The bad news is that the injuries are piling up again for the Atlanta Falcons, which is invariably a giant bummer. Desmond Trufant is gone for the year after returning and playing very well earlier this year, Wes Schweitzer was out of the game with a shoulder injury against the Panthers, and Calvin Ridley left the field with a scary ailment that was mildly described as an abdominal injury.
Those injuries make the outlook against the 49ers even more grim, but they will also give a handful of young Falcons a shot they otherwise may not have gotten, given that Atlanta remains intent on winning games despite the fact that the season is lost. Here are three that could step into bigger roles next week if these three players are on the shelf, though we hope most fervently that both Ridley and Schweitzer are healthy and back in action.
James Carpenter may be back this week, but I don’t know that you can reasonably argue that he or Jamon Brown have played well enough to put Gono back in inactives.
On 36 snaps Sunday, Gono was quite productive and effective, throwing good block, showing promising mobility, and looking as strong and capable as the coaching staff told us he could be. I don’t see any reason, even if Schweitzer is back, that Gono shouldn’t get significant playing time against a tough 49ers front that has a solid chance of eating up anyone the Falcons throw out there.
Given that the guard situation looks unsettled again in 2020 with Carpenter and Brown potentially on the chopping block and Schweitzer hitting free agency, it makes sense to figure out if Gono can be a starting-caliber player next year.
Russell Gage is already a proven player given his productivity to this point, and Christian Blake’s big game against the Saints made it clear that he has potential. The most unknown player in this receiving corps heading into the game was Olamide Zaccheaus, and in one brilliant moment, he showed us what he’s capable of.
Zaccheaus and his 93 yard grab will be worth buzzing about for a while yet, but on the hopefully remote chance that Ridley isn’t ready to go, he may be in line for a larger role again. His speed and elusiveness should make him a fun player for Dirk Koetter to make use of, and it’s a little surprising he hasn’t more opportunities to pick up carries, given that Koetter’s been fond of doing that for Ridley. Maybe that changes this week.
The Falcons have three established corners already, so the opportunities for Miller might be harder to come by. Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield have turned into solid starters with upside and Blidi Wreh-Wilson is a veteran I love, given that he always steps in and does a good job when called upon. The Falcons should still be able to find playing time for Miller with Trufant now out for the rest of the year.
Miller drew praise for his polish and instincts coming out of college, which led some to speculate that he might get an opportunity before Sheffield, who was considered relatively raw coming out of Ohio State. That hasn’t been the case at all, but Miller’s length, athleticism and coverage chops remaining intrigue, and the Falcons should figure out whether he’ll be someone they can rely on as a top reserve in 2020. No time like the present.