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  1. Some tweets breaking down some plays from Sunday, and it’s pretty brutal to say the least. Not only is the scheme questionable, but some of these guys look straight up lost out there. Makes me sick to see how far we’ve fallen since 2016...
  2. I've posted the entire article, but give Allen some clicks if you don't mind. The Falcons’ defense was supposed to rebound this season. They have instead looked disorganized, unprepared, and undisciplined to start the season. It was supposed to be a revival season for the Falcons. With star players returning on both sides of the ball, they were expected to reestablish themselves as a contender. The hiring of Dirk Koetter wasn’t received with great applause. Based on the talent level of the skill players and major investment put into the offensive line, many expected the offense to be good enough regardless of Koetter’s flaws. That clearly hasn’t transpired, as the offense has been held under 14 points in two of the first four games of the season. While Koetter has plenty of work to do, the pieces are there to rebound and be more productive. That can’t be said about the defense. It’s been an extremely disappointing start of the season to what was supposed to be a resurgent defense. Deion Jones and Ricardo Allen have played at a high level after missing most of last season. Along with Grady Jarrett, they have performed the best on an otherwise underwhelming unit. Young players aren’t taking the necessary steps needed in expanded roles. Other players, who entered this season with significant pressure on them, haven’t elevated their game. The coaching staff warrants criticism as well for the defense’s lack of discipline and organization. To start off so profoundly badly in three out of four games raises major questions about Quinn. Where has it gone all wrong? Inexcusable slow starts The Falcons have allowed 71 points in the first half this season. That includes a whopping 44 points in their previous two games. After getting torn apart by Dalvin Cook on opening weekend, the Falcons have shown noticeable improvement stopping the run. Allen Bailey and Tyeler Davison have been excellent signings in terms of adding strength and discipline to the defensive line. The defense’s woes against the run have converted into a combination of being positionally disorganized and undisciplined. There are players who aren’t doing enough or making critical errors in key moments on a weekly basis. Quinn will ultimately take the most responsibility for their baffling slow starts. Not adjusting to Frank Reich’s ball-control, conservative game plan put the defense in precarious positions. When Quinn decided to get creative with blitzes, Jacoby Brissett would find an opening underneath that would go for a first down. Allowing an offense still transitioning to life without their franchise quarterback to pick apart your defense with quick passes underneath is a schematic issue. Quinn’s defense is primarily based around playing Cover 3. It’s understandable why he wouldn’t completely divert from his coaching philosophy. Not being more adaptable is where the problem lies, particularly against well-coached teams such as Indianapolis. Playing more man coverage shouldn’t be viewed as an obvious solution. On two of Marcus Mariota’s three touchdown passes, Desmond Trufant and Isaiah Oliver were both playing man on the outside. They failed to make plays that should have been prevented. Trufant’s poor positioning and inability to change direction played a major part in A.J. Brown’s first touchdown. This is where players must be held accountable for these particular slow starts. Quinn can’t do much when Deion Jones fails to bring down Corey Davis on third and 15. For a defense known for their speed and athleticism, it’s bizarre to see a unit start games so lackadaisically. Stronger starts will not only create more turnover opportunities, but also help give the offense better field position to work with. Lack of progression across the board There are players underperforming on all three levels of Quinn’s defense. Given their first-round pedigrees, Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley will be at the top of any list when assessing the defense’s struggles. They have combined for two of the team’s five sacks. After taking a hands-on approach to work the embattled edge rusher, Quinn has opted to use Beasley in other ways. He has used him as a stand-up linebacker, dropped him into coverage on blitzes, and off the edge in 3-4 or 5-2 setups. There doesn’t