and positive EPA per carry (0.05). In Week 15, he recorded a 76.5 percent rushing success rate, the highest by any running back in a game this season (min. 15 carries). He was named offensive rookie of the week by Pro Football Focus and named to PFF's Team of the Week for his performance.
Atlanta will need their rookie rusher to continue his late-season emergence in order to propel the offense in the final three weeks. He will likely see his role increase after the team lost Huntley to an Achilles injury in Week 15. Allgeier has already slotted into second on the Falcons all-time rushing list in terms of rookies and needs 281 yards to surpass William Andrews' (1,023) franchise record for rushing yards by a rookie.
Should Allgeier notch 257 yards over the final three games, he would become the second player in team history to post 1,000 rushing yards as a rookie and just the 11th rookie drafted in the fifth round or later (including undrafted players) to accomplish that feat.
One for the guys up front
Chris Lindstrom earned a well-deserved, first-career Pro Bowl nod as he continues to show that he is among the best offensive linemen in the NFL. The fourth-year pro from Boston College has anchored a resurgent Falcons line that has helped to propel the teams rushing attack to the top of the league.
Pro Football Focus has Lindstrom as the second-highest overall graded offensive lineman (93.6) behind only Trent Williams (94.5). Those two are the only offensive linemen grading out in the 90s across the season with Lindstrom owning the overall (93.6) and run blocking (92.1) grades among all guards. Lindstrom has graded out in the 90s in five separate games, including the highest single-game grade by an offensive lineman this season, posting a 97.1 against the Browns.
The Falcons are the most run-heavy team in football, calling run plays on 51.2 percent of their offensive snaps. According to Next Gen Stats, Atlanta has been the second-most successful team in the league when running the ball, with a 49.5 percent success rate. Meanwhile, Atlanta's 0.06 EPA per carry ranks fourth in the NFL.
Atlanta is averaging 5.0 yards per carry, the team's best per-carry average since 2006 and its third-best mark since 1970 – the furthest back that data is available. Much of that success is a credit to Lindstrom and Atlanta's offensive line, which PFF has ranked as the fifth-best in the NFL entering Week 16.
Lindstrom has played 850 offensive snaps, including 437 run-blocking and 413 pass-blocking reps. While the Falcons certainly hang their collective hats on the run game, their Pro Bowl right guard has been among the most solid pass protectors in the league. Over his 413 pass-blocking snaps, Lindstrom has allowed just nine total pressures, with two sacks, six hurries, and one lone quarterback hit.
The 2019 first-round pick has had one penalty this season and has played penalty-free football since Week 2. Per PFF, Lindstrom's has posted a pass-blocking efficiency of 98.6, including eight games with a perfect 100 rating. Pass blocking efficiency aims to measure pressure allowed on a per-snap basis, weighted towards sacks allowed.
Offensive line play is among the most difficult nuances of football when it comes to evaluation and quantification. While other positions have positive counting stats like touchdowns, yards, interceptions, and tackles, a negative stat -- sacks allowed -- is all the guys up front have. And even those are hard to assign when not knowing a player's specific assignment.
Sometimes the best measure of an offensive lineman is how infrequently they are mentioned. But that does a disservice to the performance of a player like Lindstrom in the midst of a breakout season at one of the more thankless positions in all of sports. After being named the Falcons nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, earning his first Pro Bowl nod, and with a likely All-Pro selection on the horizon, Lindstrom deserves his flowers.
Stopping the Run
It's no secret Baltimore has had one of the most prolific rushing attacks in the NFL under offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Since drafting Lamar Jackson in 2018, Baltimore has finished in the top three in rushing in each of the past five seasons – second in 2018, first in 2019, first in 2020, third in 2021 and are currently second this season in rushing.
While Jackson has added another element to the Ravens rushing attack, they have been able to find production from a number of ball carriers this year. Despite the former NFL MVP missing the past two games with a knee injury, Baltimore rushed for 215 yards against Pittsburgh in Week 14 and 198 against Cleveland last week. Atlanta's defense has an opportunity to test its mettle against one of the league's best ground games regardless of whether Jackson plays Saturday or not.
In his first season in Atlanta, Rashaan Evans has returned to the form he had under defensive coordinator Dean Pees at the beginning of his career when both guys were in Tennessee. This year, the former first-round selection shattered his previous career high of 111 total tackles in 2019. Through 14 games, Evans has tallied a team-leading 144 total tackles to go along with six tackles for loss, four passes defensed, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble this season. The 27-year-old has racked up double-digit tackles in six straight games and eight of the past nine. His 144 tackles are also the third-most in the NFL.
In his weekly press conference last week, Dean Pees mentioned both the leadership and physicality Evans has brought to the Falcons defense. This year, Evans has made an impact coming downhill and thumping opposing ball carriers. According to TruMedia, Evans leads the NFL with 90 tackles on designed rushing attempts in 2022. Additionally, per Next Gen Stats, Evans has made 22.6 percent of the total defense's tackles against rushing attacks – the second-highest percentage in the league (min. 300 snaps).
As of Thursday, the weather forecast for Saturday's game calls for a real feel temperature in the single digits with wind gusts up to more than 30 miles per hour in Baltimore. If that forecast holds true, conventional wisdom would lead you to believe there could be a heavy dose of carries on both sides of the ball. If Evans and Atlanta's defense can find a way to slow down one of the league's best rushing attacks, it would go a long way in increasing the chances the Falcons leave Baltimore with a win on Christmas Eve.
The guys put in the work in Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the Baltimore Ravens.