Despite the Atlanta Falcons capturing their first “W” in 2013 against the pesky St. Louis Rams 31-24, the Falcons walked away from the game as if it was Week 1, losing to the New Orleans Saints all over again. Only this time, it seems that their bounties have been collected and their players knocked out.
While the Falcons have finally entered the “Win” column in Week 2, it came at a much higher price that even coach Mike Smith wouldn’t be willing to pay. That high price tag included five starters with three on injured reserve, although one of the players placed on IR will make a return in Week 11 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
These players include: linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (foot), fullback Bradie Ewing (shoulder), defensive end Kroy Biermann (achilles), defensive back Asante Samuel (thigh) and running back Steven Jackson (thigh). While Jackson shouldn’t be out more than a couple of games, the rest of the players are either out for the year, miss significant time or when they will return is unclear.
While the Falcons’ defense has not been full strength since the beginning of the year, the defensive unit literally took a blindside hit to the head and may be unconscious for half of the season … at least.
Earlier this year, free safety Thomas DeCoud believed that this would be the year the Falcons’ defense “dominates” and shows that it can be a top-tier defense in 2013.
“I think that we can be dominant,” said safety DeCoud, who made his first trip to the Pro Bowl last year. “I think that this is the year that we can show that we’re a top-tier defense in this league and can be consistent. I think we’ve been kind of streaky in what we’ve been able to do the past couple of years. But I think this is a year that we can dominate for 16 games.”
If the Falcons’ defense was at full strength, DeCoud’s comments were valid, as the Falcons might have had one of their most athletic defensive units in the Smith Era. Instead of witnessing possibly a high-flying, energetic Falcons’ defense, we will get to see a banged up unit hobble onto the field praying that they can do just enough to allow Matt Ryan and the explosive offense take care of the rest.
While Samuel has been injured even before the season began, losing defensive stalwarts in Weatherspoon and Biermann is a one-two knockout punch for a unit trying to prove itself in a league where their defense has been a joke in past years. Though the Falcons might not have had the sexiest group of defensive players, one thing they had going for them was their cohesiveness.
Even if Jackson and Ewing are not in the game for the Falcons for an extensive period of time, the offense still has enough firepower to compete with most teams. Unfortunately, take three starters off of a defense still lacking consistency and you end up getting burned.
Against the Rams, fans were reminded just how inconsistent their defense can be and how terrible they are, as they gave up 24 points and winning only by a touchdown after shooting out to a 21-0 lead.
The football gods have not been on the Falcons’ side thus far, as Smith acknowledges that he hasn’t experiences rapid injuries in such short amounts of time during his six-year reign with the team.
“We’ve not had anything close to this,” Smith said. “There have been games where we’ve had guys who have not been able to play and it’s been the next-man-up mentality, and I think that’s really what our guys understand. I tell them all the time we have very defined roles on our team and in our organization, but I tell them on our team those roles can change just like that and you’ve got to be prepared.”
In the NFL, it is survival of the fittest, as the Falcons were hit hard and in the next few weeks, their endurance and durability will be pushed to the limits. For a team that has been hyped up in going to the Super Bowl, the Falcons will have to weather the storm just to give themselves a chance in keeping their goal alive.