Stats to watch when Commanders face the Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons (3-2) don’t play offense like the rest of the NFL. Coach Arthur Smith’s scheme is run-first and built around three talented backs. His rationale for leaning into the run game, even though it’s less efficient than passing, includes a basketball analogy: If a team doesn’t have good three-point shooters, it’s silly for them to try to beat the Golden State Warriors by shooting three-pointers.

Last week, in a dramatic comeback against Houston, second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder played his best game as a pro. But it’s clear heading into Sunday’s game against the Washington Commanders that the Falcons will continue feeding running backs Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson (though injury has limited Patterson so far this year).

“Everything revolves around the running game,” Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “They do a really good job with it. They’ve got a good line, very good backs and good design. So, that’s where it all starts. But then Ridder has played well, and he’s getting the ball out of his hands much quicker. It looks like it’s obviously an emphasis for him, and so we need to be ready for that and match that.”

Let’s dig into the stats to know for the Falcons.

The Commanders pass a lot. And not all good things are coming to pass.

14.6 percent in “11” personnel

Nearly every NFL offense majors in “11” personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers). The league average of snaps in that alignment is 60.9 percent, and only four teams are below 50 percent. Atlanta uses it on just 14.6 percent of its snaps, by far the lowest rate in the NFL.

Instead, the Falcons play most of their snaps in “12” personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers) or “21” (two running backs, one tight end, two wide receivers). The offense isn’t consistent, but when it gets the ball to its playmakers, they can generate explosive plays.

One of the major criticisms of the offense over the years has been its inability to get the ball to Kyle Pitts, whom Atlanta made the highest drafted tight end ever in 2021 (fourth overall).

Yeah, yeah, this again. For the third week in a row, the Commanders are facing a defense that comes in with one of the lowest sack totals in the NFL. This time, it’s the Falcons, who have five under first-time coordinator Ryan Nielsen.

This offseason, Atlanta rebuilt its defense by adding two linemen (David Onyemata and Calais Campbell), two linebackers (Bud Dupree and Kaden Elliss) and a safety (Jessie Bates III). The unit is elite against the run, and though the team gets pressure, it generates it at the league’s slowest rate (an average of 2.78 seconds, according to TruMedia).

Washington’s goal is to prevent history from repeating itself: Philadelphia and Chicago had five sacks apiece on quarterback Sam Howell.

What’s wrong with the Commanders’ defense?

Ridder, a 2022 third-round pick from Cincinnati, has started his NFL career 5-0 at home and 0-4 on the road. It’s easy to dismiss those stats as meaningless or circumstantial — his opponents in those victories have been Arizona, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Green Bay and Houston — but there might be something to it. In college, Ridder went 26-0 at Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium as he helped take the Group of Five team to the College Football Playoff.

Ridder’s home record at St. Xavier High School in Louisville is unclear, but for Washington to win Sunday, it will have to deal Ridder a home loss — something that hasn’t happened since at least 2016.

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