The Atlanta Falcons and Ahtyba Rubin were a necessary match this past season. Early in the year, the Falcons’ run defense was gouged
It would be unfair to say that Rubin stabilized the Falcons’ run defense, but he did start to have a positive impact around Week 8 against the Jets. The Falcons were annihilated on the ground by the Panthers in Week 9, chiefly thanks to Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey, but they only surrendered over 100 yards three times the rest of the way, and once more in the playoffs. Rubin’s stout run defense in the middle helped.
But how much? As a largely one-dimensional run stopper at this stage of his career, is Rubin worth keeping around? Here’s the case for and against.
As we covered, Rubin’s bread and butter is run defense. He’s a tough man to move in the middle, as he’s big, strong and squat, and while playing anywhere from 5-20 snaps per game for the Falcons, he was able to block running lanes and make the occasional stop. You’re playing Grady Jarrett, Dontari Poe/your next new defensive tackle, and Jack Crawford to be able to add some pass rushing punch to your interior defensive line, but sometimes you just want to stop the run. Rubin still does that extremely well, and at a budget price.
The Falcons leaned very heavily on Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe in 2017, something they may want to avoid doing a second straight year, assuming Poe even comes back. While the Falcons compulsively rotated their defensive ends, with Takk McKinley, Vic Beasley, Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby typically getting 20-plus snaps each, but Jarrett and Poe absolutely dominated the snaps at defensive tackle, playing 66-90% of the snaps most every game.
Rubin isn’t really a solution to that problem. The Falcons used him sparingly most games, getting him in on obvious run downs and situations where extra beef was required to give the starters a breather and help out stopping ground games inclined to attack the middle of the defensive line. He’s a good player well-suited for that role, but unless the Falcons were ravaged by injury, that’s about what he’s going to give you on this defense. Ideally, you’d probably have a younger player getting more snaps in that role, and perhaps one who can take on more responsibility.
The Verdict: Yes
I go back and forth on Rubin’s status, but in the end I think the Falcons are too thin at defensive tackle to pass up a solid run stopper who will likely make the veteran minimum in 2018. Rubin can expect to return to a very similar role once the Falcons either re-sign Poe or draft a defensive tackle early, add a healthy Jack Crawford back to the rotation, and probably sign one more guy to fill out the depth chart. Unless he can find a larger role elsewhere, it’s a sensible landing spot for both sides, and Rubin will continue to play a role on what hopefully is a very good run defense in 2018.