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Reserves step in and more snap count notes from Falcons - Bears

The Falcons had to lean heavily on their backups, with mixed results.

NFL: SEP 27 Bears at Falcons Photo by David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With so many injuries, you might’ve figured the snap counts would tell a few interesting stories for the Falcons this week. While they’re not all pleasant stories, they are worth looking into.

To the snap counts!

Offense

Matt Ryan: 68

Jake Matthews: 68

Alex Mack: 68

Chris Lindstrom: 68

Matt Gono: 68

Calvin Ridley: 63

James Carpenter: 61

Olamide Zaccheaus: 54

Hayden Hurst: 43

Brandon Powell: 37

Todd Gurley: 35

Luke Stocker: 32

Brian Hill: 23

Keith Smith: 19

Russell Gage: 12

Jaeden Graham: 7

Matt Hennessy: 7

Christian Blake: 6

Ito Smith: 6

John Wetzel: 3


There are a lot of takeaways here. Let’s start with one of the big ones: Christian Blake, despite being the team’s nominal fourth receiver per their early depth charts, was a complete non-factor in this game. He ended up being used on 55% of special teams snaps, indicating there’s a larger role there for him than there was a year ago, but Olamide Zaccheaus and Brandon Powell ended up taking up nearly all the wide receiver snaps that became available with Julio Jones out and Russell Gage exiting the game with an injury after just 12 snaps.

Zaccheaus and Powell combined for 10 targets, 7 receptions, and 69 yards, which is hardly eye-popping production but kept things moving. The problem was that the passing game was virtually silent outside of those two and Calvin Ridley, who had 5 receptions for 110 yards but did so on 13 targets, with Ryan missing him deep multiple times on Sunday. Only Gage (who exited the game early), Brian Hill (who had a killer drop), and Hayden Hurst (who had one catch for a touchdown) got 3 or more targets, and the lack of success and the lack of trust Ryan exhibited in his options outside of his top three receivers was a concern.

Ito Smith was almost entirely phased out of the gameplan at running back this week. Gurley continues to dominate snaps at running back but is in for his blocking more than anything, as he touched the ball 15 times on 35 snaps while Brian Hill got 10 touches on just 23 snaps. When Hill’s in the game, he’s a little more likely to be touching the ball, but this appears to be a two man committee most weeks until further notice. Gurley’s lack of involvement in the passing game remains weird.

There was plenty of playing time for Luke Stocker in this one, likely to give this ground game and passing attack a fighting chance by adding another blocker. Stocker remains a useful extra blocker but offers virtually no value as a receiver, and the team is going to need to think very hard about utilizing Hurst and Jaeden Graham more as receivers if this team’s wide receiver injuries continue to pile up.

Finally, Matt Hennessy got 7 snaps, all at James Carpenter’s expense. As long as the team feels Carpenter is playing pretty well, that’s likely all the playing time he can expect to see.

Defense

Isaiah Oliver: 82

Damontae Kazee: 81

Darqueze Dennard: 77

Deion Jones: 76

Keanu Neal: 68

Blidi Wreh-Wilson: 68

John Cominsky: 47

Steven Means: 45

Grady Jarrett: 44

Tyeler Davison: 41

Allen Bailey: 33

Charles Harris: 32

Marlon Davidson: 32

Dante Fowler Jr.: 28

Jacob Tuioti-Mariner: 27

Jaylinn Hawkins: 24

Edmond Robinson: 16

LaRoy Reynolds: 7

Sharrod Neasman: 1

Delrick Abrams: 1


Remember 2014, when Mike Smith and company went all-in on beefing up the defensive line so they could stop the run? The Falcons have, on purpose or by accident, built a similar kind of line in 2020, and with all the attendant problems rushing the passer that would imply.

A total of 73 of Chicago’s 130 rushing yards came on just 3 plays, including that Mitch Trubisky 45 yard scramble that was such a defense-wide failure. The remaining 57 yards came on 22 carries, for an average of just over 2 yards a pop. There are lapses and failures here, but a line with Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson, John Cominsky, Tyeler Davison, Allen Bailey, Steven Means and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner playing prominent roles is going to generally fare quite well, and they submarined multiple running plays behind the line of scrimmage on Sunday. The problem is that the pass rush dried up again in the second half, with most of the team’s 8 quarterback hits and both of their sacks (by Jarrett and Charles Harris) came in the first half. Their ability to get pressure dropped off significantly again and it coincided with Nick Foles shakily getting Chicago back into it.

