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Falcons snap counts for yet another loss to the Cardinals

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The subtle changes the Falcons promised were awfully subtle.

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At this point, the Falcons are who they are, and they show no signs of changing. Their offense has picked up speed in recent weeks but the defense remains a kind of lethal trouble spot they can’t seem to fix. As Dan Quinn promised it would be, changes to playing time this week were subtle to the point of hardly being noticeable, with the exception of Kendall Sheffield taking on a huge role with Desmond Trufant out.

Let’s talk snap counts.

Offense

Matt Ryan: 69

Jake Matthews: 69

Alex Mack: 69

Kaleb McGary: 69

Jamon Brown: 63

Austin Hooper: 53

James Carpenter: 50

Devonta Freeman: 50

Mohamed Sanu: 47

Julio Jones: 47

Calvin Ridley: 41

Luke Stocker: 38

Wes Schweitzer: 25

Keith Smith: 18

Ito Smith: 18

Russell Gage: 13

Justin Hardy: 9

Jaeden Graham: 8

Olamide Zaccheaus: 3


Injury continues to be the story of the guard position on this roster. This time it was both Jamon Brown (who missed only six snaps) and James Carpenter (who missed 19) who were dealing with ailments, forcing Wes Schweitzer into the game for a combined 25 snaps at both positions. The line held up reasonably well but fared poorly at inopportune times, and it’s maddening how often that’s true. Brown continues to play pretty well but is good for a handful of missed snaps seemingly every game, while Carpenter has been a bit of a disappointment at left guard. This is a situation that will only be bettered when Chris Lindstrom returns, unfortunately.

In other snap-related news, Devonta Freeman appears to be in the driver’s seat for snaps at running back, with Ito Smith’s snap share falling hugely over the last couple of weeks. Free had his best game of the season against the Cardinals, rushing 19 times for 88 yards and catching three passes for 30 yards and two touchdowns on a day when Arizona struggled mightily to contain him. That’s a very positive sign for the future, as the Falcons have always functioned best when they have a legitimate rushing attack to lean on.

Otherwise, few surprises here. The Falcons are still leaning heavily on their top weapons and rolling out Luke Stocker as a blocker and occasional target on plays destined to go awry, with some of their interesting young players like Graham, Gage, and Zaccheaus getting little to work with. At some point it might behoove the Falcons to see what they have with Graham and Gage in particular, given some of the roster shakeups likely to come in 2020, but at least the offense is clicking enough to put up 30 points in back-to-back weeks.

Defense

Kendall Sheffield: 69

Isaiah Oliver: 69

Kemal Ishmael: 69

Ricardo Allen: 69

Deion Jones: 67

De’Vondre Campbell: 62

Grady Jarrett: 56

Damontae Kazee: 56

Vic Beasley: 53

Takk McKinley: 52

Tyeler Davison: 39

Allen Bailey: 38

Adrian Clayborn: 29

Jack Crawford: 17

Foye Oluokun: 9

John Cominsky: 4

Jermaine Grace: 1


Speaking of shakeups, the defense certainly looks like it could use one!

The run defense in Atlanta has improved enough to finish the year in the top 10 or 15 across the league, as aside from a handful of productive runs from Chase Edmonds, they slowed Arizona to the tune of 20 carries for 102 yards. There’s no question that the additions of Tyeler Davison in particular, plus Adrian Clayborn and Allen Bailey, have delivered the results the Falcons were looking for on that front.

The problem is that stopping the run hasn’t translated into wins, or really anything close to it, and the Falcons are still getting absolutely killed through the air. Murray threw some beautiful balls that were tightly contested by the likes of Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield—and Sheffield in particular did pretty well for a rookie fourth rounder stepping into 100% of the defensive snaps after largely playing meager snaps to this point—but he also found way too many open guys. Nobody should be free of criticism after Murray tossed three touchdowns and threw for a cool 340 yards, but it definitely was not Kemal Ishmael or De’Vondre Campbell’s finest day out there if you’d like to single folks out.

At this point, though, it’s not just one or two guys, but a systemic failure. The truth is that the Falcons are getting burnt to a crisp but are being given no chance to excel because the pass rush has utterly vanished. The Falcons haven’t gotten what they need out of Jack Crawford this year, but his snaps have also become more limited as the weeks wear on, and Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley are fighting but aren’t getting there. I don’t even know if I ever saw Beasley get close on Sunday.

In what’s increasingly becoming a lost year, it’s probably a good time to start bringing in the likes of Jermaine Grace, John Cominsky, Sharrod Neasman, Jamal Carter, and certainly more Kendall Sheffield. Those players all have chances to be at least impactful reserves on the next iteration of this Falcons team, and while I know the Falcons will be loathe to appear as though they’re giving up on the season, the reality is that squandering playing time for promising young guys in the pursuit of wins that probably aren’t going to come isn’t going to fly for the second straight season. Certainly what the Falcons are rolling out there isn’t giving them much of a chance to win.

Special Teams

Foye Oluokun: 27

Sharrod Neasman: 27

Russell Gage: 26

Jaeden Graham: 26

Jamal Carter: 24

Keith Smith: 21

Jermaine Grace: 21

Luke Stocker: 16

Jordan Miller: 14

Olamide Zaccheaus: 14

Tyeler Davison: 12

D.J. White: 11

Kenjon Barner: 11

Kasey Redfern: 10


There’s such a sharp disconnect between the snaps on defense and snaps on special teams this year, and while that’s not exactly rare, it is noteworthy. The team’s special teams unit continues to chug along and provide better coverage than it did a year ago, rarely allowing teams to win the field position battle unless, of course, kickoffs or punts go awry. While Matt Bryant has missed field goals and extra points and the team has run through a series of punters, it’s really striking how well a group of mostly young players who mostly never play on defense have done here.

That does not necessarily mean that they need to be involved on defense, but I think you do have to consider it. Sharrod Neasman is coming off a year where he was a mostly solid option as a starting safety for a team that needed one, and he’s consistently doing fine work on teams. Ditto Foye Oluokun and Jermaine Grace, with Oluokun putting plenty of solid games on tape in 2018 and receiving no playing time in 2019 for his troubles. With the team’s current personnel and overarching defense not working out, perhaps it’s time to tap special teams for options.