The Falcons (1-5) head back home to take on the Rams (3-3) in Week 7. Heading into the season, this was certainly one of the most anticipated games on the schedule. We expected a showdown between two elite offenses and two improving defenses. In reality, it appears we’ll get the offensive fireworks, but both of these defenses have been disappointing on the whole.
Atlanta is in desperate need of a win to snap a month-long losing streak, and also to give Quinn any hope of keeping his job through the bye week. The Rams, meanwhile, need a win here to keep pace in their division, which features the 49ers (5-0) and Seahawks (5-1). Here are some of the most interesting Falcons to watch as these two teams clash in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday.
In the midst of Atlanta’s four-game losing streak, we’ve seen the defense continue to look worse and worse every week. The overall low point was against the Texans in Week 5, but last week’s performance against the Cardinals wasn’t significantly better. Dan Quinn’s “adjustments” to the defense have resulted in zero sacks since Week 3.
Sooner or later, Quinn is either going to realize that he needs to get more aggressive defensively, or he’s going to realize he’s out of a job. The Falcons have been dropping more players into the coverage and sending fewer players to rush the quarterback, and it’s resulted in worse performances all around. This is not a defense that is meant to be passive, timid, and soft—yet that’s how Quinn has been scheming it since the Eagles game. Can he make the necessary adjustments this week? I’m not convinced.
With Desmond Trufant likely to miss this week’s game, there will be even more pressure put on rookie CB Kendall Sheffield. Sheffield was a bright spot on the defense in Week 6, posting one of the highest overall PFF grades on the team. He’s still raw technically, but his athleticism makes him far more suited to the zone-heavy, off-coverage scheme that Quinn is trying to run.
Sheffield will face a tough challenge this week, as the Rams have arguably the NFL’s best WR trio (outside of the Falcons) in Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Brandin Cooks. How he performs will be a big factor in how well the Falcons can manage to contain the Rams offense.
Wes Schweitzer appears to be the Ryan Fitzpatrick of guards: if he’s on your roster as a backup, he’s going to start games for you no matter what. He had to step in earlier in the season to replace the injured Chris Lindstrom, then to fill-in for the injured Jamon Brown. Now it’s looking like he’ll have to shift over to LG to fill in for veteran James Carpenter, who did not practice on Thursday.
Schweitzer isn’t bad, but he’s a downgrade from starting-quality offensive linemen. As a spot starter for a game or two, the Falcons could do a whole lot worse. But by the end of year, it’s looking like Schweitzer will have started or played in a majority of games. Schweitzer’s biggest weakness is going up against elite defensive linemen—he was destroyed by J.J. Watt repeatedly, and he has a history of getting dominated by Aaron Donald. Hopefully the Falcons can find ways to give him help against the Rams.
After starting and playing well in 2018, Foyesade Oluokun found himself relegated to the bench after Deion Jones returned. Now, with De’Vondre Campbell a huge liability in coverage, it’s time for Atlanta to put Oluokun back on the field. The second-year LB is very smart and much more comfortable in coverage than Campbell, and has plenty of starting experience from last season.
At this point, continuing to trot Campbell out there to get roasted is defensive malpractice. Opposing offenses are targeting him (and Kemal Ishmael, but at least Ishmael is a backup) every single week for huge, consistent gains. Oluokun provides a clear upgrade—and makes practical sense to play as well, with Campbell a free agent in 2020. Will he actually get an opportunity to play? We’ll see, but I think he’ll provide an immediate boost to the LB corps.
The pass rush
By far, the most disappointing unit on the defense this season has been the pass rush. After starting out hot with 5 sacks in the first three weeks (and a lot more pressures and QB hits), the Falcons have managed none in three straight games. That’s a very difficult feat, and an embarrassing one to say the least.
A lot of that has to do with Dan Quinn’s new “drop everyone into coverage” scheme on defense, which is limiting opportunities and giving QBs tons of time to throw. The other half has to do with the awful play of Vic Beasley and the disappointing play of Takk McKinley. Neither has played up to expectations this year, and it’s time they started. I remarked that the decision to bring Beasley back at his ridiculous $12.8M price tag could cost Quinn his job, and it seems like that’s going to be the case.
Who are some players you’ll be watching closely when the Falcons take on the Rams on Sunday?