seem to be much of a plan with Beasley. When he is coming off the edge as a pass rusher, there isn’t anything substantially different about his game. The same can be said about McKinley, who outside of his terrific performance against Philadelphia has been mostly anonymous. Neither pass rusher has shown much refinement in their overall technique to make a legitimate difference. In what was supposed to be one of the stronger positional groups on the team, the linebacker unit has been culpable for many of the defense’s issues. Jones remains as one of the best inside linebackers in the league. Outside of a few missed tackles, there aren’t any critiques you can make against him. The rest of the group has been disastrous. De’Vondre Campbell played better against Tennessee, but it won’t overshadow his woeful showings in the first three games. From not getting off blocks in the running game to being consistently late on coverage assignments, Campbell is becoming more of a liability than asset. His terrific 2017 season seems like a distant memory at this point. Foye Oluokun has looked lost in limited reps this season as well. After showing plenty of promise last season, Oluokun appeared to be on the right track. He is currently losing reps to Beasley when Quinn decides to use a more traditional 4-3 base defense. What wasn’t being discussed enough about the Falcons going into the season was their untested cornerback group. The front office’s decision to release Robert Alford and not re-sign Brian Poole was completely understandable. To not bring in a veteran for competition and depth purposes was surprising. Oliver has looked overwhelmed as a starter so far. While the second-year cornerback is showing signs of improvement, his lapses in coverage are costing the defense in critical moments. It also doesn’t help that Damontae Kazee doesn’t look comfortable enough to press wide receivers in the slot. The Falcons are allowing over 73 percent of passes to be completed on third down per Ben Fennell. Both corners are a major reason behind the high completion percentage. Quinn’s coaching methods Since taking full control of the defense, Quinn has added a few wrinkles to the defense. Applying more 3-4 and 5-2 looks up front has benefited the defense against the run. The trio of Jarrett, Bailey, and Davison have given opposing offensive line fits. The different schematic fronts do have its drawbacks. It puts the edge defenders further away from the opposing tackles. There are also times where they have to stand up rather than get in their three-point stance, which isn’t ideal for players like McKinley and Adrian Clayborn. For all the criticism of the edge rushers, they aren’t always being placed in the best positions to generate pressure. Quinn has never been known for being overly creative. His preference of relying on a four man rush instead of calling exotic blitzes is well-documented. When Quinn decides to blitz, it doesn’t cause enough havoc to force stops or turnovers. The Falcons are allowing slightly more than half of third downs to be converted, which is fourth worst in the league. They have only forced three turnovers, which all came against the Eagles. There has been some unfortunate turnover luck with Campbell and Clayborn forcing fumbles against Tennessee, yet not managing to recover any of them. Besides that, there haven’t been many moments where opposing quarterbacks nearly threw an interception or were strip sacked. Opposing quarterbacks remain far too comfortable in the pocket against Quinn’s defense. The lack of intensity during games raises questions about Quinn’s message. Are players starting to faze him out? Despite being known for bringing positive energy and being a players’ coach, Quinn knows it doesn’t mean much when his team is losing. The Falcons’ front office saw it firsthand with Mike Smith in 2013-2014. Years of success begin to lose value when opposing teams are overwhelming and out-scheming you. Jarrett was asked about Quinn’s message getting to the team. While the stud defensive tackle remained fully behind his coach, his response does make you wonder about other players in the locker room. Quinn has built a solid, well-disciplined group off the field where locker room friction doesn’t occur (at least not publicly). That group hasn’t shown up on the field often this season. Between getting his defense aligned better pre-snap to utilizing certain talent more effectively, Quinn must improve on getting the best out of a defense, albeit with noticeable flaws, featuring established stars and promising talent.
