FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Once coach Dan Quinn confirmed early Wednesday morning that Grady Jarrett would miss the Steelers game, the big question during his press conference later that day was who would fill the void left by the Falcons’ best defensive tackle.
Quinn said that the plan heading in is to use defensive tackles Jack Crawford, Terrell McClain and Deadrin Senat in Jarrett’s place. The Falcons coach also mentioned newly signed defensive tackle Michael Bennett as someone who might also see some snaps. Senat, Quinn added, will stay put at the nose tackle spot.
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Jarrett, who has 16 tackles on 212 defensive snaps through the first four games, injured his ankle during the Falcons’ 37-36 loss to the Bengals last Sunday.
“When we get him back right, we’ll get him back in there when we can,” Quinn said of Jarrett, and noted that it was a "week-to-week" situation regarding Jarrett's return. “He looks good right now and we’re hopeful that as we get into next week we’ll have a better feel (for when he might return.”
Quinn said that he’s hopeful to also get defensive end Derrick Shelby back as well. Shelby is expected to return to practice this week.
“All those guys are going to be helpful in nickel and we’ll need every bit of it,” Quinn said when talking about how the Falcons will need to generate a pass rush against the Steelers.
The Falcons have been hit hard with injuries this season, Jarrett’s being the latest setback. Safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen have been lost for the season, while linebacker Deion Jones is injured reserve. The soonest Jones could return is for the Cowboys game on Nov. 18.
Neal suffered a knee injury during the Falcons’ season-opening loss to the Eagles. The third-year safety was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career in 2017.
Allen suffered a torn Achilles during the Falcons’ 43-37 overtime loss to the Saints and was subsequently placed on injured reserve. Allen joins fellow safety Neal, Jones and left guard Andy Levitre on that list.
Shelby and Takk McKinley both missed the Saints game with groin injuries. McKinley returned last week and registered three sacks against the Bengals.
The Falcons’ defense is ranked 29th in scoring, 28th in red zone touchdowns, 31st on third down – just to rattle off a few statistical categories. At the same time, this team has lost games by one, six and four points – one score.
When asked about how the unit can improve, Quinn said the team will focus on playing “rock solid fundamentals play after play after play.” He listed four areas: communication, tackling, pass rush and ball-hawking.
“I think they can get improvement fast because of those things I listed,” Quinn said.
The Falcons (1-3) travel to Pittsburgh for a meeting with the Steelers (1-2-1), who are coming off a home loss to the Baltimore Ravens on "Sunday Night Football" and have yet to win a game at home this season.
The Falcons haven’t had much luck against the Steelers over the years. The two teams have met 16 times and Atlanta has managed to pull out just two victories and a tie since the two first met on Dec. 18, 1966. The Falcons’ last win against the Steelers was on Oct. 22, 2006 – a wild 41-38 win at the Georgia Dome.