Good morning! Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly list of nine things at 9 a.m. Wednesday that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.
1. Packers at 15 players on IR, won the Super Bowl: The 2010 Green Bay Packers are the team that comes to mind when reflecting on the rash of injuries that has decimated the Falcons’ defense early in the 2018 season.
The Falcons have lost their three top defenders in middle linebacker Deion Jones (broken foot), strong safety Keanu Neal (knee surgery) and free safety Ricardo Allen (Achilles) for extended periods of time. Neal and Allen are done for the season. Jones and the Falcons are optimistic that he can come back by the Dallas game.
There is also the matter of defensive end Takk McKinley (groin) and defensive end Derrick Shelby (groin) missing last week’s game because of injury. McKinley is closer to returning that Shelby.
Also, left guard Andy Levitre (elbow surgery) is out for the season, while running back Devonta Freeman has missed two games with a knee contusion.
Despite the injuries, the Falcons, who were a trendy pick to win the Super Bowl, plan to carry on.
“We will not play the role of the victim with the injuries,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said on Monday. “We have a locker room full of tough (expletive) competitive guys. I expect us to play well and we will.”
The defense didn’t play well against the Saints in an overtime loss last week. The gave up 534 yards and couldn’t get one stop when that’s all they needed.
The 2010 Packers, who Falcons fans will remember, finished the season with 15 players on injured reserve and with one player (John Jolly) suspended with a felony charge for possession of codeine.
The Packers limped into the playoffs with a 10-6 record as the sixth season. The 13-3 Falcons were the No. 1 seed and favored to reach the Super Bowl.
But the Packers had Aaron Rodgers and deep stable of receivers, which covered the fact their defense was a make-shift unit of backups. They had lost all of the linebackers including Nick Barnett, Brady Poppinga, Brad Jones and Brandon Chillar.
Charlie Peprah, a backup who’d been with the Falcons the previous season, ended up starting 11 games for the Packers at strong safety.
The Packers beat the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs, routed the No. 1 seeded Falcons, 48-21, won the NFC title game over the Bears and won the Super Bowl over the Steelers.
The Packers, with all of those injuries, became the first NFC team to win the Super Bowl as a sixth seed. The 2005 Steelers were the first team as an AFC entrant to win the Lombardi Trophy.
The Packers became just the second team to win three straight road playoff games. The 2007 New York Giants were a five seed.
Will Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense be good enough to cover up for the defense? The offense will need to score in bunches and be able to run time off the clock at times to keep the defense off the field.
Quinn, a former defensive coordinator, believes they can still put a credible defensive unit on the field.
“I have real confidence in the way that they'll approach it,” Quinn said. “To say we'll use them in exactly the same way, let's use Deion (Jones) for an example, he's somebody that we match up with just about anybody at running back, and that's a tough thing to do in our league. ... We won't play it in exactly the same way in terms of the matchups.
“But our style of how we play will be really similar. We're very committed to teaching the principles of how we play three-deep (zone) and how we play man-to-man.”
With Grady Jarrett at defensive tackle, Jones and Neal, the middle of the Falcons’ defense was considered its strength. Now, with second-year players in Duke Riley and Damontae Kazee taking over, the middle is inexperienced. Also, Jordan Richards was listed as the strong safety on the team’s depth chart.
He didn’t play well in New England, but maybe he could provide the stability that Peprah did for the 2010 Packers.
“There is no question that dealing with the injuries is hard,” Quinn said. “Because there is a person behind each of those injuries. A guy like Andy (Levitre) or Keke (Neal) or Ricardo, and how much they mean to us. But I do think it is the ultimate way to show how much of an impact some of these guys had.
“There have been guys here that have watched, trained with them, so they know that system well. To say (Sunday) our missed tackles weren't by our new players in a lot of instances. ... We've got much work to do. But I am confident that the group we'll put out can play, you know, to the best of their ability, I think, personally that they can play well.”
In the meantime, Ryan needs to limber up the old throwing arm and get ready to spread it around to Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper.
2. A.J. vs. Julio in jeopardy again: The first meeting of A.J. Green versus Julio Jones is in jeopardy after Green suffered a groin injury against the Panthers. He only played three snaps in the game.
Green didn’t play in the last meeting back in 2014, while Jones caught seven passes for 88 yards and a touchdown in a 24-10 loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
Green, who played at Georgia, and Jones were selected three spots apart -- 4th and 6th -- in the 2011 NFL draft.
“They’re both quiet. They’re guys (who don’t) talk trash,” Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick told Bengals.com on Monday. “They just show up to work, go to work every day. They’re similar as far as when you look at them.”