  3. Since receiving a well-deserved contract extension in August 2017, Devonta Freeman has experienced a multitude of different injuries. He suffered multiple concussions in August and November of that year. After returning in December and carrying the Falcons to crucial victories over New Orleans and Tampa Bay, he suffered MCL and PCL injuries during the playoffs. Freeman was injured again on opening night against Philadelphia. He nearly missed a month due to a knee injury. His return lasted one game in Pittsburgh, as Freeman injured his groin and needed surgery the following week. The two-time Pro Bowler was wisely put on injured reserve following two gruesome seasons. For all his injuries, the entire organization remained firmly behind him. Not bringing in serious competition to challenge Freeman for carries validated their intentions of relying on him. Some did question the front office’s decision, especially following the first two games. Freeman wasn’t making defenders miss nor picking up yards after contract. Although the run blocking was underwhelming, fans have been accustomed to watching Freeman make the most out of not having much space. Not seeing him create something out of nothing drew concerns. Watching Ito Smith produce two impressive runs raised questions about why the second-year back isn’t getting more usage. The pressure was on Freeman going into Indianapolis. The increasing demand for him to step up was reduced in a matter of one play. That’s all it took for Freeman to accelerate into the open field between Kaleb McGary and Austin Hooper. Give a player of Freeman’s caliber a small pocket of space, and he will make a swift cut into the open field. His vision is always something that should be admired. When the former fourth round pick gets the ball, he is ready to drive and challenge defenders at the second level. That was evident against the Colts, particularly on a 24-yard run to put the Falcons in field goal range. This run showcased Freeman’s best qualities. The jump cut to get in-between a pulling Jamon Brown and Alex Mack was slick. It allowed him to get into the open field, where he explodes into his second gear. Deep-lying safeties have to be prepared for Freeman to either lower his shoulder viciously or attempt to juke past them. Malik Hooker didn’t look ready for either option, as he was left on the turf watching Freeman blow past him. The run wasn’t over yet with Freeman running through contact to pick up extra yardage. Khari Willis failed to wrap him up, which forced Pierre Desir to make a touchdown-saving tackle. Freeman received a combined 19 touches (16 carries, three receptions) against the Colts. That’s a sensible number for one of the offense’s biggest playmakers. His agility, balance, power, craftiness, and versatility needs to be utilized. While Dirk Koetter is still struggling to get the best out of a talent-rich offense, he does appear to be fully committed to Freeman. It’s something he needs to continue doing from not only a running standpoint, but also from a receiving standpoint. Splitting him out wide or using him on designed screens are effective ways to generate explosive plays. The upcoming matchup against Tennessee could present some challenges. Mike Vrabel’s defense is one of the more rugged units in the league. They possess a plethora of talent across the board led by perennially under-appreciated defensive lineman Jurrell Casey. It could be a low-scoring, physical game where Matt Ryan isn’t able to find many big-play opportunities downfield. This is where Freeman’s experience carrying a major workload may be needed. Based on his performance from last weekend, the dynamic back is ready to slash through running lanes, glide past defenders, and finish runs violently.
  4. It was difficult to gauge what the Falcons’ outlook was going into yesterday’s game. Following last week’s thrilling victory over Philadelphia, there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic. They played extremely well in the trenches on both sides of the ball, along with producing explosive passing plays and creating turnovers. It’s the type of combination that teams need to be successful. The optimism was more on the cautious side based on previous experience. The Falcons are prone for letdown games, particularly on the road against unfamiliar opponents. That was on full display in Indianapolis. Dan Quinn’s team looked sluggish from the very first snap. It made for a completely one-sided first half. Whether it was running stretch plays with Marlon Mack or carving up the Falcons’ zone with quick underneath passes, Frank Reich crafted a masterful game plan. It consisted of a ball-control styled attack designed to give Jacoby Brissett high-percentage looks and get one of the best offensive lines in the league on the move. Although there was improvement in the second half, it wasn’t enough to justify an appalling first half from the Falcons. How they faltered defensively will raise further questions about Quinn’s status as not only a defensive coordinator, but also as a head coach. Defensive letdown After harassing Carson Wentz and rarely getting caught out of position against Doug Pederson’s wizardry, it appeared the Falcons took a major step forward against Philadelphia. The encouraging signs are a distant memory now. Quinn’s unit looked disorganized, unprepared, and overwhelmed for most of the game. It started on the ground, as defenders couldn’t get off blocks or make tackles. Indianapolis’ success on the ground quickly converted into picking up easy chunk plays through the air. Reich knew where to find the openings in Quinn’s Cover 3 defense. He also knew how to devise creative, coverage-shattering plays. Reich is one of the most respected play callers in the league. There are moments where an opposing defense has no idea what hit them when facing him. It happened on multiple occasions starting with Deion Jones getting caught flat-footed in the flat. That left Zach Pascal all alone on a wheel route following a solid dosage of deception and crafty route concepts. Pascal was on the receiving of another big play, as Isaiah Oliver badly bit on a play fake. Between Reich’s fearless, nifty play calling and Brissett’s ability to sell play fakes; the Colts were able to put together long drives. This was a major setback for the Falcons’ defense. Allowing back-to-back drives of 93 and 94 yards against any offense is unacceptable, let alone one that is trying to find their identity after losing their franchise quarterback two weeks before the season. They gave Brissett acres of space to work with underneath. It allowed players such as Jack Doyle and Nyheim Hines to pick up first downs off quick