Good planning and good energy; the keys for the Falcons in London

By Thomas Willoughby

It hasn’t been easy, this time around. Matt Ryan, the Falcons 13 year veteran signal-caller, was part of the Falcons contingent that come over to London in 2014, noted the key differences between this trip and his last. “We had a full week to get ready last time”, he said, “Coach…Coach Smith THIS time has a plan for us to get ready, and the guys have done a really good job practicing over in Atlanta, and then getting over here, and then getting over here today.” What he referenced specifically was the fact that the Falcons had landed in the UK less than 12 hours earlier.

It’s to be expected, I suppose. Despite the efforts of some to ignore it out of existence, the COVID pandemic is still ongoing, and affecting the NFL in ways you ought to expect, but likely didn’t think of. International travel, for one. The Falcons landed in London in the early hours of Thursday morning, and basically haven’t slept since. At 11am, Mike Davis tweeted that the time change was killing him. By just gone 3, he’d managed to shake it off. “(I) just needed some chips and water!”

The plan appears to focus heavily on the ground game. With Calvin Ridley ruled out of the game due to personal reasons, and Russell Gage’s absence prolonged, it’ll be down to Olamide Zaccheaus, and Christian Blake, to fill to top two slots on the depth chart. A healthy dose of the run game, with Cordarrelle Patterson the focal point, appears to be in order.

From the section of the practice we were allowed access to, that certainly seems to be the case. Of their first 10 offensive “downs” Arthur Smith dialed up, 6 were designed runs, 3 were play-action passes, and just the one was a drop-back pass. For anyone who hasn’t already, maybe scour your fantasy waiver wires for Patterson, if no one’s picked him.

Best Laid Plans

On Patterson, Ryan commented on how he’d love to see his relationship with Patterson grow on Sunday. The swiss-army knife on offense has over 300 all-purpose yards on offense, and has already matched his best-ever scoring season. In four games. Fair to say he’s settled into the floundering Falcons pretty well. 

The plan isn’t exclusive to offense. Both Steven Means and Foye Oluokun commented on how impressed they’ve been with Zach Wilson, especially coming off the first win of his career. Oluokun was dismissive of the suggestion by a member of the Atlanta press that the Jets run game, statistically unimpressive as they have been, will be a non-factor. 

Football is a game of three phases, and the Falcons star kicker, Younghoe Koo, has taken on the idea of “good planning” himself. Playing in a new stadium, and in a new country, makes it difficult to get into a groove. Koo suggested that he would likely hit the field a little earlier than usual to see how the conditions at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium differ from those typically found in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Steve Luciano-AP Photo

Good Vibes Only

If “the plan” was being heralded, the idea of “energy” was palpable across the roster. From Kyle Pitts sharing a jaunt with Hayden Hurst on the sideline, to Mike Davis demand Oluokun hold his own microphone, to Matt Ryan putting it bluntly when asked what he’ll be up to on his Friday night (“I have a quiet room, no kids, I’m just gonna chill!”), the mood was buoyant. Asked about their plans for the night, Mike Davis stated he would be treating the running backs room for a meal on him (“If I were getting a meal paid for, I’d take advantage of it too”), while Foye Oluokun was more reserved in his assessment of the night ahead (“We’re gonna get a bite to eat.”)

What I found most interesting about the Falcons’ approach to their first night in London wasn’t actually found in the practice session, but away from the facility altogether. On the journey back to London Euston, I just so happened to be on the same carriage as the aforementioned Foye Oluokun, as well as the other members of the Falcons linebackers group. Seeing them interact with a fairly social guy on his way to his own plans, not least given how little they gave away. Under the cover of almost complete anonymity, they were allowed to laugh and joke with someone convinced they were American Football players, without knowing for sure whether to call them on it. Despite the hardships the Falcons have suffered so far this season, this trip might well be the key to the Falcons keeping spirits high.

The Atlanta Falcons weren’t in the business of giving too much away to the press. Of course they weren’t. But the emphasis on the plan, and the energy, shone through above all else. And, if either fail them this weekend, perhaps a simple “good luck for Sunday, boys!” in the car park from an overawed, underprepared, football writer (and not-so-secret fan) from Oxford will be enough to get them over the line.

Featured Image Credit: Kirby Lee – USA Today Sports

Thomas Willoughby