Kirkpatrick played at Alabama with Jones and has been with Green and the Bengals since 2012.
“To me A.J. is a little more finesse in certain things he does and Julio is a little more physical in certain things he does,” Kirkpatrick said. “But they both have great hands and they both go get the deep ball.”
3. Bengals love UGA players: In addition to Green, the Bengals have four other players from the University of Georgia on their roster.
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins, offensive guard Clint Boling, offensive tackle Cordy Glenn and safety Shawn Williams all are key members for the Bengals.
4. Allen has long road to recovery: Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon, is facing six months of recovery time, according to one medical expert.
Allen will miss the rest of the regular season and be placed on injured reserve. He could be near full strength by March and be ready for Organize Team Activities in May.
“Surgery is typically done, you have to repair the tendon,” said Dr. Ken Jung, a foot and ankle surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles. “When the tendon is torn there is a gap. So you are essentially sewing the tendon back together. Recovery wise, you are looking at a minimum of six months or so before he’d be back to essentially full activity.”
Allen, 26, is expected to regain his speed, range of motion and strength.
“Range of motion is typically a big question,” said Jung, who’s also a foot and ankle consultant to the Ducks and Kings of the NHL, the Lakers of the NBA, the Dodgers of MLB and the Sparks of the WNBA. “Strength and explosiveness, that may take a little longer to get fully back. But yeah, you’d expect them to be able to recover that.”
Allen, who signed a three-year $19.5 million contract extension over the offseason, was not in a collision on the play when he was injured in overtime of the 43-37 loss to the Saints on Sunday. He was taken off the field and then put on a cart on the sideline.
“It can vary, younger people, you don’t have to necessarily being doing something explosive,” Jung said. “Sometimes people notice it just by pushing off. In the act of pushing off, the muscle is firing off and elongating. It can actually rupture or tear. It may not be the most explosive or dramatic type injury, but it’s definitely an issue where they are firing the muscle, it can rupture.”
But the sixth-month recovery window could be extended.
“There is some variability depending on the specific sport and also within a sport depending on what position someone plays,” Jung said. “In general, the minimum is six months, but with regards to getting back to full activity it can vary depending on sport to sport.”
5. Film review: Check on the film review report card from the Falcons 43-37 overtime loss to the Saints. Nickel back Brian Poole has had better days on the football field. With three starters out, he may have been trying to do too much against the Saints.
6. Falcons worth billions: The Falcons are worth close to five times as much as Arthur Blank paid for the team 16 years ago.
That’s according to an annual study of NFL franchise valuations by Forbes, which estimates the Falcons are now worth $2.6 billion.
The new valuation represents an increase of $125 million from a year ago, when Forbes calculated the Falcons’ value as $2.475 billion.
7. Series history: It will be the 14th meeting between the Bengals and the Falcons. The Bengals lead the series 8-5.
8. McDonald passes away: Tommy McDonald, the small, speedy and sure-handed receiver who teamed with quarterback Norm Van Brocklin to help the Philadelphia Eagles win the 1960 NFL championship, has died. He was 84.
His death was announced Monday by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Details were not disclosed.
McDonald played one season for the Falcons. In 1967, he had 33 catches and four touchdowns in eight games. He was noteworthy for not wearing a face mask on his helmet that season.
McDonald was a two-time All-American from Oklahoma who played 12 NFL seasons for five teams and was a six-time Pro Bowl selection. When he retired in 1968, he ranked second in league history in touchdown catches, fourth in yards receiving and sixth in receptions.
But the 5-foot-7, 175-pound McDonald had to wait 30 years before becoming the smallest player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
9. Depth chart: The Falcons elected not to sign safety Eric Reid or go after Earl Thomas in a trade.
In the depth chart released by the team on Tuesday for Sunday’s game against the Bengals, the Falcons list Damontae Kazee and Jordan Richards as their starting safeties.
Sharrod Neasman, who played with the Falcons in 2016 and in played in Super Bowl LI, is listed as the backup to Richards at strong safety.
Here’s the rest of the depth chart:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall
LT 70 Jake Matthews,74 Ty Sambrailo
LG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 63 Ben Garland
C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer
RG 65 Brandon Fusco, 68 Zac Kerin
RT 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 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 25 Ito Smith, 32 Brian Hill
FB 30 Ricky Ortiz
DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 90 Derrick Shelby, 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
LB 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael
LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 55 Bruce Carter
LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell
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, 35 Keith Tandy
SS 29 Jordan Richards, 41 Sharrod Neasman
K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 17 Marvin Hall, 18 Calvin Ridley
PR 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall
LS 47 Josh Harris
H Matt Bosher
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.