Bradley Pinion has had a handful of shaky punts this season, but on balance it has been another fine year from the Falcons punter. He’s once again been about league average in the number of punts he’s landing inside opposing 20s, and is 10th in the NFL in touchback percentage at 3.3%, a plus for the position given that pinning opposing offenses deep beats the hell out of letting them start from the 25. Pinion is also averaging career-best numbers in terms of both yards per punt and net yards per punt. Considering he’s also handling kickoffs and doing solid work in that regard and is Younghoe Koo’s reliable holder, Pinion is an essential piece of the special teams puzzle for Atlanta.
All that preamble is to underscore this: It would be a big deal for the Falcons if Pinion misses the game tomorrow, which unfortunately seems like a possibility. The Falcons suddenly declared Pinion questionable for Sunday with an illness, and elevated inside linebacker Andre Smith Jr. to help out with Tae Davis out. They also added a practice squad punter in Pat O’Donnell and immediately flexed him to the roster, as well.
O’Donnell has been in the NFL for a long time, having spent eight years with the Bears and the 2022 season with the Packers. In that time, he’s been a perfectly cromulent punter nearly every year and actually had his career-high rate for punts inside the 20 yard line last year, though his career numbers would suggest that he’s obviously not going to step in and seize the job from Pinion if he does have to punt. The good news is that he’s probably going to be able to give the Falcons a decent afternoon if he’s called upon, and his experience and generally solid work make him a fine fill-in. The bad news is that he had more punts blocked last season (2) than Pinion has had blocked in his entire career (1), and he does not regularly handle kickoffs, meaning Younghoe Koo will likely have to step into a role that he’s solid but not spectacular in. There’s also the matter of Koo having a different holder for an afternoon, which is also not ideal.
This may be a lot of hand-wringing about nothing, as Pinion’s questionable status does not mean he’ll sit out against the Titans. I’d rather not find out, given how good Pinion typically is and how pivotal he is for this special teams unit, what will happen if he has to miss the game.