The Falcons desperately miss Takk McKinley, but Fowler’s 28 snaps tell you he was not 100% either, and realistically this team needs both to field a quality pass rush. Jarrett is a monster, Cominsky has stretches where he shows real ability, and Harris had an encouraging start to his Falcons career, but everyone else on this defense is either not a capable pass rusher or hasn’t shown themselves to be in the first few weeks of the season. A healthy Davidson should help as well, but given the limitations this team has in the secondary, most quarterbacks are going to kill them if they’re trotting out a primarily run-stopping group of guys every week.

Mykal Walker had some rookie moments but continues to look quite good in his opportunities, pushing his way into the backfield, forcing a fumble, and piling up tackles in this one. Per Pro Football Focus, he also had the second-highest coverage grade among NFL linebackers on Sunday, making for a very good day overall for the rookie. Foye Oluokun is sorely missed, but this team can feel pretty good about playing three linebackers if they need to thanks to Walker’s swift development. Walker is yet another mid-to-late round gem in the making, and the Falcons have done an incredible job at populating their linebacker group between Deion Jones, Oluokun, and now Walker.

In the secondary, there were few surprises in terms of playing time. The Falcons allowed just 306 yards on 29 completions in 51 passing attempts and picked two passes in this one, with Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Darqueze Dennard both managing interceptions. Oliver, Dennard, and Wreh-Wilson each deflected two passes, too, and they were consistently around the ball and playing pretty tight coverage. They were once again annihilated in the red zone and on deep passes, however, with Trubisky and Foles misses bailing them out repeatedly with bad throws. They still managed four touchdown passes on the day between them.

Last year, the secondary simply communicated poorly and played poorly with the exception of Desmond Trufant, who is long gone at this point. This season, there’s no question that on a play-by-play basis, the corners are faring better, but they’re still susceptible to allowing big plays and this secondary and linebacker group generally has absolutely no answers for elite receivers and quality tight ends. A healthy A.J. Terrell and a healthy Kendall Sheffield will likely help get that under control, but the maddening thing has been watching guys like Oliver, Dennard, and Wreh-Wilson play well on the majority of their snaps and get killed at the worst possible time. That’s on them and this struggling defense, but the offense needs to stop handing teams so many opportunities by wilting late, as well.

Special Teams

Sharrod Neasman: 22

LaRoy Reynolds: 21

Keith Smith: 21

Luke Stocker: 18

Christian Blake: 18

Sterling Hofrichter: 18

Tyler Hall: 17

Jacob Tuioti-Mariner: 16

Jaylinn Hawkins: 16

Josh Harris: 12

John Cominsky: 12

Tyeler Davison: 11

Delrick Abrams: 10

Edmond Robinson: 10


This was another up-and-down day for special teams. Younghoe Koo was evidently injured, which explains why he didn’t handle kickoffs and was so shaky on the day, missing an extra point and 48-yard field goal. He isn’t likely to repeat that if he’s healthy next week, but it’s still worth keeping an eye on his status.

With Koo banged up, Hofrichter handled kickoffs, and the Falcons struggled a bit to keep dynamic return threat Cordarelle Patterson in check. He had a 40 yard return and averaged 25 yards on two others, though the team did nothing on punt returns. The Falcons return game continues to be quiet, with Powell picking up a very solid 32 yards on 3 punt returns, but just 26 yards on two kick returns.

Unfortunately, the other major lowlight in this one was a penalty. Sterling Hofrichter punted 45 yards from the Falcons 20, and after a 6 yard return, the Bears would’ve had to make their way from their own 41. A 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Keith Smith, one of the team’s few penalties on the day, moved the Bears to the Falcons’ side of the field, where they scored four plays later.

Miscues proved to be a problem, in other words, in all three phases once again.