Atlanta Falcons LB Sean Weatherspoon out This Week, Next Man Up Needs to Perform
Atlanta Falcons star linebacker Sean Weatherspoon has been officially ruled out for this week's game vs. the Dallas Cowboys per the Atlanta Falcons official website's Jay Adams.
Weatherspoon has been battling an ankle injury since he went out during the Philadelphia game. He missed practice the past two days due to what is being deemed a low ankle sprain (h/t D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
The typical recovery time for a low ankle sprain is anywhere from 11 days to 26 weeks depending on how severe the injury is (h/t Midwestsportsfans.com). Since Weatherspoon is being reported as a sprain and not a tear of any sort, this looks like the proper timetable to get him back, meaning he should be back for the Saints game on Veterans Day.
Who takes his role in base and sub formations?
According to Jay Adams of Atlanta Falcons.com, Mike Peterson is going to be the starting weak-side linebacker and Akeem Dent will be the main linebacker in sub packages. This will be a step back on both players from where Sean Weatherspoon is.
In base packages—which the Falcons run rarely—Peterson has shown that he can be a talented run defender. But with DeMarco Murray looking like he will be out yet another week due to a sprained foot, the burden will be mainly on Dent to pick up the slack in the sub and Amoeba packages.
Dent played admirably in the role that Weatherspoon plays against the Eagles. However, if a team has time to game-plan against him, he could wind up being a big target of the opposing pass offense. Jason Witten would have been the main player lined up against Weatherspoon and will be a tough challenge for the second-year linebacker out of Georgia to cover.
Do the Falcons change up their scheme a bit for this week?
The Falcons have been running a scheme that is extremely multiple in how they have personnel out on the field and the looks they can give. They have shown 4-3, 3-4, 3-3-5, 2-4-5, 4-2-5, 1-5-5, 3-2-6, 2-3-6, and even some 1-4-6 looks. With how multiple the defense has been already, it allows the Falcons to use different personnel groupings.
Should the Falcons adjust to more 3-4 with Weatherspoon out?
This should allow for the lack of Weatherspoon to be covered up more than if someone like Brian Van Gorder was still in charge of the defense running his bland, non-blitzing schemes. On top of this, the Falcons have quite a few options they could use to help avert this loss.
Ideally, the Falcons will use more unbalanced 3-4 looks. There was a package used against the Eagles with Corey Peters as a 1-technique nose tackle, Ray Edwards as a 6-technique defensive end and Babineaux as a 3-technique defensive lineman on the weak side.
They also had Abraham, Biermann, Dent and Nicholas as the linebackers. It would be a good way to get a ton of athleticism on the field without compromising how the players' talents are used. However, this still leaves one final question.
Who does his active spot go to for the day?
Who should take the active roster spot with Sean Weatherspoon out?
Normally, one would say to just go with the next linebacker. However, the Falcons have been keeping all five linebackers that are on the 53-man roster available for game day because of special teams needs.
So then the question is whether it's an offensive or defensive player. It's almost assuredly going to be another defensive player. Since the Falcons tend to keep defensive ends Cliff Matthews and Jonathan Massaquoi inactive, it shouldn't surprise to see either one active on Sunday night.
The biggest question is to which one. If I were Mike Smith, I would go with Jonathan Massaquoi. He had 3-4 OLB rankings lit on fire before the draft and was projected as high as a second-round talent heading in.
If he can prove to be a good special-teams player and earn an active spot on the 46-man game day roster, Massaquoi would be an awesome additional pass rusher for Mike Nolan to integrate into the defensive game plan for the week.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL draft website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.
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