Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow Starting Will Give Atlanta a Better Defense
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It's really this simple.
The Falcons need to put the best 11 players on the field at all times. And right now, that includes Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu for the defense. They need to take control of the starting role because the Falcons will play the best defense with them on the field.
They'll be able to mask some of their holes in intermediate coverage and add to the pass rush in the pass defense. And against the run, they'll have better tackling linebackers who will make sure that the ball carriers go down on the first hit.
Not to mention, Worrilow is a better injury replacement for Sean Weatherspoon until he comes back than Stephen Nicholas has proven to be. Atlanta would be better served to continue on with Worrilow over middle linebacker Akeem Dent after Weatherspoon gets back, too.
Paul Worrilow is a better option than Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas
Paul Worrilow has an advantage over both Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas in coverage and against the run. Nicholas is no more than a backup, at best, at this point, and Dent has looked like Curtis Lofton—a two-down linebacker at best.
Dent can definitely blitz well, but so can Worrilow. On his 19 pass rushes, Dent has one sack and three hurries, whereas Worrilow has one hurry on his six pass rushes, but it was a beautiful one where he pushed the offensive lineman into Ryan Tannehill to force a bad throw and William Moore interception.
Worrilow is also a tackling machine, as he only missed two tackles in the preseason, to the 16 he completed, and earned a good ProFootballFocus grade against the run of plus-1.0. But his biggest contribution to the defense will be in his coverage ability.
While Dent and Nicholas are veterans, they have both been horrible in coverage the past two seasons. This year is no different for Nicholas. He showed that he shouldn't ever be in coverage on a touchdown pass to Dion Sims against the Dolphins.
Worrilow would have been able to handle that play better. And Dent has a -4.9 grade by PFF in his pass coverage while allowing a league worst 153.2 passer rating. Dent's arguably the worst coverage linebacker in the league. Worrilow, by default, is already better than the worst in the NFL.
...and Joplo Bartu belongs on the field even more than Worrilow does
So yes, Paul Worrilow is a better player than Dent and Nicholas, but the best linebacker on the Falcons right now hasn't been Kroy Biermann, who was lost to injury, or Sean Weatherspoon, who is out until week 11. It's been Joplo Bartu, the undrafted rookie from Texas State University.
Pro Football Focus has him with a positive grade of plus-1.7. His plus-0.5 grade in coverage is the best on the Falcons. Add in half a sack against the Dolphins, and excellent run defense, and the rookie has already shown that he belongs in the NFL.
Not just that, he belongs as a starter. He's the fastest linebacker on the field for Atlanta, and his overall compilation of skills is perfect for what Mike Nolan loves to do in the scheme. He's a great pass rusher and can create pressure off the edge on a blitz.
He's the best coverage linebacker the Falcons have and will have to show that even more as he starts during the season. But even more than that, he's a great run defender, and that's where he made his name in college.
It's only a matter of time before Bartu gets mentioned as someone in the running for the defensive rookie of the year award. The season's young, and he'll only get better as time passes.
Once Sean Weatherspoon comes back, he'd be able to blitz more and cover less
Sean Weatherspoon is revered around the NFL as one of the best linebackers, but coverage isn't his best asset or ability. He's very similar to a young Cornelius Bennett in that he is better off coming off the edge as a pass rusher.
That can be shown with his three sacks, five hits and 12 hurries on just 85 pass rushes last season. That's one quarterback disruption every seven snaps. Despite being a top pass rusher on the Falcons, he does have coverage ability that will allow him to disguise his intentions before every snap.
So if there is a guy who can truly replace Kroy Biermann's role on the team, it's Weatherspoon. Having him run around and shoot a different gap every passing play will only help the Falcons pass rush. And when he does drop back, he won't be a liability in coverage either.
But you have to have guys who can cover behind him if you are going to do that. Between Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu, the Falcons will have a pair of linebackers who can cover almost anyone out there. So by having some better coverage, the Falcons can get better pass rush.
And in a cyclical fashion, when the team has a better pass rush, the coverage will look better. Atlanta needs to make a change on defense for the long and short term future, and to make it the best defense it can be, they have to start Worrilow and Bartu.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats, ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy Spotrac. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.
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