Falcons defensive starters are performing like backups

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The Falcons offensive struggles will dominate headlines leading up to their Week 2 matchup with division rival Tampa Bay, but the defense shouldn’t be given a free pass. Though the results wouldn’t suggest it, Atlanta’s defense didn’t play that poorly in the early parts of the game. Still, there were plenty of lackluster performances from a number of starters on that side of the ball. The starters trotted out are below:

Of the non-starters, the Falcons got the most contribution from Isaiah Oliver (76% of defensive snaps), Jacob Tuioti-Mariner (35% of defensive snaps), and Marlon Davidson (30% of defensive snaps). Tyeler Davison was used sparingly because Oliver played so much — nickel packages. Still, the only starter that graded out well was Jonathan Bullard (72 PFF), and the next closest starter was Fabian Moreau.

First and foremost, Steven Means isn’t a starter in this league. He’s a fine rotational player because of the energy and positional flexibility, but too many times did I watch him break his containment as a Philadelphia running back got outside for positive yards after the initial hole was filled with Falcons defenders. Mykal Walker getting 6% of defensive snaps is criminal. He’s much more reliable as a run defender than Means and should be used in more packages.

Though he’s still the team’s best pure pass rusher, Dante Fowler had a quiet afternoon. He shouldn’t be expected to contribute in a major way this year and couldn’t seem to keep Jalen Hurts contained. Still, there are plenty of bad NFL tackles out there; it just so happens the Falcons lined up against two of the best.

These defensive starters are playing at a replaceable-level. Coming into the season, it wasn’t a secret the Falcons defensive personnel needed bolstering, but now, Dean Pees is trotting out reserve-level players, and its showing. Atlanta has Tampa Bay this week, who has an even more impressive offensive and defensive line than Philly. If the Falcons come with the same production, it could be an ugly afternoon for the Dirty Birds.

Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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