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Falcons’ midseason defensive grades: A lot of room for improvement - The Athletic


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by Tori McElhaney for The Athletic 

 

After a winless start through five games that ended with coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff being let go, the Falcons have looked better in recent weeks under interim coach Raheem Morris. The Falcons are 3-6 after going 3-1 the past four weeks. During the bye week, it’s the perfect time to take a look back at the first nine weeks of the season, giving out grades for a number of key players.

Midterm grades are in; let’s dive into them. We started with the offense on Wednesday, so now we’ll look at the defense:

Defensive tackle: B-minus

PFF grades: Grady Jarrett 84.9 (10th of 118), Tyeler Davison 55.0 (89th of 118), John Cominsky 64.1 (61st of 118), Marlon Davidson (N/A; hasn’t seen enough action)

Standout: Jarrett with 2.5 sacks | 32 combined tackles, six for loss | 13 quarterback hits

If we were just grading individuals within the defense in the same way we did for the offense, Jarrett would be the highest-graded player without question. If this is just Jarrett we are grading, he gets an A. But it’s not. We’re taking a look at the entire position group, and as much as Jarrett builds this group up, he only could get it to a low-B status. Cominsky had to miss two games while on the COVID-19/reserve list, but he has been emerging quite nicely since the start of training camp. If he can remain healthy, he likely will continue on that upward trajectory through the second half of the season, and the Falcons will need him to. So, it’s Davison who the Falcons need more production from in this group. Through the years, he has not been the game-wrecker Jarrett is, but with Davison having only nine tackles this season, the Falcons could use something from him. Without Jarrett, the group may be in D-territory.

Defensive end: C-minus

PFF grades: Dante Fowler 53.3 (94th of 111), Charles Harris 57.0 (79th of 111), Steven Means 56.4 (80th of 111), Jacob Tuioti-Mariner 56.2 (81st of 111), Allen Bailey 50.4 (102nd of 118)

Standout: Fowler with 2.0 sacks | 17 combined tackles | three tackles for loss | six quarterback hits | one forced fumble

Overall, the Falcons just need more disruption from this group, which needs to affect the quarterback a bit more in the second half of the season than it did in the first half. And these players have their work cut out for them: They know they face Drew Brees and Tom Brady twice, and don’t forget about Patrick Mahomes. So, it’s only going to get tougher. Cutting ties with Takk McKinley this week was a start. Getting Fowler back and healthy after the bye week will be good for the group. He played through an ankle injury throughout the first few weeks of the season and most recently had to miss the Denver game with a hamstring issue. That’s where the rest of this group comes in. Bailey and Means started against Denver in the absence of Fowler and McKinley, but it was Tuioti-Mariner who had the best day of the group. The Falcons will just have to see more consistency at this position from the top down.

Linebacker: A

PFF grades: Deion Jones 67.6 (15th of 85), Foye Oluokun 66.2 (17th of 85) and Mykal Walker 64.4 (20th of 85)

Standout: Oluokun with 1.0 sack | 64 combined tackles (more than he had last year) | three tackles for loss | four quarterback hurries | three forced fumbles | one interception

Yes, Jones is a higher ranked linebacker league-wide and has looked really good this season, especially recently. But it’s Oluokun who is Jeff Ulbrich’s pride and joy. Oluokun has been the defense’s main disrupter and at times one of the only good things this group had going for it early. Oluokun finally broke into the starting lineup because of De’Vondre Campbell’s departure, and he hasn’t disappointed yet. Don’t forget about the smaller but still impressive role of Walker. The rookie has flashed at times and like Oluokun could see more improvements to his game the more action he sees. All-in-all, outside of Jarrett, this linebacker group is the best part of this defense right now, and these players are playing like it. But sadly for the Falcons, they can’t do it all.

Safety: C

PFF grades: Ricardo Allen 62.0 (42nd of 88), Keanu Neal 65.7 (29th of 88)

Standout: Neal with 1.0 sack | 58 combined tackles | six tackles for loss | three quarterback hits

This position group has been through a lot the past few years and this year, too. For the third year in a row, a Falcons safety has torn his Achilles. This year, it was Damontae Kazee and the Falcons already announced he will be out for the remainder of the year like Neal and Allen before him with the same injury. The group also had to play without Allen for a time with an elbow injury. The good news for this group is that it seems Neal has gotten his groove back. After missing nearly two whole years with injuries, Neal was looking forward to getting back in 2020. He said he was a little hesitant in the beginning, just trying to catch back up to the speed of the game in the first weeks of the season. But he has turned a corner recently and has started to look like the old Neal again. With Allen stepping up and making some plays in recent weeks, too, this group is looking better, but the secondary as a whole is giving up too many yards, and that’s why even with Allen and Neal playing better this group doesn’t get a better grade.

