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Falcons snap counts from a defense-led win over the Buccaneers

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The offense disappointed us one final time in 2019.

NFL: DEC 29 Falcons at Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One final time, we dip into snap counts. Okay, this is actually the second-to-last time because I’m rounding up the whole season snap counts in the coming days, but nonetheless.

The tale here is a familiar one in the second half of the season. The defense largely did its job, holding the Buccaneers to field goal tries and getting the offense the ball back and holding Tampa Bay scoreless for three out of four quarters. The offense, meanwhile, used a ton of plays to accomplish very little, with particularly pitiful performances in the red zone all day long. If that’s the theme again in 2020, the Falcons may win a couple more games, but it won’t be particularly fun to watch.

Onward.

Offense

Matt Ryan: 89

Jake Matthews: 89

Alex Mack: 89

Chris Lindstrom: 89

Kaleb McGary: 89

Wes Schweitzer: 85

Julio Jones: 73

Christian Blake: 67

Austin Hooper: 64

Russell Gage: 62

Devonta Freeman: 54

Luke Stocker: 37

Keith Smith: 18

Brian Hill: 18

Olamide Zaccheaus: 14

Justin Hardy: 12

Qadree Ollison: 10

Jaeden Graham: 9

Kenjon Barner: 5

Matt Gono: 4

Ty Sambrailo: 2


The Falcons ended their year in offensive line woes with some fascinating questions to answer this offseason. The only locks to start next year are Jake Matthews—the team’s best offensive lineman by a fairly wide margin this year—and soon-to-be second-year pros Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. The other two starters in this one could both be gone, Alex Mack because his release frees up an enormous amount of cap space and because he’s getting older, Wes Schweitzer because he’s heading into free agency.

Schweitzer will be a particularly interesting case. The Falcons spent big to replace him and came away looking really dumb for doing so, given that neither James Carpenter or Jamon Brown were all that great in 2019. Schweitzer wound up starting seven games this year and mixed into 15, and he’s now got 36 starts under his belt in the last three seasons. The Falcons may be comfortable using the draft or even Matt Gono to replace him—and I hope they look very seriously at doing so—but that’s an experienced player with some guard and center flexibility who could be heading elsewhere. If they do move on from Mack, they could have two positions to fill, which is incredible after the resources they invested this offseason.

Beyond that, the Falcons have major questions at the skill positions. Christian Blake was a much-hyped preseason star who looked great against the Saints but followed that up by getting a ton of snaps post-Ridley’s injury and producing basically nothing. He’s averaged about 75% of the offensive snaps over the final three weeks of the season and has three targets and no catches in that span. Russell Gage has produced as a possession receiver, Olamide Zaccheaus has shown flashes of being a promising deep threat and Justin Hardy is a free agent, meaning the depth beyond Julio Jones and Ridley is far from settled heading into next year.

At least the Falcons have top-tier options and intriguing young talent at receiver, though. At running back the question marks are myriad, with Devonta Freeman looming as a potential cut, Ito Smith recovering from a two-concussion year, Brian Hill a restricted free agent, and Qadree Ollison showing some great touchdown vulturing skills but not much else in his limited opportunities. There’s no obvious, slam dunk lead back next year in this group, and the ground game had a ton of problems thanks to Dirk Koetter’s play calling and awful run blocking in the first place.

The offense is a little bit messy and full of question marks, in other words, something this performance highlighted. We’ll hope all the young backs and receivers can take a step forward and the Falcons can settle their offensive line needs cheaply and effectively, but I wouldn’t count on all those things going right. They rarely do.

Defense

Isaiah Oliver: 51

Damontae Kazee: 50

De’Vondre Campbell: 46

Deion Jones: 45

Blidi Wreh-Wilson: 44

Vic Beasley: 44

Grady Jarrett: 41

Ricardo Allen: 35

Jacob Tuioti-Mariner: 30

John Cominsky: 28

Foye Oluokun: 27

Tyeler Davison: 25

Kendall Sheffield: 23

Jack Crawford: 21

Jamar Taylor: 20

Austin Larkin: 10

Deadrin Senat: 8

Jamal Carter: 7

Allen Bailey: 5

Sharrod Neasman: 1


The Falcons defense capped off the season in much higher spirits than the offense, and with considerable justification. They have really played well most of the second half of the season.

That raises some interesting questions for the offseason ahead. What do you do with De’Vondre Campbell, who shook off a lackluster late 2018 and early 2019 to make a lot of big plays in the second half? He still has his struggles in coverage, but the Falcons would surely prefer to keep him than try to replace the physicality and athleticism he brings to the defense. Can they afford to do so?

The same question applies to a lesser extent to guys like Jack Crawford, Tyeler Davison, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, all of whom should come at a reasonable price. Davison has been stellar against the run all year, Crawford came on as a pass rusher with expanded playing time down the stretch, and Wreh-Wilson has been genuinely impressive every time he’s been called upon. In an ideal world, Atlanta would bring back all three and Adrian Clayborn, who was the team’s most effective defensive lineman not named Grady Jarrett.

They may find the money to do so by releasing Allen Bailey, who only got five snaps in the season finale and seems to have fallen behind John Cominsky and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner. Both of those players will be back in 2020 and offer affordable, reasonably priced upside, something this team needs more of.

I know Atlanta cared most about winning, but it was disappointing to see Larkin, Senat, and Carter get so few snaps when all three will probably be heavily considered for larger reserve roles in 2020. Senat, in particular, has performed well whenever given the opportunity, and he may need to take on Tyeler Davison’s role next year if the team can’t re-sign the underrated run stopper.

A defense returning Takk, Jarrett, Senat, Cominsky, Tuioti-Mariner, Deion Jones, Oluokun, Trufant, Sheffield, Oliver, Allen, and Neal has solid head start on being solid, but they’ll still have to nail the offseason.

Special Teams

Sharrod Neasman: 21

Kemal Ishmael: 21

Jaeden Graham: 21

Olamide Zaccheaus: 16

Keith Smith: 16

Austin Larkin: 14

Younghoe Koo: 13

Brian Hill: 13

Jamal Carter: 12

Tyeler Davison: 11

Luke Stocker: 11

Jamar Taylor: 10


The Falcons have some interesting decisions looming here, too. Neasman and Ishmael have been two of the team’s best and most reliable special teamers for a couple of years running now—Ishmael for much, much longer than that, really—and both are free agents this year. So are Keith Smith, Younghoe Koo, and punter Ryan Allen. How many of those guys can and will be priorities for Atlanta?

You have to think Neasman and Koo will top the list. Neasman has shown he can play safety at a reasonably high level in the NFL, even if he never really got chances this year, and is definitely an asset on teams because of his awareness, physicality, and durability. Koo has done little but drill field goals and show legendary onside kick skills over his eight games in Atlanta, and he should be back with a good chance of holding on to the job in 2020.

Beyond that, we’ll have to see.