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Falcons snap counts for Week 8: Russell Gage’s big day and a shifting defense

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It was a great day for some young players, but others are still buried on the depth chart.

NFL: OCT 13 Falcons at Cardinals Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Snap counts tell a story. The one being told this week is a positive one for Russell Gage, a dispiriting one for the likes of Jack Crawford and Foye Oluokun, and a depressing one for Falcons fans who are probably beyond tired of enduring this team at this point.

Onward.

Offense

Matt Schaub: 80

Jake Matthews: 80

Wes Schweitzer: 80

Alex Mack: 80

Kaleb McGary: 80

Jamon Brown: 79

Austin Hooper: 70

Calvin Ridley: 64

Devonta Freeman: 64

Julio Jones: 62

Russell Gage: 47

Luke Stocker: 31

Christian Blake: 14

Justin Hardy: 12

Brian Hill: 11

Keith Smith: 11

Jaeden Graham: 6

Kenjon Barner: 5

Olamide Zaccheaus: 2

Ty Sambrailo: 2


The big note here is that Russell Gage seized his opportunity and played a ton more snaps. I expected to see a heavier dose of Justin Hardy on early downs, but instead, Gage took on a very prominent role. He wound up being one of Matt Schaub’s preferred bailout options, as he got nine targets (eight of them on-target) for 58 yards on Sunday. He’s going to get every chance to prove he can be the third receiver in this offense, and the early returns are encouraging.

At this point, the team’s usage of Freeman makes me want to die. He’s running short routes and proving to be a capable safety valve in the passing game, as he has been in years past, but mostly Dirk Koetter is just jamming him into a so-so offensive line on first and second downs, including situations where there are two tight ends on the field and it is beyond obvious they’re running the ball. Free has not been stellar—that fumble yesterday was not great!—but if this is going to be his usage going forward they ought to have the courtesy to try to ship him to a contender interested in actually utilizing him.

Julio Jones dominated again, unsurprisingly.

Defense

Ricardo Allen: 61

Isaiah Oliver: 58

De’Vondre Campbell: 57

Blidi Wreh-Wilson: 57

Grady Jarrett: 55

Deion Jones: 54

Kendall Sheffield: 50

Damontae Kazee: 48

Takk McKinley: 48

Vic Beasley: 40

Tyeler Davison: 38

Allen Bailey: 38

Adrian Clayborn: 23

Kemal Ishmael: 18

Jack Crawford: 17

Foye Oluokun: 7

John Cominsky: 2


The plan is very difficult to figure out, here. Atlanta threw another secondary-related curveball in this one, starting Kazee at free safety, moving Ricardo Allen to strong safety, starting Wreh-Wilson and Oliver outside, and letting Sheffield get some run at nickel. They ultimately mixed and matched a bit throughout the game, but the defense definitely looked a little sharper with that group.

A little bit. The truth is that while the coverage was generally tighter, the Falcons can’t seem to get it all working for four quarters. The run defense had a tough time with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny all day—the two combined for 145 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries—and the Falcons again allowed a decisive touchdown where a receiver was completely uncovered due to what appeared to be confusion and communication issues. They held the Seahawks to 27 points and that’s nothing to sneeze at, especially when the pass rush actually did something, but it was still not a great defensive effort by any stretch of the imagination.

It’s also worth noting that a week after the team gave more playing time to guys like Jamal Carter, Foye Oluokun, and John Cominsky, those three combined to play just nine snaps on Sunday. Cominsky was forced from the game with an injury, but going forward I hope to see more of those guys and (he bleated, as always) Deadrin Senat. The Falcons are absolutely, 130% cooked at 1-7, and while they’re not exactly gonna go out there and give up, they can’t keep parking possibly capable young players who more than likely will have to play a lot in 2020.

Ultimately, it is shocking how slow the Falcons have been to do things like get Wreh-Wilson into games considering he’s always played well as a Falcon, and they still have formerly solid players getting tiny bench roles for one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Jack Crawford, especially, should be a player the Falcons consider shopping to a contender given that they seemingly do not plan to use him the rest of the year.

Everything is lost and everyone feels lost, and that remains one of the most alarming subplots of this season.

Special Teams

Foye Oluokun: 22

Sharrod Neasman: 22

Jaeden Graham: 20

Keith Smith: 17

Jermaine G race: 17

Brian Hill: 17

Jamal Carter: 14

Luke Stocker: 11

Justin Hardy: 11

Kenjon Barner: 11

Kasey Redfern: 10

Jordan Miller: 10


Special teams was nothing to write home about again. Redfern continues to be an unobjectionable punter and kickoff specialist, Matt Bryant continues to miss kicks he would’ve hit in his sleep in years past, and the coverage and return games are fine, nothing more.

The biggest concern going forward is the specialists, in my opinion. We’re not sure if Matt Bosher is coming back—given the cost-cutting ahead, probably not—and the team will finally have to replace Matt Bryant for real in 2020. Given their inability to actually do so in 2019, that’ll be one of the most stressful subplots of the offseason ahead.