The Atlanta Falcons could be a really good team in this 2023 season, but they have no idea how to play complementary football. The game against the Minnesota Vikings was a perfect example of that. Between the ball security issues, inaccurate passes, and overall just rough play on defense, the team was not doing its job to complement either side of the ball. There's total team wins in the NFL, but this was a total team loss. This one shouldn't have even been close, but they lost 31-28 after the defense was shredded on the final drive of the game.
Winner: P/KOS Bradley Pinion
When one of the best players in a game is the punter, that's how it's obvious the Falcons played a poor game. Pinion only averaged 43.8 yards per kick, but he had two downed inside the 10-yard line and a third that had the gunner blocked out of the way of making it a third. He wasn't needed to boot it deep with a long of 46-yards on his punts, but he showed just how good he could be as a punter in this one. As a kickoff specialist, he kicked it out of the back of the end zone on every single kickoff.
Loser: QB Taylor Heinicke
Another week. Another game where Taylor Heinicke is under 60 percent in completion percentage at just 55 percent this week. Sure, he had 268 yards on his 38 passes, but that's puffed up by passes to KhaDarel Hodge for 31 yards and Jonnu Smith for 60 yards where the offense blocked those open for them. Atlanta got essentially the same kind of production from Heinicke that they've been getting from Desmond Ridder. One touchdown. One interception. Less sacks taken. But there were a lot of errant throws from Heinicke that could have been caught by the Vikings and just weren't.
Winner: DT Kentavious Street
After getting traded to the Falcons at the trade deadline, Kentavious Street was starting in Grady Jarrett's spot in the defense. He did a fantastic job stuffing the middle of the defense and even had a fumble recovery and a couple of pressures on Josh Dobbs during this game. Street will only continue to improve. He'll never be Jarrett, but if he can be 70 percent of what Jarrett was for the Falcons on defense, that's much more than they're going to get from anyone else.
Loser: Scramble defense
The Falcons have had trouble with this all season, but the scramble defense against the Vikings was literally why they lost the game. On scrambles, the Vikings had 9 runs for 77 yards (8.5 yards per carry) and a touchdown. On designed runs, they had 24 carries for 69 yards (2.9 yards per carry). The massive difference in how they played scrambles versus actual run designs was a horrible showing for the defense. They were completely unable to tackle Dobbs when he was scrambling, and those scrambles were on key third and fourth downs that would have ended the game.
Winner: Pass rush in the first half
While the pass rush was quiet in the second half due to Josh Dobbs' ability to scramble and break tackles, they had a fantastic first half. The Falcons were able to create two forced fumbles, four sacks and five quarterback hits in the first half of the game allowing the defense to be at 19 sacks and 53 quarterback hits for the season. Compared to 2021 and 2022 when they were at 18 and 62, and 21 and 71, respectively, that's a massive improvement to at least a league average level defense.
Loser: Injuries, again
The Falcons have been bit hard by the injury bug the last couple of weeks. In this one, they lost Joker Cordarrell Patterson and WR Mack Hollins in the second quarter with ankle injuries. They lost Dee Alford in the fourth quarter due to an ankle injury as well. And then Richie Grant was checked for a concussion in the fourth quarter. The loss of Dee Alford likely led to the final score because of how Mike Hughes was in the game instead of Alford in that situation. It was a spot where Clark Phillips III probably should have been given a shot to make a play instead of Hughes.
Winner: WR KhaDarel Hodge
Another week, another big catch for Khadarel Hodge. Hodge has shown that he can be a more than competent No. 2 wide receiver with his yard after catch abilities and abilities to find the holes to sit in zone coverages. Hodge had three catches on the day on three targets and might be in line for a lot more moving forward if Mack Hollins is out for a while. Van Jefferson hasn't really shown much when he's been out there, and Hodge is the No. 3 guy with Drake London down with a groin injury.
Loser: RB Bijan Robinson
The Falcons were up by eight points in the middle of the third quarter when Bijan Robinson took a ball 14 yards up the field and then fumbled it on a tackle. He would finish with 11 carries for 51 yards. He also had two catches on four targets for eight yards including one drop. Robinson has been really good throughout the year, but this week wasn't his highlight. He was having trouble finding the holes that were made for him and wasn't going full-speed most of his carries. There might be something off with Robinson. Or he's hit the rookie wall. But he needs to correct the issue.
Winner: TE Jonnu Smith
Jonnu Smith has been on this list almost every week as a winner. He's just been having a fantastic season. He had another great game with five catches on six targets for 100 yards and a touchdown. Smith has been more than worth the seventh-round pick the Falcons traded for him before the season and has shown that he could be the No. 1 tight end in the offense should Kyle Pitts go down or need to make a switch over to more of a wide receiver role due to the injuries in that unit.
Loser: DC Ryan Nielsen
In what could have been a game to cement him as one of the better defensive coordinators for the Falcons in recent memory, Ryan Nielsen had trouble calling too many cover two and cover four shells that hurt the Falcons overall. The Vikings offense is based around attacking those kinds of shells and had he stuck with more cover one and cover three shells, the Falcons may not have allowed a couple of the touchdowns that they did. He also has this love of playing Arnold Ebiketie in zone coverage instead of having him pass rush, and that's something that makes no sense. Give your best pass rusher more oppportunites to get after the quarterback.
Winner: K Younghoe Koo
Younghoe Koo is the absolute best part of the Falcons offense. Not only did he kick a perfect game going 4-for-4 on field goals and 2-for-2 on extra points, he had to kick one of the extra points from 48 yards. Also, his field goals were from 52, 43, 23 and 54 yards out. The fact that Atlanta has a kicker of his caliber has been understated. Koo has shown he's the second best kicker in the NFL behind Justin Tucker this year despite that one miss on an extra point and one missed field goal.
Ultimate Loser: HC Arthur Smith
There could not have been a worse game called by Arthur Smith. At a certain point, it felt like the Falcons were creating opportunities in spite of them. The first touchdown was a screen call. The second touchdown was a standard run that they finally got blocking right for. The rest of the game was a cluster of nonsense that kept the Falcons out of the red zone. Somehow, the Falcons still outgained the Vikings, but Smith's play-calls were rough. He will have to do some self-scouting. Because right now, Smith is tracking towards not being the Falcons head coach in 2025... and maybe not even in 2024 either.
All advanced stats are courtesy Pro Football Focus or Football Outsiders. All traditional stats are courtesy of official team websites, NFLGSIS or CFB Stats. All RAS and athletic testing numbers are courtesy of DraftScout.com and Kent Lee Platte's RAS Football website.