Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It's our weekly blog of nine things at 9 a.m. Wednesday that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons, who are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, bracing for some staff changes and have a chance to finish 7-9.
1. Stay or Go, Unrestricted Free Agency edition: With the Falcons just playing for pride, here's an early look at the roster heading into the regular-season finale.
While we’re working on the “Stay or Go” roster evaluation earlier than normal, we’ll look at the potential unrestricted free agents and make our determination.
Tevin Coleman, running back. Go. There is too much money out there for Coleman not to go into free agency. The Falcons seem to hold out hope that he'll return and continue to be paired with Devonta Freeman. "For sure everything's on the table," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said when asked about Coleman staying. "Like I said, when we're in the scenario that we're in, which we're not very pleased at, you evaluate anything and everything. So, yeah, we're certainly going to consider every single option in every way." Two words: Jerick McKinnon. (Four years, $30 million.)
Bruce Irvin, linebacker/end. Stay. Find some money to keep him.
Andy Levitre, left guard. Go. The same injury two consecutive seasons is a red flag. Maybe as cheap insurance.
Matt Schaub, quarterback. Go. Find the next backup quarterback and use his money on a position player.
Derrick Shelby, defensive end. Go. He hasn't been able to stay healthy. Wonderful and awesome guy.
Terrell McClain, defensive tackle. Go. Was a place-holder this season.
Ben Garland, guard. Go. He's been given plenty of opportunities to show he's not an NFL-level guard.
Logan Paulsen, tight end. Stay. Veteran has been a steadying influence on Austin Hooper.
Justin Bethel, cornerback. Stay. Special-teams mavens are hard to find.
Justin Hardy, wide receiver. Stay. This won't be a mega-deal, but he's the type of dependable player as Eric Weems.
Kemal Ishmael, linebacker. Go. Improve the depth at the position.
Ty Sambrailo, tackle. Stay. Has played well down the stretch after taking over at right tackle for Ryan Schraeder.
Bruce Carter, linebacker. Go. Provided quality veteran depth.
Jon Condo, long snapper. Go.Josh Harris should return from injured reserve and was signed to a contract extension.
Jordan Richards, strong safety. Stay. Was a serviceable backup.
Zane Beadles, guard. Go. He should be replaced via free agency or in the draft.
Steven Means, defensive end. Stay. He essentially can take over Shelby's role in the defensive line rotation.
2. Jones, Coleman updates: Wide receiver Julio Jones played with rib and hip injuries against the Panthers, and Coleman suffered a groin strain. Quinn was not ready to rule out either player for the finale.
“(Coleman) strained his groin in the game, and we’ll take him through the week and he’ll take some of the walk-throughs Wednesday and into Thursday and as we get into that, we'll have a better assessment,” Quinn said.
Jones likely won’t practice much again this week, but is expected to play.
“I suspect that will be the case again this (week) in terms of him battling for it again, but he is a rare competitor and an exceptional leader for us,” Quinn said.
3. Series history: Sunday's game will be the 51st regular-season meeting between the Falcons and the Buccaneers. The Falcons lead the series 26-24. The Falcons won the last meeting 34-29 on Oct. 14.
The Falcons won the last meeting in Tampa, a 24-21 victory on Dec. 18, 2017.
4. Turnover king: The Bucs don't take care of the football. They had two turnovers converted into touchdowns in the 27-20 loss to Dallas on Sunday. The Bucs are a minus-18 in turnover differential, which ranks 31st of 32 NFL teams.
5. Interception king: Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston and Jacksonville's Blake Bortles have both thrown 57 interceptions over the past for seasons to lead the league. Winston has thrown 13 interceptions this season. Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter noted that Winston took his check-down receivers 13 times against Dallas. He did force a couple of throws into coverage, but didn't throw an interception.
6. Yards per play: The Falcons average 6.14 yards per play in 2018, which is the sixth-most in the NFL and currently the second-highest yards per play average in franchise history.
7. Moving the chains: Jones has 73 receptions that have led to first downs, which ranks first in the NFL. Twenty-one of those receptions have come on third down, which ranks tied for the second most in the league. Houston's DeAndre Hopkins has 74.
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.