After just one week of football, the Atlanta Falcons have been dealt with two huge blows on defense, as linebacker Deion Jones joined safety Keanu Neal on the injured reserve.
The Atlanta Falcons stumbled in the opening game of the 2018 NFL season, as they failed to effectively move the ball against the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, losing 18-12.
Suffering a one-score loss to a non-division opponent in Week 1 is hardly a catastrophe, especially when that team is as dominant as the Eagles. Unfortunately, the serious injuries suffered by safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones could prove to be devastating for the Falcons, who will hope for production from the “next men up.”
Neal tore his ACL in the loss and was officially placed on injured reserve yesterday, with Falcons head coach Dan Quinn initially believing that the injury would not be “serious”. Sadly, seemingly minor knee injuries can turn out to be ACL tears, as was the case for Neal, who is one of the most intimidating safeties in the NFL.
Today, the Falcons announced that Jones will join Neal on the injured reserve with a foot injury. In a statement posted on the Falcons official website, Quinn left open the possibility that Jones may return in 2018, but he will have to miss a minimum of eight weeks on the injured reserve.
These are two huge blows to the Falcons defense, as Neal and Jones are among the best young players in the NFL today. Jones has blossomed into a likely perennial Pro Bowl player at the position, as he made the squad last year. In his first two seasons in the NFL, Jones posted over 100 tackles and three interceptions, and he was off to a similar start in Week 1 with nine tackles and a pick against the Eagles.
Jones is the definition of a three-down linebacker for the Falcons, manning the heart of the defense like a player with years of experience. His exciting style made him a second-round pick out of LSU, and let’s just say that he has more than lived up to the hype for Atlanta.
Meanwhile, Neal is another valuable performer who is good for 100+ tackles per year. He hits hard, covers plenty of ground at strong safety, and is a forced-fumble machine. Like Jones, his injury leaves a void in the Falcons defense, but at least Damontae Kazee played well after Neal went down with the ACL tear.
The Falcons are one of the NFL’s more talented squads, but these two long-term injuries on defense will test them, particularly in the NFC South. Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers are always a threat on offense with him under center, the New Orleans Saints are a juggernaut, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked like the NFL’s most exciting offense in Week 1 after embarrassing the Saints secondary with their talented wide receiver trio.
Neal and Jones are valuable against both the passing game and the running game, so their replacements will have a good deal of pressure on them.
On the bright side, it is important to reiterate that Jones could still return this year, so while there will likely be a huge drop-off in talent between him and the “next man up”, he may be able to return later in the season (or even for the postseason).