dump offs into the flat. With the Falcons’ unable to generate much pressure, the defense didn’t have many answers in the first half. Outside of the always-reliable Jones, the entire linebacker group faltered. De’Vondre Campbell continues to struggle getting off blocks against the run. His tendency of holding in coverage is also starting to become problematic. Kemal Ishmael surprisingly received more snaps than usual. It ended up costing the Falcons, especially when he was asked to cover downfield. Brissett targeted Foye Oluokun and Ishmael across the field. If the linebackers weren’t a step behind, Damontae Kazee was getting picked on. Reverting from free safety to cornerback hasn’t gone smoothly so far for the promising defensive back. There were instances where Quinn didn’t seem to have a response. He also needs to figure out more effective ways to manage his heavy rotations. Two timeouts were wasted in the first half because he was trying to get his defense organized. Then on third and one, his rotating led to a five-yard penalty after Grady Jarrett couldn’t get off the field in time. The Colts ended up scoring on that drive before the half. These mistakes can’t be transpiring as a fifth-year head coach. With better understanding of in-game situations and personnel usage, timeouts wouldn’t be wasted and penalties can be avoided. Quinn must find a better balance with his rotations and coverage looks for this defense to play consistently better, especially against the best coaching staffs in the league. Lack of urgency, awareness, and adjustments For the second consecutive road game, the Falcons got off to the slowest start possible. They couldn’t finish drives or create any downfield plays. For all the offense’s success in the second half, they couldn’t find their rhythm early on, albeit the lack of opportunities certainly didn’t help because of the defense’s ineptitude. Only having possession for slightly over nine minutes will hinder any offense. There were still missed opportunities. Matt Ryan played essentially lights out in the second half. He was making the right decisions, especially on third down where the Falcons went eight for ten. His tremendous touchdown pass to Julio Jones is another indicator that the red zone woes between one of the league’s best quarterback-wide receiver duos are long gone. Unfortunately for Ryan, he made another baffling decision, which led a costly interception. Attempting to thread the needle down the seam to Luke Stocker in traffic sounds like a mistake waiting to happen. To overthrow him by five yards resulted in another turnover to Ryan’s growing collection of them in 2019. The franchise quarterback played otherwise flawlessly. What remains concerning about the offense comes from a play calling standpoint. Dirk Koetter made some questionable decisions between running the ball too often in predictable spots and not being aggressive enough. It continues to be a mystifying trend for the offensive coordinator, who likes taking shots downfield and running more vertical concepts. The lack of aggression comes from not picking up the pace and calling runs from the same formations. When the Colts defense was starting to look rattled, Koetter opted not to go no-huddle and continue moving at a slow pace. He would then call a draw play from shotgun or some type of stretch run. Although Devonta Freeman looked like his old explosive self during large portions of the game, there were big play openings there for the taking. Koetter’s incessant need to run on first down or call a predictable play left the offense stagnated at times. If they operated at a faster rate, the Falcons offense could have scored 30 points or more. Until Ryan stops making reckless throws (only one this week) and Koetter starts becoming more unpredictable and forward-thinking, we won’t see one of the most talented offenses in the league play up to there full potential. Self-inflicted mistakes To nearly win despite committing 16 penalties is a testament to how good one side of the ball played. That’s how efficient the Falcons’ offense was in the second half, yet they still had their fair share of blunders. Jamon Brown committed two penalties, while Jake Matthews and Calvin Ridley had their own separate blunders. Mental errors are becoming far too common on a weekly basis for the Falcons. You can’t be dependent on converting third and long situations at a staggering rate every week. These careless, unforced penalties will usually come back to haunt any team. Most of the biggest penalties were committed by the defense. On 16 penalties, the Colts picked up seven first downs. Campbell and Kazee were guilty of crucial holding penalties. There were three neutral zone infraction penalties, as Jack Crawford committed two of them. If Reich wasn’t dialing up brilliantly designed plays, the Falcons were punishing themselves with individual errors. These personnel gaffes will fall squarely on Quinn’s shoulders. One of the biggest reasons for Mike Smith’s success was how disciplined his teams were. The Falcons were one of the least-penalized teams during his best years. They didn’t beat themselves by having poor awareness or technique. The Falcons have never been the most disciplined team since Quinn arrived in 2015. In three games this season, the Falcons have committed 36 penalties for 264 yards. That amount is reminiscent of Rex Ryan’s Jets and Bills teams. To be compared to those teams isn’t endearing. The Falcons will fall short of their high expectations if they continue to commit penalties at a similar rate as those teams did. Looking Ahead There are teams in deeper crises than the Falcons. One of them happens to be coming to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Tennessee has looked completely out of sorts since blowing out the Browns. With Marcus Mariota regressing and the offensive line allowing pressure at an enormous rate, this appears to be a favorable matchup. Losing Keanu Neal for the season is a massive blow, while Grady Jarrett’s status is unknown, as he didn’t return from a toe injury. Takkarist McKinley was banged as up well. That’s three of the six most important defenders on the team. Besides the injury worries, there is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Falcons. A team with significant pressure and expectations on them shouldn’t be starting games slowly, especially when facing teams that either made the playoffs last year (Indianapolis) or playoff-caliber (Minnesota). Motivation shouldn’t be lacking. Neither should proper discipline and game planning be lacking either. That’s what Quinn will need to address going forward with not only the roster, but with himself and the coaching staff.
