If you were to have asked me which two defensive starters the Falcons could ill-afford to lose in 2018, without blinking an eye, I would’ve said linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal. After a tough loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week One, we quickly learned that the Falcons lost more than a conference game on Thursday night, they lost two defensive superstars. Needless to say, this is quite an obstacle for Dan Quinn and the Falcons.
If you’ve been following the Falcons on social media this week, you’ve seen numerous articles on how the team is going to work around Neal and Jones missing the majority/all of the 2018 season. Former LSU linebacker Duke Riley will move to inside linebacker, while defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel will roll with Damontae Kazee and Ricardo Allen at the two safety positions. While it’s comforting to know Atlanta has a plan, it doesn’t take away the anxiousness surrounding this entire situation.
This was supposed to be a defense in 2018 that would finally take that “next step” and become one of the NFL’s top units. No offense to Duke Riley or Damontae Kazee; I’m not sure either guy is experienced enough to propel the Falcons into that elite category on defense. Not to mention, the depth at linebacker was already lackluster to begin with. So no, Atlanta cannot replace their irreplaceable defensive superstars, but that doesn’t mean the season is over.
If there’s one thing we’ve all learned about Dan Quinn’s teams, it’s that they’re extremely resilient. Heck, the same team who lost in brutal fashion to the Patriots in Super Bowl 51, was the same team who reeled off 10 wins the following year. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen; teams tend to fold after losing a big game like that, but these Falcons didn’t.
More than ever, Atlanta needs their defensive-line to come alive and have an extraordinary year. Guys like Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley have to consistently be the best versions of themselves; Grady Jarrett needs to up his level of play to superstar status; Deadrin Senat has to mature faster than expected. If the Falcons want to make it back to the NFC Playoffs, they need their defensive-line to dominate for the next 15 weeks.
Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if the Falcons talented offense started performing up to par, but that’s a story for another day. Even if the Falcons cannot replace Keanu Neal and Deion Jones, they can most-definitely become a better team in the process of trying.