The Atlanta Falcons have done a masterful job of assembling a quality, deep defensive line, a trick Dan Quinn likely picked up during his time in Seattle. The more guys you have to rotate through your line, the fresher you keep everyone, and the better you’re able to trot out different lineups for disparate matchups. We saw that just this last weekend against Buffalo, when Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby got a larger share of the snaps against a Bills team that likes to run the ball.
It’s great in theory and execution, and it also allows you to absorb the loss of a useful defensive lineman more ably than you’d be able to if you were reliant on three or four stars and a bunch of no-name backups. Unfortunately, the Falcons are weathering that storm right now.
They were already without star pass rusher Vic Beasley Sunday, and have been without the services of extremely useful backup Courtney Upshaw, who can play defensive tackle or end and has been on fire since late last season. Things got even grimmer when they lost Jack Crawford, who only got 12 snaps against Buffalo. We now know he’s on injured reserve and may well miss the rest of the season.
This has impacts that are both obvious and subtle. Crawford was playing pretty well as a reserve defensive tackle, and the Falcons are now weaker and less deep behind Dontari Poe and Grady Jarrett. Upshaw is the smart bet to pick up a lot of those snaps and is a fine player in his own right, but Crawford showed an aptitude for slashing his way into the backfield that can’t be immediately replaced.
With Crawford out, you can expect the Falcons to sign one of the players they worked out the other day. Whoever they sign will be a massive downgrade from Crawford unless the Falcons can once again unearth a diamond sitting out in the refuse heap, obviously, and the Falcons will have to rely more on the likes of Upshaw, Derrick Shelby and Joe Vellano to fill the void at defensive tackle. It’s not a fatal loss—the Falcons built wisely along the line—but they can ill afford more attrition at this point.
As for Crawford, we’ll hope he’s able to return and be an asset in the playoffs, if the Falcons get there, or at the latest Week 1 of next year.