Even though the Falcons gave up a historic amount of points through the first two weeks of the season, Matt Ryan is responsible for 14 of those as he threw back-to-back pick-sixes against the Buccaneers last week. The defense looked utterly incompetent against the Eagles, but the offense didn’t help much. Arthur Smith’s group could only give the defense two significant drives to catch their breath, one being the opening drive, so the defense was gassed for much of that game.
The offense played better in Week 2 against the Bucs, and so did the defense. They forced two significant punts that turned into touchdowns which brought the Falcons within three points. Not only did they come up with stops, but they also forced a turnover. In one of his best games since coming to Atlanta, Dante Fowler had a strip-sack on Tom Brady when it looked like Tampa was about to open the flood gates.
Still, there have been way too many lapses on the defense not to be critiqued. I have four specific players that could see fewer snaps as the season progresses. Each defender has a different reasoning as to why their snap count could diminish later in the season.
Harris is a total liability in coverage. He came to Atlanta with the same struggles, so it really shouldn’t be surprising how poor he’s been. Harris has performed perfectly acceptable against the run, but he should never be responsible for any part of the backend. Communication was what Harris was highly touted for before coming to Atlanta. Still, his play warrants more playing time for either Jaylinn Hawkins or Richie Grant because both are incredibly rangy defensive backs.
Harmon is just a non-factor when sitting back in coverage. This hurts to write because nobody was higher on Harmon coming to Atlanta than I was. Hawkins saw reps for Harmon at one point against Tampa, but I would argue Harris should be the safety getting his snaps taken first. Harmon has been bad; there’s no arguing that, but he is still more competent in coverage than Harris. Hawkins and Grant should be slowly worked into the defense and take over eventually.
Against the Eagles, Means was regularly blowing assignments, which allowed Jalen Hurts to tear the Falcons apart with his feet and arm. He’s been equally bad as a pass rusher and a run defender. Means has no business starting in the NFL, but the Falcons don’t have many options. I support giving Ade Ogundeji reps; he’s already more reliable against the run than Means. Replacing Means on third downs might be more difficult, though. It is despicable, but he may be the best option they have coming off the edge. Still, that shouldn’t discourage the staff from giving other guys more snaps.
Bullard is not like anyone else on this list. He has been reliable along the defensive front in the run game; in fact, he’s been pretty damn good. Still, his limited ability on third downs makes it challenging to play him in those situations. The Falcons don’t have many pass-rushing options on the interior, but bringing John Cominsky in on those obvious passing downs could be something worth exploring.
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