  5. Sometimes, all it takes is one win over a perennial contender to help a team get back on track. That’s what the Falcons are hoping for following last Sunday’s thrilling victory over the Eagles. After a disappointing 2018 season and dreadful opening week loss to Minnesota, the pressure was on Dan Quinn’s team. They needed some type of response to show they’re capable of competing with the NFC’s top teams. Although it was more difficult than it should have been, the Falcons impressed and ultimately prevailed in a massive win. They now start a three-game stretch against the AFC South. A road trip to Indianapolis presents plenty of intrigue. Nobody knows what to make of the Colts, considering the face of their franchise retired two weeks before the season. They still feature a roster filled with talent, along with one of the top coaching staffs in the league. Will the Falcons make sure they don’t suffer a letdown on the road? Receiving much-needed production from the running game Most of the discussion about the Falcons’ major investments on their offensive line was about protecting Matt Ryan. Providing ample protection for the former MVP winner is clearly going to be the main objective behind building a top-tier offensive line. How the new additions were going to affect the running game wasn’t discussed at all. Adding mammoth guards in Jamon Brown and James Carpenter was meant to add competency to the biggest problematic area on the roster, while bringing nastiness and size to the lightest offensive line in the league. The decision to draft Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary was to add long-term athleticism and technical prowess to the offensive line. This influx of talent, along with nearly a year of recovery from multiple injuries, was supposed to help Devonta Freeman get back to his best. That hasn’t come close to happening following two difficult games. The dynamic running back isn’t getting the holes he needs to accelerate into the open field. While the blocking has been substandard against two terrific fronts, Freeman isn’t making defenders miss or breaking tackles like his old self. Not making that first defender in space has prevented him from producing a big play on multiple occasions. It’s those kind of plays that Freeman made in highlight-reel fashion from 2015 to 2017. They need Freeman to get going in this game. He is too special of a talent not to depend on. Facing a lighter, much less-talented front seven could be what he needs to start being productive. It may also mean more reps for Ito Smith to keep Freeman fresh. The second-year back has already produced multiple impressive runs this season. Although he doesn’t quite run with the same violent edge as Freeman does, Smith’s patience and vision makes him an excellent second option. Utilizing him more often going forward should make the offense even more dangerous. For now, the running game needs to get going led by their star running back and enigmatic offensive line. Remaining disciplined against the run One of the biggest positives coming out of Sunday night’s dramatic victory was how the entire defense contributed towards shutting down Philadelphia’s rushing attack. It wasn’t simply the front seven who didn’t allow a run longer than five yards. Isaiah Oliver and Keanu Neal both made a noticeable impact against the run. Whether it was Oliver closing down the corner or Neal exploding past Mack Hollins to blow up a run, the secondary did their fair share in forcing Doug Pederson to become more one-dimensional. The front seven obviously did the heavy lifting led by Grady Jarrett and Tyeler Davison. It’s not a surprise to see Jarrett continue to play at an elite level. How well Davison has shifted into the nose tackle role is the most pleasant surprise so far this season. The former Saint commands double teams effectively, while being agile enough to disengage in one on one situations. How Quinn is using Jarrett, Davison, and Allen Bailey in multiple schematic fronts has flustered Minnesota (to some extent) and Philadelphia. To create havoc against another tremendous offensive line will be a major challenge for them. Indianapolis’ front office put serious investment into revamping the offensive line. It ended up being one of the main catalysts behind their immediate success. Quenton