How will the Atlanta Falcons play offensively in the absence of Calvin Ridley? – Atlanta Falcons Blog

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ATLANTA – It came as a surprise. An hour and a half before the Atlanta Falcons kick off against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, one of their stars was not going to play.

Calvin Ridley was inactive – missing his second game this season due to a personal issue.

Then, about four hours later, with the Falcons losing to Carolina, the 26-year-old wide receiver posted a statement on Twitter. He moved away from football to work on his mental well-being. For Ridley, you hope for the best in a difficult situation.

For the Falcons, that leaves a big question for the foreseeable future: What will this team be like without Ridley on the pitch. If Sunday’s 19-13 loss to Carolina is part of an answer, that means Falcons head coach and offensive play caller Arthur Smith need to understand a few things.

Fast.

This week could be difficult to assess, since the Falcons (3-4) did not learn until Sunday morning that Ridley would not be with the team. Smith wouldn’t comment on how Ridley didn’t change the team’s game plan – he thought Carolina could have changed some of his man-to-man assignments with Ridley, but he didn’t say anything else.

Except that in reality it had to. Ridley, even in a slightly low season, makes the difference. In the last four games he played, Ridley had been targeted at least 10 times. In Week 7, he still led Atlanta in targets (52), tied for the team lead in receptions (31), second in touchdowns (two) and third in yards (281) . His presence on the pitch demands the attention of opposing defenses, whether it’s a doubles team or an assigned top cornerback.

“He’s a great player, and you try to use other guys when he’s not in good shape,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “We still have enough players. We trust the guys who are up on game day to make plays, and unfortunately we just failed a bit [Sunday]. “

With Ridley out, the Panthers (4-4) seemed to focus on tight end Kyle Pitts, who had two catches for 13 yards on six targets. Pitts said that while his role in the offense had not changed, he saw more people above him on Sunday – attention that could have been paid to Ridley, had he been there.

And as long as Ridley is out, it’s possible Pitts will continue to see that level of attention as he’s the best wide receiver remaining in Atlanta. Cordarrelle Patterson is still a viable and solid option, but he should also focus more on opposing defenses.

The Falcons haven’t targeted Russell Gage – the team’s typical No.1 receiver with Ridley out – even once. Ryan said after the game that “this is how the game is sometimes”. He has confidence in Gage for the future, but the fact that a team can take Gage like that is concerning. And if Gage is to fulfill this role, it cannot happen again.

Tajae Sharpe appeared to be the primary beneficiary of Ridley’s absence in terms of targets (six), catches (five) and receiving yards (58). But relying on Sharpe week after week isn’t a strategy that seems like a long-term answer.

Maybe Atlanta scours the free agent market for a street option. Or maybe the team is considering a trade – although there isn’t much leeway to play, and the team needs the future draft capital. Given that Ridley’s return schedule is unknown, it could be a difficult decision to make.

On Sunday, on short notice without Ridley, the Atlanta offense looked bewildered, lacking the same power it had last month when the Falcons tallied 25 or more points in four of five games. Atlanta was more like the offense than it had been in the first week of the season, when the Philadelphia Eagles limited the Falcons to six points and the team took very few real offensive shots.

The numbers confirmed this on Sunday. Ryan had his lowest yards per attempt (5.41) and yards per setback (4.32) since the start of the season. He also pitched for his first tries (11) since the loss to the Eagles. His 7.3 yards per completion were the lowest of the season. Smith said after the game that Carolina pulled Atlanta’s deep track options.

It is possible that it looks better in the future. In Week 5, against the New York Jets, when the Falcons had a few days to deal with Ridley’s absence, Atlanta responded with 27 points and Ryan pitched for 342 yards. So there might be a plan that can work, it’s just going to be potentially a little different than anyone envisioned.

If the Falcons are to return to their previous offensive form, they need to do more on offense than they showed on Sunday – especially with a defense that allowed 204 rushing yards, in part because the offense couldn’t stay on. field.

“As ugly as it felt [defensively]we have to do more offensively, ”said Smith. “We are in the National Football League. We have to score more than 13 points. We didn’t do it well enough to win this game.



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