The Falcons defense wasn’t quite as lights-out against the Bengals as it was against the Dolphins, with some frustrating lapses in coverage and lost containment on third-string quarterbacks leading to big gains. They did, however, still have their big moments, and we saw more from reserves battling for final roles on this roster.
With one game to go, I’d say things are pretty settled at inside linebacker and settled in the secondary, with a lingering question of how many safeties versus how many cornerbacks the team will keep. There’s also a pretty clear pecking order on the defensive line in terms of deep reserves, with an injury and a so-so game from the trio competing for roster spots lending a little intrigue.
Before the Steelers game settles everything, let’s check in on defensive position battles one more time.
DL Depth: Timothy Horne is in
I have Horne and Gaziano making it, with Huggins potentially snagging a practice squad. This week’s game did nothing to clarify the matter, however, and Horne’s security is really a reflection of being seemingly the best and most experienced nose tackle the Falcons hvae.
Horne and Huggins both came out with the reserves and played decently, though Huggins had a couple of plays where he looked uncharacteristically lost given his strong summer to this point. Gaziano was out for this one, so we didn’t get to see how he fared. Meanwhile, some of the deeper reserves had quality efforts, with LaCale London catching my eye late.
There’s not going to be room for all three of these players on the roster, and there may not even be room for Gaziano on the active roster if the Falcons decide to allocate those spots to other positions. I’ll want to see what Gaziano can do when he returns Thursday night and whether Huggins can bounce back; I do think Horne has his spot sewn up.
ILB3/4/5: Nate Landman and Tae Davis are likely in
Absolutely nothing changed this week. Landman and Davis got plenty of special teams snaps and looks with the direct backups at inside linebacker, with both looking solid along the way. Landman is a player the coaching staff likes and brings some upside given his youth and instincts, while Davis is an extremely capable special teamer. They’re both making this team, and the only question is whether the Falcons will sniff around for additions to bolster the corps or supplant one or both of them post-cutdowns.
Frank Ginda (who played sparingly), Mike Jones Jr., and Andre Smith Jr. are pushing for a practice squad spot, with the remote possibility of a fifth inside linebacker still lurking. Smith and Jones have both had their moments, but I’d give Jones the edge given that he’s been solid with the deep reserves on defense and has a history of being a valuable special teams contributor, as well.
CB5/6: Tre Flowers, with Darren Hall hoping
The team is clearly holding out hope that Jeff Okudah can return early in the year, but he’ll have a roster spot once he does. We’re not quite sure when Mike Hughes will be back, so that’s a pair of roster locks with question marks at the moment.
Given that A.J. Terrell, Dee Alford, and Clark Phillips are locked in, there’s one or two spots left, and Flowers has the last one if it’s only one. He came out with the starters and barely played, a strong indicator that the team wants him out there in Week 1 if Okudah can’t go. If there are a pair of spots—let’s say Hughes and Okudah are both out, or the team is concerned about depth—Hall might be in the lead. Cornell Armstrong didn’t play last week and it was Hall who came out with the top reserves and got a lot of work on special teams. Given his experience and ability to play multiple spots, the 2021 draft pick ought to return if there’s room.
S4: Hellams holding on, Abernathy hoping
Abernathy received a long look on defense and special teams on Friday night, an indication that the Falcons are still evaluating him. Whether he’s on the roster as the fourth or fifth safety or just a practice squad addition, Abernathy seems to have done enough to hang around in some capacity.
I still think Hellams is the fourth safety, as he’s showing playmaking instincts to go with his beyond solid tackling on both defense and special teams. Two interceptions in two weeks and consistency from a rookie safety will turn some heads in preseason, and Hellams has the talent to contribute this year.
How do you see these battles shaking out?