ATLANTA Surprise! One of their stars was not going to play an hour and a half before the Atlanta Falcons faced the Carolina Panthers.
Calvin Ridley was unable to play this season because of a personal problem.
The 26-year old receiver made a statement via Twitter four hours later as the Falcons were losing to Carolina. Ridley is taking a break from football to focus on his mental health. Ridley believes that you can hope for the best even in difficult situations.
It leaves the Falcons with a major question: How will the team be without Ridley? If Sunday's Carolina loss of 19-13 is part of the answer, then Arthur Smith, Falcons head coach, and offensive play-caller must figure out some things.
It could prove difficult to gauge the week, as the Falcons (3-4) didn't know Ridley was not with them until Sunday morning. Smith would not say how Ridley's absence affected the team's game plan. He said that Carolina may have modified some man-to-man assignments, but didn't specify any other changes. All you need for this week is the NFL's season-long coverage
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It had to, in fact. Even in a down season Ridley is still a difference-maker. Ridley was targeted at least 10 times in each of the four games that he had played. He was still Atlanta's leader in targets (52), tied for second in receptions (31) and third in yards (281). He is a constant presence on the field, and draws attention from all sides regardless of whether they are a double-team defense or top cornerbacks.
He is a great player and you try to use other guys when he's not there, said quarterback Matt Ryan. There are still enough players. We still trust the guys who are up on game day and go make plays. Unfortunately, we fell a bit short [Sunday].
The Panthers (4-4) seemed more focused on tight end Kyle Pitts (two catches for 13 yards, six targets), with Ridley out. Pitts stated that his role in the offense didn't change, but that he was more visible to other people than Ridley on Sunday.
It is possible that Pitts will continue to receive the same attention, regardless of Ridley's absence. He is Atlanta's best pass-catcher. While Cordarrelle Patterson remains a viable option, it is possible that Pitts will continue to be the focus of opposing defenses.
Russell Gage was not targeted by the Falcons, who didn't consider him to be their typical No. Ridley was the 1 receiver. Ryan stated after the game that's how it works sometimes. However, the possibility that a team could take Gage with them like that is worrying. Gage will be filling that role.
In terms of receiving yards (58), targets (6), and catches (5), Tajae Sharpe was the main beneficiary of Ridley's absence. However, counting on Sharpe week-to-week is not a viable strategy.
Atlanta might look on the free-agent marketplace for an alternative. Perhaps the team is open to a trade, even though there's not much cap space. Plus, the team may need future draft capital. Ridley's return date is uncertain so it could be difficult to make this move.
Atlanta's offense looked disorganized on Sunday without Ridley. It didn't have the same power it had in the previous month, when it scored 25+ points in four of five games. Atlanta looked more like it did in the season's first week when the Philadelphia Eagles held Atlanta to six points. The team also took very few offensive shots.
On Sunday, the numbers supported that assertion. Ryan's yards per attempt was 5.41 and his yards per dropback was 4.32. This is the lowest he has had since the season opener. Ryan also threw for only 11 first downs since the Eagles loss. His 7.3 yards per completion was the lowest in the season. Smith stated after the game that Carolina had taken away Atlanta's deep-route options.
This could be a better look in the future. Atlanta scored 27 points in Week 5 against the New York Jets after Ridley's absence. Ryan threw 342 yards. There could be a plan that works, but it might look different from what anyone imagined.
If the Falcons want to return to their offensive form, they must do more offense than they did Sunday, especially considering the defense that allowed 204 yards of rushing. This was partly because the offense couldn’t stay on the field.
Smith stated that as offensively as it was, no matter how horrible it felt. We were in the National Football League. We must score at least 13 points. We did not do enough to win the game.