Four changes the Falcons made coming out of their bye week

ATLANTA -- Early last week, Arthur Smith called on one of his starting cornerbacks, Jeff Okudah, in a team meeting. The Falcons head coach wasn't asking a question about a formation or a read on New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr, the week's opponent.

Instead, he asked Okudah about Ohio State.

Specifically, Michigan vs. Ohio State -- one of the most intense rivalries in college football and one Okudah, who played for the Buckeyes, understands well. The purpose wasn't to get a scouting report on the game, either, but to try and accentuate the intensity a player needs to have in games like that.

"I see the parallel that he was trying to draw," Okudah said. "The mentality that you have to have in a divisional game or a game against a rival, it's a different mentality to play in that game.

"He wanted to me to speak to the magnitude of a game like that and what it meant."

Smith wanted his players to understand the focus needed for a game like Saints-Falcons.

This came after two weeks where multiple players said the energy wasn't quite as high as it had been earlier in the season.

The bye provided that. So did facing the Saints, which also gave them an understanding of what needed to happen for Atlanta to be a playoff team.

"You could kind of feel us dragging along a little bit," receiver Scotty Miller said. "We kind of needed that week to get our minds away from football for a couple days, go home, see our families and then when we came back on that Monday, you could just feel the sense of urgency.

"Everyone was just locked in and ready to go."

It was part of a few different changes for Atlanta post-bye. Before the bye, Smith said they would look at a lot of things. During the week leading up to the Saints game -- a game Atlanta won, 24-15 -- Smith went back to Desmond Ridder at quarterback.

Here are a few more changes which might stick in the second half of the season as Atlanta looks to maintain control of the NFC South.

Using Bijan Robinson as a focal point

This had already been somewhat mythical because Robinson led the team in touches leading into the bye and has lined up everywhere in his 509 snaps. But of the 39 offensive plays ran while he was on the field Sunday, Robinson lined up in a running back position 36 times.

It's where he's been used the most often this season by far -- 373 snaps -- but the criticism centered around Robinson not playing enough in the red zone. Atlanta had only four red zone snaps Sunday against New Orleans.

Robinson played all of them, including a 10-yard touchdown run.

Last week, Smith said Robinson would be a "huge part of the game plan." Other than receiver Drake London, Robinson had more snaps than any skill position player and of Robinson's 39 snaps, he was the rusher or target on 22 of those plays (16 rushes, six targets).

Figure to see more of this going forward.

A different vantage point

One of the biggest changes might have gone unnoticed by many. Offensive coordinator Dave Ragone, who is not the team's play-caller, went from the field to the booth for Sunday's game. Smith seemed pleased with how it worked because it offered something different than before. This will continue to be Atlanta's setup.

"There were some things with Dave's experience that he could help Des as he was seeing it unfold up top as they communicated," Smith said. "So instead of both of us being down, it was just a logistical thing."

As much as it might help Ridder, it benefited Smith, too. It gave him a different vantage point -- Ragone and Smith collaborate on everything. It provided Smith a different look at New Orleans' safeties, some of the coverages they were playing and some of New Orleans' approaches.

More Patterson

For weeks, Cordarrelle Patterson had been a minimal part of Atlanta's offense, only playing a significant role when Bijan Robinson was dealing with headaches in a road win at Tampa. After the bye, the Falcons found a way to incorporate Patterson into the lineup somewhat similar to how he was used the last two seasons.

Patterson played 16 snaps Sunday -- double digits for the second straight game on offense -- and had eight carries for 43 yards. It would not be surprising to see more of Patterson as the season continues forward.

Smith continued to try using him everywhere on the field, which is when Patterson is at his best. Patterson lined up in a running back spot eight plays, in the slot five plays, in a tight end spot twice and out wide once.

"He's building on it," Smith said. "You saw a little bit in Tampa about where you saw him. He can play all over the place and it gives you another guy. We didn't have to go out there but if we need to win one-on-one outside, he gives you that.

"And you talk about being fresh. Those are hard guys to tackle."

More playing time for DeMarcco Hellams

Typically, defensive backfields don't run with any sort of rotation. Atlanta might look to alter that.

Rookie seventh-round pick DeMarcco Hellams played a career-high 36 defensive snaps Sunday and made seven tackles -- he played 37 snaps in the last three games combined.

"I definitely feel like it's part of the coaches just getting guys on the field," Hellams said. "Seeing what guys mesh best, what guys like playing with each other and honestly, getting your playmakers on the field."

Smith said Hellams "makes plays," and they've developed more trust in him. But Smith said all three safeties -- Hellams, Jessie Bates III and Richie Grant, whose snap count dropped to 75% as Hellams got work -- played well. He said it's "a good problem to have" with three safeties they believe can play.

Grant said when he is playing, he's trying to get the most out of his reps. Sunday was the first time Grant received less than 90% of the team's defensive snaps since 2021, his rookie season.

"If we keep getting results like that, I'm not really worried about what happens," Grant said. "Obviously I want to be on the field, but I can't control that. So when I am out there, it's just about maximizing that."