It’s now Week 7, and it seems like the Falcons are all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention at 1-5. The team has entered a death spiral after an encouraging Week 2 victory against the Eagles, dropping 4 straight and looking downright awful through the majority of each game. While the offense had a slow start to the season, things seemed to have picked up since the Titans game. The defense, on the other hand, has fallen off a cliff after the strong performance against Philadelphia.
It’s unclear if the issue is the scheme, or the players—it’s probably both, to an extent. While it seems like Dan Quinn is totally unwilling to make any schematic changes, there are some pretty obvious personnel changes that might make sense to give the Falcons a spark. Let’s take a look at some of the players that must see more snaps going forward on Atlanta’s defense.
After watching second-year LB Foyesade Oluokun start and play admirably in an injury-ravaged 2018 season, he’s been largely relegated to the bench this year. It made sense to start the season: Deion Jones was healthy, and De’Vondre Campbell was the presumptive starter next to him based on experience and mostly solid play. Fast forward to Week 7, and Campbell has been a disaster.
It appears that opposing offenses have figured out Campbell’s deficiencies in coverage and are targeting him. Campbell posted a miserable 29.5 PFF grade on his 62 snaps against the Cardinals, which was the worst number on the whole defense. By comparsion, Oluokun posted an elite 90.6 grade on his 9 snaps. It’s time we gave Oluokun a chance to start next to Deion Jones, as he would be a significant upgrade in coverage at worst.
Speaking of players that were forced into action in 2018 and looked good but are now conspicuously absent on game days, let’s talk about Sharrod Neasman. This man has done nothing but play solid football whenever called upon. Neasman spent the 2016 and 2017 seasons with the Falcons, playing sparingly. He was not re-signed for the 2018 season, and spent training camp with the Saints. The Saints cut him prior the season, and Neasman rejoined the Falcons in late September.
After Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen went down with injury, Neasman still didn’t get a chance to play. The team instead traded for Jordan Richards, and elected to start him. Jordan Richards was a disaster for weeks before the team gave Neasman a shot. Once Neasman entered the lineup, it was obvious that he was a better option, and Neasman finished out the season as a solid starter.
Fast forward to now, and the Falcons have once again had injuries at safety. Keanu Neal went down, and the team turned to LB/S hybrid Kemal Ishmael. Ishmael is a good tackler, but he’s awful in coverage—and teams are exploiting it. Ishmael garnered the second-worst PFF rating on the team this week, 32.7, and played all 69 defensive snaps. Meanwhile, Neasman continues to ride the bench. I don’t know why Quinn is so loathe to give Neasman starting snaps, but it needs to happen now.
Rookie 5th-rounder Jordan Miller has gotten very few opportunities to play this year, but perhaps it’s time to see what he can do. Desmond Trufant is hurt—and may miss more time yet—and Isaiah Oliver has been a disaster in the coverage scheme that Quinn has elected to run this season. Fellow rookie Kendall Sheffield got an opportunity to play this week, and made the most of his chances: he had the 3rd-highest PFF rating on the defense, 77.0, and passed the eye test too.
With Trufant and veteran Blidi Wreh-Wilson hurt, it’s time to give Jordan Miller an opportunity to get on the field. He’s a similar style of CB to Isaiah Oliver with his size and length, but might fare better in whatever scheme Dan Quinn is running. There’s no way the secondary could get worse, right?
This one is more for evaluation purposes than anything else. The DTs have largely been OK, with Grady Jarrett one of the few bright spots on defense and Tyeler Davison being a dominant force against the run. But with Jack Crawford a free agent next year and Allen Bailey a potential cap casualty, this defense needs to find out what they have in second-year DT Deadrin Senat.
We’ve seen Senat look good whenever he’s been on the field, and he was impressive during the preseason. Much like Sharrod Neasman, it’s unclear why Senat isn’t being given an opportunity to get on the field. Unlike Neasman, Senat is a third-round pick from only a year ago. He needs to be given a chance to prove himself, even if it’s just a handful of snaps a game. If not for Quinn’s sake, then to at least give him some tape for the future coach to evaluate.
What are your thoughts on the potential of these players? Are there any reserves who you’d like to see get a chance to enter the starting lineup?