The Atlanta Falcons probably expected their secondary to experience some growing pains early on in the season after spending their first two picks of the 2013 NFL Draft on cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.
However, while Trufant and Alford have both taken their lumps, one of the more surprising aspects of Atlanta's 1-3 start has been the poor play of veteran defensive backs Thomas DeCoud and Robert McClain.
Through four games, DeCoud and McClain have each contributed to Atlanta's lukewarm start by surrendering key plays because of breakdowns in their technique, poor field awareness and sloppy tackling.
Before we discuss whether or not Atlanta should consider replacing DeCoud or McClain in the lineup, let's take a look at a few of their more egregious errors this season.
Robert McClain allowed Kenny Stills to get inside position on this seam route as soon as he opened his hips. This was an easy 67-yard pitch and catch for the Saints that would've been a lot harder to complete if McClain had gotten his body between Stills and Drew Brees. You can see Thomas DeCoud get turned around at midfield trying to make a tackle. If Robert Alford hadn't hustled down the field, Stills may have taken this ball to this house. The play happened because of McClain's poor technique.
Three weeks later, McClain's footwork costs the Falcons a 44-yard gain on this third-and-8 play in the fourth quarter against the Patriots. This time McClain plays his receiver too far to the inside and sets himself up for failure when Julian Edelman trips McClain up with a hard inside fake.
POOR FIELD AWARENESS
One of these Falcons defensive backs is not like the other ones, which one could it be? Thomas DeCoud doesn't appear to be cognizant of down and distance here when he gives his receiver an 8-yard cushion on a third-and-2 play on Miami's game-winning drive. He needed to be up closer to the line of scrimmage challenging his man the way the rest of Atlanta's defensive backs were pre-snap on this play. Instead, the Miami receiver doesn't have to run much of a route to get the first down here.
Both McClain and DeCoud have missed their share of tackles this season. Neither player was ever going to be confused with William Moore, but Atlanta needs a better effort than this from each of them.
Here, Thomas DeCoud misses an open field tackle against Brian Quick that allows Quick to pick up a first down on one of St. Louis' fourth quarter touchdown drives that helped make that game interesting. Robert McClain makes a similar error in Week 3 against the Dolphins.
Until DeCoud and McClain demonstrate that they can get receivers down in the open field consistently, expect teams to continue to look for opportunities to isolate each of them on short routes that give receivers a chance to pick up yards after the catch.
TIME FOR REPLACEMENTS?
Thomas DeCoud made the Pro Bowl (as a replacement) for the first time in his career last season and he's in the second year of a five-year contract he signed prior to the 2012 season. In spite of that, he appears to have regressed through four games this year. Should the Falcons give one of their young safeties like Kemal Ishmael or Shann Schillinger a look at free safety if DeCoud continues to play poorly?
DeCoud will never be the smash-mouth safety that William Moore is, but Atlanta desperately misses his ball-hawking ability on the back end. It's probably too early to consider benching DeCoud, and none of the young safeties showed anything in the preseason to suggest that they're ready for the spotlight. Nevertheless, DeCoud could fall out of favor quickly if he doesn't get his act together.
As for Robert McClain, many Falcons fans are wondering if last season's breakout performance was a fluke. He's been eaten up for significant yardage in each of Atlanta's three losses, and has looked lost in man-to-man coverage at times. The problem for the Falcons is that with Asante Samuel still struggling with his injury, they don't have too many options for replacing McClain on the roster. Would Dominique Franks be an upgrade?
You've seen the games, and now it's your turn to join the conversation. Do the Falcons need to consider replacing Thomas DeCoud and/or Robert McClain?
ALL SCREENSHOTS ARE VIA NFL.COM'S GAME REWIND.