Nelson is already one of the best guards in the league. With a formidable right side of Braden Smith and Mark Glowinski next to underrated center Ryan Kelly, the Colts have quickly built a top-five caliber offensive line. Considering the uncertainty surrounding the passing game following Andrew Luck’s stunning retirement, they will look to lean on the running game with Marlon Mack. Maintaining gap integrity and making open field tackles will be vital for the defense to get stops. Per Pro Football Focus’ Louis Benjamin, the Falcons are tied for third-best in tackle percentage this season. The return of Neal, Deion Jones, and Ricardo Allen has clearly made a massive difference. They must continue making open field tackles behind a slowly improving front four. The continued progression of Takkarist McKinley Despite not recording a sack against Philadelphia, Takkarist McKinley had arguably the best game of his career. It can be disputed that his two-and-half sack performance against Cincinnati last season was slightly more impressive. In terms of making a consistent impact, McKinley did that more often last Sunday than he had ever done in a previous game. The charismatic pass rusher produced eight quarterback pressures according to PFF. From accelerating past Jason Peters off the edge or bulldozing past Issac Semualo, McKinley created a heavy dose of chaos across the line of scrimmage. The big question facing McKinley is can he become more consistent? There have been plenty of flashes over his first two seasons in the league. His get off can give opposing tackles all sorts of fits. Nobody can deny his raw power and relentless motor. It comes down to refining his technique, while not being overly reliant on his bull rush. McKinley is always going to cause problems based on his sheer attributes and desire. Improving his hand usage and bend around the edge is what will take him to the next level. If there is one potential weakness on the Colts’ offensive line, left tackle Anthony Castonzo is prone to lapses in pass protection. His tendency to hold is something that should be monitored. Based on his get off and ability to obtain leverage, McKinley can cause the veteran left tackle to get reckless. Combine his issues with Jacoby Brissett being prone to turning the ball over, and McKinley could be the one to make a game-changing play. There were instances last week of him nearly sacking Wentz twice on third down. His improvement could finally translate into sacks and forced fumbles with a more favorable matchup. Finding openings against Indianapolis’ zone coverage The Colts run one of the more simplistic defensive schemes in the league. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus prefers keeping plays in front of his unit, while mixing in Cover-2 and Cover-3 looks. In 2018, they only played man coverage on 13 percent of their opponents’ drop backs. Not allowing yards after the catch or receivers get behind them is what they specialize in. That’s going to be a challenge against Atlanta’s stellar receiving group. Julio Jones is more than capable of finding the soft spots in a defense’s zone. The same applies to Mohamed Sanu, who is the type of savvy receiver that can turn quick six-yard hitches into 12-yard gains. From Calvin Ridley’s ability to stretch the field to Austin Hooper making defenders miss in the open field, Indianapolis’ defensive principles will be tested. What can’t be overlooked is their ball-hawking secondary. Malik Hooker isn’t the only young playmaker on the back end. Kenny Moore and Pierre Desir are instinctive cornerbacks that make quarterbacks pay for being overly aggressive and making reckless reads. While stud linebacker Darrius Leonard doesn’t seem likely to play, Ryan must be wary of the Colts’ rangy defense. The franchise quarterback has been uncharacteristically careless to start the season. Four of his five interceptions are from inaccurate throws or baffling decisions. Two-game blips are bound to occasionally happen, especially when facing two stout defenses in Minnesota and Philadelphia. Ryan will need to be more willing to take what the defense gives him and trust his playmakers. There will also be added responsibility on Dirk Koetter to find where the Colts are most vulnerable to produce long-sustaining successful drives.
