Look, the Falcons are going to miss Adrian Clayborn. He was the team’s third-most productive pass rusher, depending on how you want to rank such things, and the Falcons have to move forward with what could be a genuinely diminished pass rush. The Falcons did well enough against the Cardinals, but we’ll just have to wait and see whether Clayborn’s absence has an outsized impact on the likes of Vic Beasley and Dwight Freeney.
Today, though, we also have to think about what the Falcons are going to do without Clayborn, who played defensive end and defensive tackle for Atlanta. Our intrepid reporter Jeanna Thomas was at Flowery Branch yesterday, and heard directly from Dan Quinn.
Quinn says Freeney is getting about 20 snaps a game and they can ramp that up because he's feeling fresh.— Jeanna (@jeannathomas) November 30, 2016
Quinn says for Clayborn, was good news that it isn't a season-ended. Outside Freeney will fill in, inside Upshaw and possibly Reed.— Jeanna (@jeannathomas) November 30, 2016
The primary beneficiary of this move, then, will likely be Dwight Freeney. The savvy veteran has three sacks on the season and can still generate pressure, but he’s 36 years old and probably isn’t going to log 40 snaps per game the rest of the way. An increase in snaps is welcome, given that he’s still a tremendous player, but the reality is that Brooks Reed and Courtney Upshaw are going to get a little time at end, not just inside. Neither is a terrific pass rushing option, though I look forward to them teaming up to split sacks like they did against Carson Palmer. The more Freeney is on the field, the better the pass rush will be.
The other potential beneficiaries of Clayborn’s absence are less obvious, and less likely to see any kind of significant increase in playing time. They are veteran Cliff Matthews, who has a lot of experience playing defensive end and some playing inside, and center/guard Ben Garland, who has been surprisingly effective with a handful of snaps at defensive tackle. Neither is a pass rushing option, though, so you might just see them in obvious run situations as the Falcons seek to give their more productive pass rushers a breather.
We’re hopeful (and cautiously optimistic) that Adrian Clayborn will be back if the Falcons make the playoffs, because they’re going to need him against some of the better passing offenses that are lurking in the playoff picture.