The Falcons announced news today they have placed Pro Bowl MLB Deion Jones on IR with a foot injury. This is two of Atlanta’s key COGS (Keanu Neal also placed on IR) that have gone down for the season. In the last few years Atlanta has dedicated most its cap space to adding and retaining offensive players, often to the determent of quality depth on defense in way of letting players walk during FA. The Falcons elected to walk into the season with 7 active LB’s, but the backups were 2 undrafted free agents, a 6th round rookie, and a special teams ace. The loss of Neal was an initial blow with the style he plays and attitude he brings to the game. Initial replacement Kazee has impressed early in practice as well as game day, and they still have Ishmael who can be serviceable in a replacement role. With the loss of Jones, the Falcons are going to have to get creative and find a way to replace arguably their best defender, and there going to have to do it with unproven players.
Jones impact is going to be felt in every area of the defense. In his early career Jones ahs been one of the best coverage linebackers in the entire NFL while also proving servicable in stopping the run. In a league where coordinators are constantly trying to create mismatches with linebackers, the Falcons had the luxury of running Jones out there knowing in some cases the mis-match was actually in their favor due to Jones combination of size and speed. Even more so, it’s just the instincts in the zone game the Falcons run make him irreplaceable. Not many guys have the fluidity in their hips combined with speed to cover the multiple routes that can attack the middle zone.
This is an example of his hips flipping smoothly while not cheating the play. It’s perfect technique in that zone of following the QB’s eyes with his hips and shuffling. He’s also aware and athletic enough to recognize when he isn’t able to get in on a rush and still taking away pass lanes for the QB
The Falcons are going to sorely miss his presence. Add on he is one of the fastest linebackers in the league getting to the ball, and the Falcons won’t be able to replace him with any of their current linebackers.
If the Falcons hope to overcome the loss, they will have to fill the void as a unit. The Falcons signed Corey Joseph who will come in and compete, but who exactly fills the void and how the Falcons go about replacing his production and impact is yet to be determined. It’s not over for Falcon’s fans, but it’s definitely a wait and see approach to how the defense performs without two of it’s best players. The Brotherhood will be tested. How exactly Dan Quinn replaces two of his top draft picks from his tenure while finding a way to get the offense going, will be the toughest challenge he has faced in his young career.