The biggest difference between the Falcons’ defense in 2014 and the Falcons’ defense today might be, without hyperbole, the Deion Jones versus Paul Worrilow difference.
Things were very different in Mike Smith’s last year in Atlanta, when the team had big beefy run stoppers more or less across the defensive line and very little pass rush, plus a very different safety situation. But because of the situation up front, the Falcons desperately needed a hyper-athletic linebacker or two who could handle coverage duties, and they did not have that.
Worrilow was a tackling machine who was always around the football, and we’ve probably been too hard on his production over the years, as he was capable enough against the run and a useful blitzer at times. In coverage, however, he struggled mightily at times, and combined with the rest of the defensive ineptitude we saw for Atlanta, it led to some big problems. In a better unit Worrilow could well have been a bigger asset, but the coverage liabilities were real enough.
Deion Jones was 1 of 4 inside linebackers to allow less than 8 yards per completion! pic.twitter.com/jDiLUY7O8o— PFF ATL Falcons (@PFF_Falcons) August 1, 2018
Deion Jones, on the other hand, makes every Falcons middle linebacker after Jessie Tuggle look like a bumbler in coverage, not just Worrilow. As the stat above illustrates, Debo has proven to be a tremendous asset in coverage, with quality instincts, a willingness to attack the ball, and the raw speed to close the gap in a hurry if his opponent does manage to shake free of him. It’s not an exaggeration to say that has transformed this defense, because you can be reasonably sure that if Deion Jones has a hapless running back or tight end in his sights, that player is either going to be erased or swiftly brought down most of the time. Considering how many times the Falcons’ excellent cornerbacks have taken their assignments out of the game only to watch a tight end or running back pick up an easy first down, Jones’ talent is a vital one.
It’s striking how differently this defense is built than it was five short seasons ago, but Deion Jones has been the key to the rebuild, and he’ll continue to be just that.