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How Will the Atlanta Falcons Survive Recent Rash of Injuries?

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How Will the Atlanta Falcons Survive Recent Rash of Injuries?
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The Atlanta Falcons secured their first win of the season over the St. Louis Rams in Week 2, but that win came at a huge cost. The Falcons lost four starters to injury.

Defensive end Kroy Biermann and fullback Bradie Ewing were both lost for the season.

“Kroy Biermann will be going on reserve injured," head coach Mike Smith said during his press conference Monday. "He has a torn Achilles tendon. As well, we will also be putting Bradie Ewing on injured reserve. He had a separated shoulder. So, those two guys today will be going on reserved injured. That transaction will take place at the end of the business day.”

The injury bug wasn’t done with the team yet, though. NFL Network analyst Ian Rapoport broke the news Tuesday that running back Steven Jackson would miss two to four weeks with an injury he sustained on his eight-yard touchdown catch.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution announced that weak-side linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will miss at least eight weeks after being placed on short-term injured reserve. Weatherspoon can return to practice with the team in six weeks, if healthy, but by NFL rules, he cannot return to play until eight weeks after being placed on the short-term injured list.

Weatherspoon has a Lisfranc injury and is eligible to play again in Week 11 when the Falcons travel to Tampa Bay to play the Buccaneers.

Losing four starters in such a short period of team is enough to really wreck the depth chart, and the Falcons surely are scrambling. But there’s even more maneuvering to be done as four other starters are considerably banged up but not on an injured list.

Wide receiver Roddy White is still on the mend from a high-ankle sprain he suffered in Week 2 of the preseason in Baltimore against the Ravens. White has played in both regular-season games, but he’s been a shell of his normal self and has been used primarily as a decoy in the offensive game plan.

Cornerback Asante Samuel was inactive for Atlanta’s Week 1 game in New Orleans with a thigh injury. He played at home in Week 2 against the Rams but re-aggravated the injury and left the game in the first quarter.

Fox Sports analyst Mike Garafolo tweeted Monday that Samuel merely “tweaked” his quad and that the team removed him from the game just to be safe.

Left tackle Sam Baker did not practice all week with a “knee/foot” injury, according to the team. He’s already been ruled out for Atlanta’s Week 3 game against the Miami Dolphins.

White and Samuel are both listed as questionable for the Miami game. White practiced on a limited basis Thursday and Friday, while Samuel missed all practices but Friday’s, where he was limited.

Wide receiver Julio Jones was limited all week in practice by a knee injury. He’s listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins.

Where will the Falcons turn while these seven starters are on the mend?

 

Steven Jackson

With Jackson out, the Falcons will use Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling to split the carries at running back. Neither is the explosive runner Jackson is, but both can catch passes out of the backfield.

We’ll have to wait and see how the carries will be split. Rodgers is averaging just 1.2 yards per carry on 13 rushing attempts this season and has a career average of only 3.6. The Falcons may lean on Snelling, who broke off runs of seven and 11 yards in Week 2, to be the every-down back with Rodgers as the change-of-pace guy.

Atlanta might not run the ball as much with Jackson out. Especially since both Jones and White seem to be getting back to 100 percent, which means the passing game could move more efficiently.

 

Brady Ewing

The Falcons did promote fullback Patrick DiMarco from the practice squad, but don’t expect to see him play much. If Atlanta needs a fullback in its normal offensive sets, Snelling can fill in for Ewing. DiMarco might see the field when Atlanta tries to move the ball in short-yardage situations in its jumbo package.

 

Kroy Biermann

Losing Biermann will be one of the harder injuries to deal with. Biermann was playing a hybrid role in defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s defense, and he was handling the new role well.

Biermann played mostly at outside linebacker but also spent time at defensive end. He was called upon to contain the run, rush the passer (from both positions) and get into coverage, both on short routes and in deep-cover situations of 20 yards or more.

The Falcons don’t have one player that can do all those things right now. And even if they have a few with the skill set, Biermann worked with the coaching staff all offseason to perfect this new hybrid role. There’s not enough time to get anyone else up to speed.

Jonathan Massaquoi will take the majority of Biermann’s snaps at defensive end. He played 12 snaps in Week 1, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and 45 in Week 2. He registered a quarterback hit and three hurries against the Rams and graded out better than any linemen on the roster.

Stephen Nicholas will step in and see more playing time to replace Biermann at linebacker. Nicholas was banged up for much of the preseason and has played just four snaps this season. He was not listed on the injury report this week, however.

Biermann had surgery Friday to repair his Achilles tendon.

 

Sean Weatherspoon

Weatherspoon is the heart and soul of this Atlanta defense and its signal-caller. Replacing him will be a tough task.

Undrafted rookie Joplo Bartu will be called upon to handle Weatherspoon’s weak-side duties at linebacker. Bartu didn’t play in Week 1 but was thrown into the fire against St. Louis, playing 63 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Bartu was the highest-rated linebacker in Week 2 for the Falcons, scoring a 1.8 overall from PFF and positive scores in both run defense and in coverage. He had a quarterback hurry, six tackles and two tackles for loss.

Bartu had an impressive training camp and preseason and is very good in pass coverage. Where he’ll have his toughest task is finding ways to always be around the ball like Weatherspoon.

The Falcons hit the waiver wire and signed linebackers Jamar Chaney and Omar Gaither this week. How much either will play after just a few practices with the Falcons hasn’t been determined. Don’t expect much, if anything, from these two in Week 3 from a playing-time standpoint.

 

Sam Baker

Baker has already been ruled out for Sunday. Since he’s missing the game against the Dolphins, Atlanta is going to have to take some drastic measures with its offensive line.

Expect second-year right tackle Lamar Holmes to slide over to the left side and protect quarterback Matt Ryan’s blind side. Taking over for Holmes at right tackle will probably be Jeremy Trueblood, whom the Falcons signed earlier this month after he was cut by the Washington Redskins when they chiseled their roster down to 75 players.

Prior to training camp with the Redskins, Trueblood spent eight seasons with the Buccaneers. He lost his starting job at right tackle in 2012 and was later moved to right guard before he was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

Trueblood played just 34 snaps at tackle in 2012 and gave up one quarterback hit and two hurries, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). In 2011, Trueblood gave up more quarterback pressures than any tackle in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He allowed four sacks, five quarterback hits and 50 hurries.

2013 Atlanta Falcons OT Stats
Passing Plays Sacks Allowed Hits Allowed Hurries Allowed
Lamar Holmes 87 1 3 8
Sam Baker 87 1 6 9

Pro Football Focus (subscription required)

Holmes, after sitting out all but seven snaps of his rookie season due to injury, has started the first two games of the 2013 season. He’s allowed one sack, three quarterback hits and eight hurries, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

The Dolphins rank second in the NFL this season with nine sacks thus far. Trueblood and Holmes will have their hands full in pass protection.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.

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