Cornerback: D

PFF grades: Blidi Wreh-Wilson 49.1 (96th of 116), A.J. Terrell 70.0 (21st of 116), Isaiah Oliver 62.0 (46th of 116), Kendall Sheffield 34.3 (114th of 116), Darqueze Dennard 68.7 (27th of 116)

Standout: Terrell with 34 combined tackles | one tackle for loss | one quarterback hit | one interception

The play of Terrell and the fact that Dennard is back off the injured reserve kept this group out of failing territory. It hasn’t been a good year for this group at all. It has been burned a number of times this season. The players know it. Secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr. knows it. Everyone knows it. It’s now about seeing how much different this group can look from one half of the season to the next. Last year you saw someone like Sheffield emerge more consistent in the second half of the season, but can he do that again? He’ll need to bring Oliver along with him. We all knew going into the season that this group would experience its share of growing pains, but it has a long way to go as it is one of the lowest-ranked groups in the league.

 

 

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Yall are real quiet about AJ Terrell being a terrible pick...

I thought he would struggle more early on than he has, but he’s been impressive. After a rough start to season, Oliver hasn’t been near as bad as he’s been made out to be either. Safety play has

Isaiah Oliver is 4th on the team with 34 solo tackles, just 3 behind Debo.  Also has 5 PD, 3 TFL, 1 sack & 1 QB hit.  He plays very well around the LOS.  Not the bumb many around here claim

On 11/12/2020 at 7:56 PM, vel said:

Yall are real quiet about AJ Terrell being a terrible pick...

I thought he would struggle more early on than he has, but he’s been impressive. After a rough start to season, Oliver hasn’t been near as bad as he’s been made out to be either.

Safety play has been a far bigger issue than the corners, IMO. 

 

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35 minutes ago, Vandy said:

I thought he would struggle more early on than he has, but he’s been impressive. After a rough start to season, Oliver hasn’t been near as bad as he’s been made out to be either.

Safety play has been a bigger issue than the corners, IMO. 

 

Agreed. They should switch the grades between corners and safeties. Neal is playing better as of late but Allen has been invisible minus the stupid throw by Luck. Get a stud safety and it will improve our defense.

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1 hour ago, Vandy said:

I thought he would struggle more early on than he has, but he’s been impressive. After a rough start to season, Oliver hasn’t been near as bad as he’s been made out to be either.

Safety play has been a bigger issue than the corners, IMO. 

 

Spot on.

Oliver has actually been good lately.  Since it’s not a sexy part of the game, people don’t notice Oliver’s effectiveness in run defense.  On the year he is our highest graded run defender, followed by Neal and then Grady

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5 minutes ago, FalconsIn2012 said:

Isaiah Oliver is 4th on the team with 34 solo tackles, just 3 behind Debo.  Also has 5 PD, 3 TFL, 1 sack & 1 QB hit.  He plays very well around the LOS.  Not the bumb many around here claim

But he was playing poorly last year for sure and had some moments this year at boundary.

Weird he would be a slot corner at his size BUT: we haven’t played top pass offenses to test him in the slot since he was moved there.

Good turn around so far for Oliver. He wasn’t terrible outside this year either but the few big plays were just back breakers.

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12 minutes ago, Ergo Proxy said:

But he was playing poorly last year for sure and had some moments this year at boundary.

Weird he would be a slot corner at his size BUT: we haven’t played top pass offenses to test him in the slot since he was moved there.

Good turn around so far for Oliver. He wasn’t terrible outside this year either but the few big plays were just back breakers.

This team is kinda built for a big nickel look with lots of blitzes right now. He works well in that role.

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59 minutes ago, Ergo Proxy said:

But he was playing poorly last year for sure and had some moments this year at boundary.

Weird he would be a slot corner at his size BUT: we haven’t played top pass offenses to test him in the slot since he was moved there.

Good turn around so far for Oliver. He wasn’t terrible outside this year either but the few big plays were just back breakers.

He struggled early this year for sure.  The problem was that his mistakes were at critical times snd very costly so people remember them

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1 minute ago, FalconsIn2012 said:

He struggled early this year for sure.  The problem was that his mistakes were at critical times snd very costly so people remember them

Let’s be real. Even if it wasn’t at the worst time. It’s The Jake Matthews effect or just remembering bad plays in general 

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Neal is playing well, but I am always expecting him to get injured on the next play.  Long term, I think we need to have someone ready to go behind him.  Allen has played poorly.  We need a FS badly.