  6. For all the expectations surrounding Dan Quinn’s defense, there weren’t many personnel changes. Talent was added across the defensive line. The linebacker group remained the same, while Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal returned from season-ending injuries to reform one of the better safety tandems in the league. The one major personnel change came at the cornerback position. Robert Alford was unsurprisingly released following a dreadful 2018. As the front office opted not to re-sign Brian Poole, all indications were directed towards their promising young corner. Isaiah Oliver was going to be the starter alongside Desmond Trufant. The former first-team All-Pac-12 corner entered the season with plenty of buzz. His athletic traits and measurables mesh well with Dan Quinn’s preferences. With his long arms and ability to cover acres of space, Oliver is the type of corner that Quinn wants in his defense. What the coaching staff would like to see improvement on is his overall technique. Oliver can struggle to change direction in man coverage. His tendency of not playing with much aggressiveness can become problematic, particularly in run support. Both concerns were visible in Sunday’s loss against Minnesota. Breaking down Oliver’s game Oliver had the task of covering Adam Thielen, who has established himself as one of the craftiest wide receivers in the league. The responsibility of matching up with him for nearly a full game isn’t ideal for most cornerbacks, let alone one who doesn’t have much NFL experience. Oliver was fortunate Kirk Cousins only attempted ten passes. Based on a few plays, it was clear Oliver couldn’t hang with him. This realization isn’t surprising given what Thielen has accomplished. What left many frustrated was the young cornerback’s lack of tenacity. On Cousins’ lone touchdown pass, Oliver allowed Thielen to get leverage on him far too easily. One of Oliver’s biggest attributes is his size. Allowing an undersized receiver beat you with his physicality raises immediate questions. It wasn’t the first time he allowed Thielen to get the better of him. Dalvin Cook’s first touchdown run could have been prevented if Oliver had better instincts. Instead of reacting, Oliver opted to try to close down the outside. That led to him running into Thielen, which meant he couldn’t make the necessary open-field tackle. Challenges ahead Oliver will need to elevate his game quickly. In a game where he wasn’t tested often due to game flow, Oliver still managed to make too many mistakes. The Falcons’ ultra-talented offense won’t commit three turnovers. They will score plenty of points, which means the opposing team will attempt 30 to 40 passes a game. Oliver must show he is up for the challenge starting against Philadelphia. There aren’t many play callers more unpredictable than Doug Pederson. Putting defenders in precarious positions is what his offensive system embodies. Oliver must be prepared for a wide variety of RPOs, unorthodox play designs, and matchups. This will be a big test to see where Oliver stands as a prospect. A potential matchup against Alshon Jeffrey would be most fitting for him. Jeffrey is the type of receiver that Oliver can get physical with at the line of scrimmage. It’s a better matchup stylistically than covering the likes of DeSean Jackson or Nelson Agholor. Minnesota ran mostly 12 (two wide receivers, two tight ends) or 21 (two running backs, two wide receivers) personnel packages last Sunday. That left Oliver mostly on Thielen, while Desmond Trufant covered Stefon Diggs. Quinn may decide to have Oliver shadow Jeffrey, as Trufant rotates between the other two explosive wide receivers. Regardless of the matchups and schematic setups, Oliver is going to be in the spotlight this week. He needs to make an impact for Quinn’s defense to get back on track.
  7. I suspect this one will generate some discussion.
  8. Similar to most positions on the roster, the Falcons had high expectations for their linebackers. Deion Jones established himself as a top-tier linebacker in 2017. Other than Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner, there isn’t a better middle linebacker in the league. De’Vondre Campbell made major strides following an inconsistent rookie season. While Duke Riley endured a frustrating rookie season, the coaching staff remained confident in his abilities to become a solid rotational player. Drafting Foye Oluokun and re-signing Kemal Ishamel rounded out an exciting linebacker group. With the defensive line losing Adrian Clayborn and Dontari Poe, it was expected that the linebackers were going to be challenged more in the running game. Losing a violent versatile lineman like Clayborn and a true run-stuffer in Poe were significant losses. The lack of support up front proved to be too overwhelming for the linebacker group. They still managed to show some flashes in what turned into an infuriating cruel season. Deion Jones The game-changing linebacker suffered a severe foot injury in a second consecutive grueling defeat to the Eagles. For him to miss essentially three months of the season left the defense overmatched across the board. Jones’ instincts, range, and speed gives Dan Quinn’s defense a wide variety of options. They can be more aggressive with Jones’ ability to cover acres of space. How he can match up against running backs and prevent them from picking up easy chunk yards is integral to the Falcons’ scheme. Playing a massive role in limiting Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, and