Davante Adams of the Green Bay Packers is tackled by Brian Poole and Isaiah Oliver of the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of a game at Lambeau Field on December 09, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Photo: Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Photo: Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Cover 9@9: Falcons could overhaul secondary next season

1.  Secondary overhaul: One of the benefits of having so many injuries is that the Falcons’ secondary for 2019 will be overhauled and the depth should be much improved. 

With safeties Keanu Neal (knee surgery) and Ricardo Allen (Achilles surgery) out for most of the season, the Falcons have played Damontae Kazee, Jordan Richards and Sharrod Neasman at free and strong safety.

When Neal and Allen return, Kazee would ideally fit as the nickel back and would compete with Brian Poole for that spot. He’s just too light to hold up over time at free safety. He’s listed at 190 pounds, but that has to be with some rocks in his pockets. 

Falcons coach Dan Quinn addressed the potential move for Kazee recently.

Richards and Neasman would return to being quality reserves and special teamers.

The Falcons played rookie cornerback Isaiah Oliver at cornerback and safety against the Packers last week. He was left on Green Bay’s top receiver Davante Adams and tight end Jimmy Graham. 

>SALARY CAP UPDATE: Falcons projected to be $25.8 million under the 2019 salary cap 

He played strong, but his youth showed on some plays, too. 

“He's really a mature guy,” Quinn said.

Can Oliver compete for the starting right cornerback spot with Robert Alford next season or will he be just a situational and matchup player?

“For him, the work is mostly at the line of scrimmage,” Quinn said. “Just challenge him to stay down. If you're in the corner, stay down as long as you can. There are certain formations that you have to get off and certain calls that you don’t.”

Alford leads the team with 12 penalties and has had four declined. Oliver had a penalty against the Packers.  

“But now that he is staying at the line of scrimmage and been challenged, it has been excellent for him to have some of this on the job training at corner,” Quinn said. “So, we'll continue to do that. Yeah, he's somebody that we definitely are excited about.”

Look for the Falcons to try and get Oliver some time against Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald under their iron sharpens iron philosophy. 

2. Nkemdiche down:  Like the Falcons, the Cardinals have been hit hard by injury in coach Steve Wilks’ first season with the team. 

Former Grayson High star Robert Nkemdiche suffered a knee injury against the Lions on Sunday and was the 14th Cardinal placed on injured reserve. He was the Cardinals’ second defensive tackle and sixth defensive player added to the list. 

Wilks knows the Falcons from his days with the Panthers (2012-17). 

3. Rosen is the centerpiece:  The Cardinals are trying to build around rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, selected 10th overall out of UCLA in the 2018 NFL draft. 

Four games into the season, the Cardinals promoted former Falcons quarterback Byron Leftwich into the offensive coordinator position. 

Rosen has completed 55.4 percent of his passes, with 10 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and has a 68.3 passer rating over 11 games. 

In the 17-3 loss to the Lions on Sunday, Rosen completed 26 of 41 passes for 240 yards and had one interception. He finished with a passer rating of 69.2 and had just one trip into the red zone. 

Rosen will be compared to the other rookie quarterbacks who were selected in the top 10, Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, New York Jets’ Sam Darnold and Buffalo’s Josh Allen. 

Mayfield, who guided the Browns to a 28-19 victory over the Falcons on Nov. 11, is having the best season of the rookies with 19 touchdown passes and a passer rating of 93.4. 

Darnold has 12 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a 69.5 passer rating. Allen has five touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 62.8 passer rating. 

Byron Leftwich -- 5-year veteran threw for 279 yards with one TD and two INTs in three games (two starts) last season.
Photo: Curtis Compton / AJC

4. Leftwich is the coordinator:  Leftwich was with the Falcons during the Michael Vick-Bobby Petrino season from hell of 2007. He started two games and played in three. 

“He's a guy that took over and is making calls now as the offensive coordinator,” Quinn said. “It’s been impressive to see some of the things that he's been able to do.”

5. Cardinals defense: The Cardinals defense is anchored by linebacker Chandler Jones, who has 12 sacks. Also, defensive backs Budda Baker and safety Antoine Bethea are having solid seasons. Former Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters has two sacks and played 41 of 60 defensive snaps (68 percent) against the Lions. 

Linebacker Haason Reddick led the unit with 11 tackles against the Lions. 

6. Fitzgerald is great: With 5:48 left in the third quarter of last week’s game against the Lions, Fitzgerald caught a 14-yard pass from Rosen. It moved Fitzgerald (1,282) past Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (1,281 with the 49ers) for the most catches in NFL history with one team.

7. Series history: This will be the 30th regular-season meeting. The Cardinals lead the series 15-14. The two teams have played in the playoffs once, with the Cardinals winning after the 2008 season. 

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - DECEMBER 09: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on December 09, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images

8. Jones great, too: In the 34-20 loss to the Packers on Sunday, Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones became the first player in NFL history to have more than 1,400 yards receiving in five consecutive seasons. Jones currently leads the league in receiving yards at 1,429 on the season. He also has 94 catches and five touchdowns. His 109.9 yards receiving per game also leads the league. 

9. Falcons depth chart:  Ty Sambrailo started at right tackle for the Falcons against the Packers. He had an offsides penalties and gave up a sack to Clay Matthews on a stunt in the third quarter.  


WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo

LG 71 Wes Schweitzer

C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer

RG 69 Zane Beadles, 63 Ben Garland

RT 74 Ty Sambrailo, 73 Ryan Schraeder, 77 Matt Gono

TE 81 Austin Hooper, 82 Logan Paulsen, 85 Eric Saubert 

WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub

RB 26 Tevin Coleman, 25 Ito Smith, 32 Brian Hill 

FB 30 Ricky Ortiz, 32 Brian Hill 


DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 56 Steven Means 

DT 99 Terrell McClain, 94 Deadrin Senat, 92 Justin Zimmer 

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford

DE 98 Takk McKinley, 50 Brooks Reed, 52 Bruce Irvin 

WLB 54 Foye Oluokun, 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael

MLB 45 Deion Jones, 55 Bruce Carter

SLB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 52 Bruce Irvin 

CB 23 Robert Alford, 20 Isaiah Oliver, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson 

CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole, 28 Justin Bethel

FS 27 Damontae Kazee, 40 Ryan Neal 

SS 29 Jordan Richards, 41 Sharrod Neasman 


K 3 Matt Bryant, 4 Giorgio Tavecchio

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 17 Marvin Hall, 14 Justin Hardy

PR 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall

LS 46 Joe Condo

H 5 Matt Bosher 

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.