Oliver is an enigma to me.  He has the physical talent, but has managed to show little development.  He is a tough guy and I wonder if he is really a Safety.  

Sheffield is also confusing me. I think he has the best feet of all the CB's.  He should be playing at a much higher level.  I wonder how whether he is truly back from his injury. 

 

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Ive heard a few people mention Oliver may be better suited for safety.

One thing is for sure, he likes to play physical and tackle. I enjoy his play facing the line of scrimmage versus with his back turned to it. Same thing I said about Poole back in the day. They are different players running downhill than downfield.

 

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1 hour ago, ATLFalcons11 said:

People are going way too far with the Oliver love. He was bad in the beginning and has played much better in the slot.

Is it the slot or is it the passing offenses? We will definitely see after the bye.

Way too far with the love? Most people still hate him and no one's doing more than saying he's playing better. How is that too far

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13 hours ago, Ergo Proxy said:

But one corner hasn’t fixed all our problems so he must suck! /s

Lol exactly. "He gives up catches! He's supposed to be Revis!"

12 hours ago, Vandy said:

I thought he would struggle more early on than he has, but he’s been impressive. After a rough start to season, Oliver hasn’t been near as bad as he’s been made out to be either.

Safety play has been a bigger issue than the corners, IMO. 

 

I thought he would too, but I figured he'd settle in because he was the only CB in the draft that's been playing real snaps since his freshman year. Folks forget that. He was trusted to lockdown Chase 1v1. Nobody else dared even think that was possible. 

Even Oliver is settling in. I said a while back Oliver was a Cover 2 corner in a Cover 3 corner's body. He doesn't have long speed, so that's why he was terrible deep. They moved him to more nickel duties and suddenly he's not in the deep third defending and doesn't look bad. That's what's been so frustrating. They refused to accept Oliver's limitations because they wanted him to be something he wasn't. Just like so many players on this roster (Debo is a WLB, Kazee isn't a FS, Rico isn't a FS, Vic isn't a LB, etc.) So much talent mismanagement. 

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Although I think Oliver has played better, it was hard for him not to. Sheffield hasn't been that good. Dennard has been ok. Terrell has been good for a rookie, but he hasn't blown me away either. I've never been a huge fan of Neal at safety either. Nice that he has recovered from his injury, but I hope we go in a different direction next year.

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20 minutes ago, Jesus said:

How is Fowler the stand out player when Harris has similar stats with a lot fewer snaps?

The eye ball test. If you watch Falcons games, you see two defenders that "flash" more than the others. On every significant short yardage stuff the Falcons have this season Fowler is blowing the plays up with quick wins on to the inside of the tackle and Foye is just putting a hat on people all over the field. If you just watch and don't use your brain, you see a lot of Fowler in key runs stops and a lot of Foye in general. To me, I don't care if he has more opportunity as long as he's getting it done. I can't recall a big Harris play off the top of my head. Grady, Fowler, and Foye have shown up a lot in big moments.

I'm not doubting your assessment of Harris. If your right, I'm glad he's there as depth. I'm just saying about all I see of the Falcons live is on the NFL Redzone when either the Falcons offense or their opponent is in the redzone. In those moments...I get to see a lot of Fowler and Foye. Don't recall Harris at all. I do watch the condensed games once they post to NFL game pass, but I don't get most of the commentary and when Harris makes a play, their is noting to makes me look to see "who was that." 

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1 hour ago, falcndave said:

The eye ball test. If you watch Falcons games, you see two defenders that "flash" more than the others. On every significant short yardage stuff the Falcons have this season Fowler is blowing the plays up with quick wins on to the inside of the tackle and Foye is just putting a hat on people all over the field. If you just watch and don't use your brain, you see a lot of Fowler in key runs stops and a lot of Foye in general. To me, I don't care if he has more opportunity as long as he's getting it done. I can't recall a big Harris play off the top of my head. Grady, Fowler, and Foye have shown up a lot in big moments.

I'm not doubting your assessment of Harris. If your right, I'm glad he's there as depth. I'm just saying about all I see of the Falcons live is on the NFL Redzone when either the Falcons offense or their opponent is in the redzone. In those moments...I get to see a lot of Fowler and Foye. Don't recall Harris at all. I do watch the condensed games once they post to NFL game pass, but I don't get most of the commentary and when Harris makes a play, their is noting to makes me look to see "who was that." 

Fowler’s been a huge disappointment. For that matter, so has Davidson. 
 

Injuries I know, but the D really needed those two to step up. So far, they haven’t.

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