Do The Falcons Have Alternatives At Positions Of Need?

Kevin C. Cox

An open question for a team with its struggles.

Changes must be made. Even if you subscribe to the theory that this team is only a couple of plays and a little luck away from being 3-0, it's clear that Atlanta can and should alter some things to try to keep these games from being so damn close. They have a chance to make some changes with the Patriots game approaching.

Let's look at a few positions where some are calling for benchings and firings and see if there are alternatives that would make a change feasible for the 1-2 Falcons.

Slot Receiver

The first of two mentions Harry Douglas will get in this piece. Poor bastard.

To be clear, HD is not the problem with this passing game. He's just one of several guys (injured Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez) who disappear for long stretches of the game. He's capable of terrific plays, and he's capable of drops and mental errors. It's a frustrating cocktail.

That said, there's no upgrade to be had. Waiver wire receivers out there are not upgrades on Douglas, and if Kevin Cone or Drew Davis could outperform him, they'd be getting more snaps. Douglas is locked in, and hopefully we see more Good Douglas than Bad Douglas.

Linebacker

Fans are suggesting that Stephen Nicholas shouldn't see the field as a starter. That already seems to be happening.

If not for Sean Weatherspoon's injury, you probably would have seen a heavy dose of Joplo Bartu anyways. The fact that Paul Worrilow got more snaps than Nicks against the Dolphins should help to paint the picture: Nicholas is losing it. The Falcons might legitimately be better off rolling out two UDFAs and Akeem Dent when they want three linebackers on the field.

I feel like it should be mentioned that Nicholas has been nothing but a class act and quality player for the Falcons for years, and he deserves our respect for that. The Falcons are trying to win, though, and that means Nicholas shouldn't be anywhere near the field for defensive snaps. As painful as that is to say.


Safety

It's pretty clear that Thomas DeCoud is having a train wreck of a season. He's taking bad angles to the ball and missing tackles throughout the first three games. That has, predictably, led to fans calling for his job or at least a benching. I definitely support at least the latter.

The question is, what are the alternatives? There aren't great ones, unless you're basically willing to bench DeCoud for the rest of the season. The best, arguably, would be signing Kerry Rhodes. The safety has mysteriously been out of football since last season, but he was one of the better free safeties in the NFL in 2012 and has a quality all-around game.

Rhodes would be a legitimate upgrade if he could learn the playbook quickly enough, because he's a sure tackler and has nice coverage instincts. That would necessitate the Falcons moving DeCoud to the bench or cutting ties with him altogether.

If you can't get Rhodes, you're talking about moving Dominique Franks, Zeke Motta or Kemal Ishmael into a starting role. Franks is a physical player but doesn't have a lot of experience at safety. Motta and Ishmael are 2013 seventh round picks who are certainly not locks to be upgrades, except perhaps from a consistency standpoint. Unless the Falcons have seen something from one of these three guys that makes them believe they're capable of taking on a starting role, I'm not sure there's an acceptable answer on the roster today. After several years of the same mistakes cropping up again and again, I'm not sure the Falcons can hold out for sudden improvement, but they'll likely be tempted to.

Likeliest outcome? DeCoud keeps his job, at least for a while.

Head Coach

Everyone who has been clamoring for a new coach has been throwing out names like Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher. Those are excellent coaches...if they even want to coach again, and if they want to coach the Falcons. I'd tend to doubt they would come back to the game at all, frankly.

The talk of finding an alternative to Mike Smith is embarrassingly premature. I can understand, with the bad habits he has, why there would be grumbling about him. Teams, particularly teams with playoff aspirations, never cut ties with a coach after three weeks of a season. They especially don't do that with a coach who was at the helm when the team made the NFC Conference Championship Game about, oh, eight months ago. Almost by definition, you're punting the season when you replace your coach partway through a year.

This is a conversation we may have in the off-season, depending on how the rest of the year goes. But Smith is locked in as the coach of the Atlanta Falcons for 2013, and we need to make peace with that reality. He's still a good coach. Let's hope he can fix a few of his short yardage/fourth down/red zone habits and get this team back on the right track.

This isn't getting into punt returner, where Douglas has been mediocre but isn't likely to lose his gig to Robert Alford anytime soon, and tight end, where Tony Gonzalez has had a quiet year.

What do you think?

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