Todd Gurley in three straight games proved Jones’ value as one of the most valuable defensive players in the league. It’s difficult to assess a player’s performance after only playing six games. You must take into account that Jones likely took two games to get back into game shape, especially when he rarely leaves the field and handles the most defensive responsibility on the field. Once the playmaking linebacker got back into the groove, he made his mark during Atlanta’s three-game winning streak. He showed noticeable improvement against the run in taking on blockers. That was arguably the biggest knock on his overall game. If Jones can continue to hold his own at the point of attack, there is no reason why he can’t become the best middle linebacker in the league. De’Vondre Campbell After shining in his second season, it was a strange season for the versatile linebacker. Campbell was pressed into a bigger role with Jones’ absence. He took the reins in communicating with the coaching staff during various stages of the season. Some of the defense’s better performances occurred when Campbell was leading the defense. Their overall improvement didn’t feature many memorable plays from him. He didn’t produce the same amount of difference-making plays he did in 2017. Whether it consists of breaking up a pass on third down or making a big stop against the run, Campbell rarely made notable plays. When Jones returned from injury, Campbell looked more comfortable alongside his running mate. His presence allowed Campbell to blitz more often. With his explosiveness and power, the former fifth round pick is capable of causing havoc as an extra pass rusher. The coaching staff utilized him as much as possible in a blitzing capacity during the last three games. Giving him less man coverage assignments and more opportunities to get after the quarterback would be an effective strategy in getting the most out of Campbell. The coaching staff knows they have a solid linebacker on their hands. How they use him going forward will determine how much of an impact Campbell can truly make in Quinn’s Cover 3 based defense. Foye Oluokun What was considered to be an intriguing flier pick may end up becoming one of the best late-round selections in the Quinn-Dmitiroff era. Oluokun was quickly pressed into action after Jones was sidelined for nearly three months. Instead of being moved down the depth chart after the star middle linebacker returned, the coaching staff continued to give him significant snaps. That is a testament to how well the former sixth round pick performed on a consistent basis. Oluokun emerged as a real physical presence against the run. From not being fazed when taking on blockers to rarely missing tackles in the open field, the Falcons have a real talent on their hands. It wasn’t surprising to see Quinn bring in another speedy prospect be inserted into an ultra-quick linebacker unit. Oluokun also brought much-needed ferocity to an undersized front seven, which solidified his place in the rotation. How the coaching staff uses him moving forward remains to be seen. Whether it’s using him as a strong side linebacker and (or) rotating with Campbell on the weak side, Oluokun could very well develop into a key contributor in 2019. Duke Riley As Oluokun earned the coaching staff’s trust, Riley did everything possible to earn a place on the bench. The once highly touted linebacker has proven to be a major liability on the field. His tackling issues from his rookie season transferred over into 2018. Not being able to take on blockers left him overmatched against the run. Failing to diagnose plays in coverage allowed skill position players to pick up easy yards underneath. Many draft analysts praised Riley for his instincts coming out of LSU. That hasn’t translated to the pros, as he is constantly a step behind on his assignments. It’s difficult to be optimistic about Riley’s outlook. After two seasons of not making any positive impact, the former third round pick is under enormous pressure. The front office will likely bring in more competition to challenge for backup roles and to handle special teams’ duties. If Riley doesn’t make a positive impression in the summer, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the coaching staff give up on him. They can’t afford to keep players that continue to make the same blunders and fail to show improvement. The clock is ticking for Riley following a dismal season. Kemal Ishmael Ishmael wasn’t used as much as he was in previous seasons. Considering all of the injuries and personnel issues surrounding the defense, most would have expected Ishmael to receive more opportunities. The versatile linebacker is one of the most reliable open-field tacklers on the team. Despite being somewhat undersized as a former strong safety, his willingness to throw his body on the line against the run has always been admirable. There is no fear in his game. Ishmael embraces contact at all times, which can’t be said for all linebackers. It’ll be interesting to see how much interest Ishmael attracts in free agency. Most thought he would depart after playing well in 2016. His decision to re-sign with the Falcons was surprising at the time. Not many players with his experience stick with a team that has no plans to use him in a major role. Will Ishmael try his chances elsewhere or reclaim his place as a reliable backup? Based on his limited snaps when the defense was at its worst, the multi-dimensional defender will likely go to a team that can provide more opportunities.