Falcons: Coaches have the challenge of getting Mykal Walker more snaps

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Don’t look now, but Atlants’s defense might be turning a corner. Against the Cowboys, they were at their lowest after giving up a season-high 43 points. However, even the following week against New England, Dean Pees’ unit only gave up one touchdown and forced several field goals when facing short fields. Atlanta has dealt with injuries on that side of the ball; however, over the past three weeks, they’ve only given up more than 21 points once.

The defense lacks serious firepower along the front, but somehow, they’ve come up with a few timely stops and turnovers to put this team in a position to get into the playoffs. In back-to-back weeks, the Falcons have recorded a pick-six, and they have six total turnovers over the last three weeks. Each player scored a touchdown with their first career interception; first, Marlon Davidson dropped into coverage and picked Tom Brady off in the waning seconds of the first half. Then, in a tie game with the Panthers, Mykal Walker picked off Cam Newton and returned it 67-yards for a touchdown after just celebrating his newborn baby.


Walker is someone I’ve been high on for quite some time because of his twitchy athletic ability, apparent in the interception return. Before the offseason really got into motion, I always envisioned the staff committing to play Walker as an outside linebacker because of the roster’s deficiencies in that area. He’s clearly an off-ball linebacker in Pees’ eyes, but I don’t think it was utterly ridiculous to think Walker is athletically capable of playing both positions; he did it in college.

Walker is certainly not the explosive athlete that Micah Parsons is, but he can certainly benefit this defense in similar ways by walking around the line of scrimmage. It is too late for all that, though. The Falcons are in a must-win situation as they travel to San Francisco on Sunday.

Even before that pick-six, Walker was playing very little and hasn’t necessarily been perfect in those opportunities. He only appeared in a handful of snaps against Carolina, bringing his total number of defensive snaps to 146 (16%). At this point, Walker has been primarily regulated to special teams. Even though that might be frustrating, Deion Jones and Foye Oluokun are better options right now, and Dean Pees knows that. 

“He’s playing behind Deion,” Pees said, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Playing behind Foye (Oluokun) in there, and we are trying to find a little bit of role in some things which he deserves. He’s worked hard at it. He’s always been a good communicator. I had the utmost confidence in him playing last week because I knew he would know what to do.”

Walker’s only meaningful snaps came against the Jaguars when Debo went down with an injury. Against Jacksonville, he proved exactly why he hadn’t overtaken Jones. He missed tackles and struggled in man coverage, but he showed better awareness in zone coverage. Coming off mainly playing special teams in Week 11, Walker played respectably. I think he’s the future at the position, but he’s not better than either of the Falcons’ starting options right now.

The only solution would be to get all three of them on the field. I’ve talked about this at length; in a 3-3-5 defense, there are three defensive linemen — usually a defensive tackle and two defensive ends — three off-ball linebackers and five defensive backs behind them.

This sort of package could never be a base defense, given the Falcons defensive front personnel; however, there are situations it could be useful. With as many as six defenders crowding the line of scrimmage at one time, opposing quarterbacks are challenged to identify which defenders will blitz and which will drop.

On the play Walker intercepted Newton, the Falcons had this exact personnel unit out there — their best athletes. Deion Jones lined up out wide, Walker lined up outside the left tackle, Oluokun lined up over the left guard, Dante Fowler lined up between the center and right guard, Steven Means outside the right guard, and Grady Jarrett outside the right tackle — a thing of beauty.

Pees then crashes the defenders on the right side while looping Foye around Jarrett as Jones and Walker drop into coverage. Newton doesn’t see him and throws the interception. These are the benefits of this type of package, but it can be used only in limited situations, primarily on third downs. We’ll have to wait and see if Pees goes to this 3-3-5 more often now.

Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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