The Falcons game against the Buccaneers was obviously extremely disappointing. The run game looked flat, the pass rush was still nonexistent, and there were unfortunate procedural penalties throughout the game.
If there is a shining light to take away from the loss, it's the performance of Atlanta's two rookie linebackers, Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell. Dan Quinn is throwing Jones and Campbell into the fire during the 2016 season and they've already established themselves as the two best options at middle and weakside linebacker.
Of course the two weren't perfect versus Tampa Bay, but there were enough flashes to give hope that these two could become a formidable duo in the near future.
Campbell started off the game on a strong note, cleaning up behind penetration caused by Grady Jarrett for a six yard tackle for loss on Doug Martin.
What really stood out with Jones and Campbell was the speed that made them so coveted by the Falcons. Deion Jones especially displayed some athleticism that the Falcons hadn't seen since Sean Weatherspoon was in his prime earlier in his career.
Jones isn't known for his ability to stack and shed blocks, but this was an excellent display form the rookie. He's lined up over the B gap on the strong side of the Buccaneers' formation. He reads his key (the left guard) making a down block on the nose tackle and immediately starts scraping over the top to find the ballcarrier.
On his way to the ball, he's met by Joe Hawley, who is coming off of his double team on Grady Jarrett. Jones gives just enough of a push on his way overtop of the formation to knock Hawley over and fill in on the tackle. De'Vondre Campbell had an easy tackle to make in the hole, but he missed the play. Luckily, Jones was right there to fill in behind him.
Watch Deion Jones on this play; his pursuit is excellent. Jones is hovering over B gap in between the right tackle and the right guard. Jones has to respect the potential for a bootleg by Jameis Winston, but once he confirmed that Winston didn't have the ball he hit the gas pedal and sped towards Doug Martin. He outran almost every Falcons defender except for Kemal Ishmael, who made the initial contact on the ballcarrier.
Again, it was a nice play for Jones to clean up for Campbell who failed to recognize the crackback block coming his way. These are things Campbell will learn and recognize as he becomes more comfortable with the speed of the NFL game.
Doug Martin's 25 yard run was the most impressive display of Jones' speed. Jones reportedly ran a 4.38 40 yard dash at his pro day in March. That speed shows here as he begins his pursuit of Martin on the far hash and sprints across the field to meet Doug Martin just before he reaches Ricardo Allen to knock him out of bounds.
The hustle, speed, and pursuit angle were all top notch.
As I mentioned before, Jones isn't great at taking on offensive linemen coming downhill. At the combine he weighed 222 pounds, about 85 pounds less than Ali Marpet who pulled into the hole on the play.
De'Vondre Campbell makes a good play here by filling in his run fit on the left guard and attacking the outside shoulder, but no one is there to fill inside of him and Doug Martin busts it open for a long gain.
Speaking of Campbell, he flashed in coverage in this game. The Falcons tend to take deeper coverage drops past the first down marker in their Cover 3 alignments and bank on speed, explosiveness, and sure tackling to end plays before they gain a lot of yardage.
Campbell's 4.58 40 yard dash time shows up on the tape here as he's able to quickly close on Cameron Brate before he can reach the first down marker. Campbell had another great display of athleticism on coverage of Austin Sefarian-Jenkins that unfortunately resulted in a pass interference penalty.
De'Vondre Campbell followed Sefarian-Jenkins out wide after the Bucs' tight end went in motion outside the numbers. Covering and keeping pace with Jenkins isn't a problem at all for Campbell, but he makes contact before the ball arrives and fails to turn his head around.
As he gets more repetition in practice and in real time, he'll be much better at defending these deep passes, but for now we'll have to take the struggles that come with the adjustment period for rookies.
Overall, Sunday's loss against the Buccaneers was an ugly, deflating loss. However, Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell have given us some hope that the team may have two players in the near future that are capable of making big plays. If Vic Beasley and the pass rush ever come to life at some point this season, Atlanta may have a capable defense within the next couple of years.