In recent years, the strength of the Atlanta Falcons defense has been their speed at linebacker and safety.
When linebacker Deion Jones got hurt, it meant a larger role for second-year player Duke Riley and that rookie Foyesade Oluokun would see some time as well. This is a definite drop off in speed.
With the injury to safety Keanu Neal, safety Ricardo Allen transitioned from a mostly deep field player, to Neal’s role rocked down into the box. Now, the Falcons have also lost Allen, leaving the safety duties to Damontae Kazee and Jordan Richards. This position has become a liability for the team.
In Week 2, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey had 14 receptions. In Week 3, Saints running back Alvin Kamara had 15 receptions. The lack of speed at linebacker and talent at safety could mean a big day for Bengals pass-catching running back Giovani Bernard in Week 4. It could also mean a great day for wide receivers running slants and posts.
In the clip below, Saints tight end Ben Watson has no trouble releasing on Falcons rookie defensive back Isaiah Oliver, and Brees drops the ball in right over the head of Kazee. This is a position that Neal likely would have been in weeks earlier and his reaction and speed would have made it much more difficult.
Brees pops this one in over the head of Kazee pic.twitter.com/kI8y5Ca6yY— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 25, 2018
Here, Panthers rookie wide receiver D.J. Moore finds the void in the secondary created by the No. 3 receiver running vertical. This is good scheme that is seen week in a week out in the NFL. The real problem is what happens next.
Both Riley and Richards fail to make the tackle, and the play results in a touchdown. Without the sure tackling Neal and Jones, the Falcons defense is vulnerable to yardage on runs after the catch.
DJ Moore with the TD after missed tackles by Duke Riley and Jordan Richards pic.twitter.com/lgmghFDdQi— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 23, 2018
This is a simple checkdown to Kamara on first and 10. Riley’s angle hurts him, and Kamara is able to outrun him to the first-down marker. In this situation, Jones likely makes the play for a short gain and the Saints face second down.
After catching the short pass, Kamara squares up Kazee. Kamara makes a cut that causes Kazee to dive for his ankles and miss the tackle. In this situation, Neal may very well have made the play and prevented the first down.
The injured trio of Falcons were also strong run defenders. In the clip below, Riley should make the play on McCaffrey but fails. Riley is not as strong of a tackler as Jones, and he is fortunate to get an assist from linebacker De’Vondre Campbell before McCaffrey got out into the open field.
Duke Riley dives at ankles and misses this tackle— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 23, 2018
The Falcons are lucky De'Vondre Canpbell was unblocked pic.twitter.com/lrjdgtnF3l
On this play, Riley is picked up by the pulling center and does not have a prayer. The center immediately kicks him out of the hole creating a large running lane for McCaffrey. Riley needs to anchor himself and take on the block with strength, holding his ground and fighting to disengage as the running back approaches.
The Panthers O-Line getting movement on the Falcons front pic.twitter.com/zCTblzGAas— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 23, 2018
The Bengals can absolutely take advantage of the injuries the Falcons have suffered on defense. They should be able to get a lot of production out of Bernard as both a rusher and a receiver and work the middle of the field in the pass game with A.J. Green (if healthy) and company.