The Falcons have a game tomorrow night, and then they effectively have almost two weeks until their next game. The bye week is an ideal opportunity for the team to make changes they haven’t wanted to make to this point, both because they have seven games to study and have the time to make a serious change.
The biggest change will be either getting players healthy or getting them closer to healthy. Deion Jones is the arrival we’re all waiting for, of course, but the Falcons have a number of injuries that will benefit from further rest.
Those include Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley, who are both dealing with injuries, as well as Matt “Strained Hamstring” Bryant. Both Grady Jarrett and Derrick Shelby certainly could benefit from the time to heal up, as well. If you’re counting at home, that’s four starters and a potentially valuable reserve who could all be a lot closer to 100% when the Falcons suit up for Week 9. That’s a big deal.
Changes to the defense
The Falcons have already begun to do this, with the creeping promise of Foye Oluokun stepping into the lineup for Duke Riley, But the extra breathing room will give Atlanta the chance to take a hard look at the defense and see where they might be able to make other key changes to better the unit.
One of the first priorities should be making the call on Jordan Richards at strong safety. The Falcons acquired Richards to be a key special teamer and emergency fourth safety, essentially, but injuries quickly moved him into the lineup in a way the team couldn’t have foreseen. Unfortunately for them, Richards has been somewhere between slightly useful and a huge liability during his snaps at strong safety, and the Falcons need to seriously consider getting him off the field in favor of Keith Tandy or even Sharrod Neasman. He’ll have put a few weeks of game tape out there now, so there’s no excuse not to really spend the time looking at that possibility.
The team will also want to consider making real changes to their snap distribution up front. Terrell McClain has been a net zero for this team, in my honest (if harsh) opinion, and so he should lose snaps to Jack Crawford and Deadrin Senat whenever possible, and perhaps even Mike Bennett. Crawford has been one of the team’s most productive pass rushers and Senat is solid and growing, while McClain likely won’t be here a year from now.
Defensive end is a similar issue, with Vic Beasley just not adding much as a pass rusher yet soaking up huge snaps. It’s an especially tough call for a former first rounder, but the team may want to consider letting Brooks Reed and Steven Means take bigger bites out of his snaps to try to get some slight improvement out of the pass rush. Reed, at least, has been far more productive in that regard than Beasley to this point.
Tevin Coleman’s usage
This one feels like something that should have happened already, but maybe Steve Sarkisian would benefit from a multi-day film session at Flowery Branch.
Editor’s Note: Originally this line had a reference to Sarkisian having a glass of wine along with his film session. That was not meant to be a reference to his battle with alcoholism, which he’s been admirably open about, but was extremely poorly chosen and I apologize to Sark and our readers for not immediately catching that. We never want to be a part of belittling off-the-field issues for players or coaches, and I appreciate those of you who emailed me to point it out.
Coleman has not fared particularly well as a runner this year, with a handful of very notable exceptions, and is a notoriously dangerous weapon in the passing game. Particularly with Ridley and Sanu banged up, I’m hopeful the team will get him more involved as a receiver and let Ito Smith carry more of the load on the ground.
To date, Coleman’s averaging 2.2 receptions per game, which is only down slightly from the 2.4 he averaged during 2016 with Kyle Shanahan. The problem is that he’s averaging only 17.5 yards per game as a receiver, compared to nearly 33 under Shanny. I’ve been encouraged by many of the changes Sark made heading into this season, but his usage of Coleman remains an unnecessary trouble spot.
What else are you hoping will change?