FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The ‘next man up’ mentality is one every team in the NFL has to utilize at some point in the season, and it’s where the Falcons find themselves after just one week of action.
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With Pro Bowl safety Keanu Neal done for the season and Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones out for the foreseeable future, the Falcons have two very big roles to fill on a defense that had its sights set on becoming an elite unit in 2018.
Second-year players Damontae Kazee and Duke Riley will be the primary replacements for Neal and Jones, respectively, but Falcons coach Dan Quinn isn’t going to ask them to replicate everything his two Pro Bowlers did on Sundays.
“We’ll ask those guys to do the things that they do best,” Quinn said. “We won’t feature them in exactly the same way that we did Deion and Keke, but we’ll ask them to play in the style that suits them and suits us, too. They’re really equipped for it, in terms of the challenge … We won’t ask them to do the exact same things, much like any player that would go into a new spot.”
Atlanta’s defense played like a top-flight unit in Week 1 against Philadelphia, limiting the Eagles to just 232 yards of offense and 18 points. The question on everyone’s mind now, however: What does the Falcons’ defense look like without two of its key pieces?
Without Jones and Neal, it’s reasonable to believe other talented defensive players like Ricardo Allen, Grady Jarrett or De’Vondre Campbell would press a little harder to make up for their absence. On the other side of the ball, will the offense have to shoulder a greater load if the defense can no longer keep games close?
It’s fair to ask those questions, but Quinn said he doesn’t believe there should be any added pressure and that he’s not approaching the team’s preparation in that way.
“Just the opposite, in fact,” Quinn said. “We want to make sure that they play like they’re capable of playing. Let’s make sure Duke and Kazee play like they are. They don’t have to play the game of their lives, they have to play like they do really well. That’s where we don’t have to make somebody play harder. We have some guys that really empty the tank and play harder. I couldn’t imagine telling [Ricardo Allen], ‘Hey man, you’ve got to really play harder.’ He 100 percent empties it out for us.
“And then the same thing offensively, let’s do what we do really well. That’s the message, not anything past that.”