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Answering Week 10 Mailbag Leftovers

Nov 12, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) is tackled by Atlanta Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. (44) in the second quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, I’m answering any leftover questions I got from listeners that I didn’t get to in this past week’s Q&A podcast episode. Let’s see what the All-22 film from the Atlanta Falcons win over the Dallas Cowboys has to say.

From watching TV, it looked like not only was Poe in a FB on the goal line plays, but Garland subbed for Levitre. Why do you think that was?
I noticed that Alford plays a lot of ST. Is that unusual for starters in the secondary? Glad he was out there for the fake punt!
Wes Schweitzer’s play is up and down. If the team can avoid disaster on his bad plays, I think we have a shot at improving on offense.

I noted the Falcons only had 5 penalties. I am sure that helped in running the offense for longer drives that scored TDs. True or False?
— Andy aka Mave2124

To answer the first part of your question, yes Ben Garland was being used as an extra tight end in this heavy sets at the goal line along with Dontari Poe subbing in as a fullback. This is not the first time that the Falcons have used an extra offensive lineman to play tight end at the goal line. Backup offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo got some work in that capacity earlier this season against the New York Jets. However it’s likely that the Falcons (correctly) deemed that Garland was the superior option in that role this week.

The reason why the Falcons have used an extra offensive lineman is it gives them a bit more physicality as the third tight end, something rookie third-string tight end Eric Saubert simply isn’t providing. Saubert has played only three offensive snaps since the bye week, largely because his blocking has been subpar. So I think we can expect to see the Falcons utilized an extra lineman moving forward when they want to get a bit more physical upfront, particularly near the goal line.

As for Robert Alford’s appearance on special teams, yes it is pretty common for the Falcons to utilize a few starters there. Alford and Desmond Trufant are usually playing the wings on the kickoff coverage team. They are basically the last line of defense to prevent a touchdown besides Matt Bosher. Last year when Trufant was hurt, starting strong safety Keanu Neal replaced him in that capacity.

Other “starters” that you’ll see on coverage units include tight end Levine Toilolo, defensive end Brooks Reed and fullback Derrick Coleman. All three work on punt coverage units, while Coleman also covers kickoffs. You’ll also see some starters on the punt block/return team, since that unit usually includes some defensive starters to prevent a fake punt.

As for Wes Schweitzer, I think he’s gotten a worse rap from some than he’s deserved this year. Yes, it is true that his play has been up and down this year. But that should be expected with a first-year starting right guard getting the first real action of his career against some pretty hefty competition. He’s had to go toe-to-toe with defensive tackles like Akiem Hicks, Kyle Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Muhammad Wilkerson, Star Lotulelei and David Irving. Those wouldn’t be easy matchups for a Pro Bowl guard, let alone a green, first-year starter.

I think Schweitzer has held his own against several of the aforementioned defensive tackles, strongly suggesting that as he continues to develop, he has the potential to be a capable starter in this league. Of course, there will be growing pains as there often are with young offensive linemen. It’s no different than what we’ve seen from the likes of Jake Matthews, Ryan Schraeder, Justin Blalock and any other inexperienced blocker that we’ve thrown to the wolves early in their careers over the past decade. But there should be plenty of hope that Schweitzer will be better for it in the long run.

There is a kernel of logic inside this suggestion. In the sense that offenses typically have a deeper stable of wide receivers that they’re willing to play, while defenses tend to be very limited with how many cornerbacks they are willing to put on the field. Thus fatigue can be more of a factor for one side rather than the other. However, I don’t think running vertical routes for the purpose of tiring out the defense is the best strategy. Defenses are smarter than that.

If you’re just running vertical “decoy” routes, opponents will likely adjust to play a lot more Cover-3, which is a coverage where the cornerbacks have deep responsibilities towards the sideline and the free safety typically covers the middle third of the field. This is the standard defensive coverage made famous by the Seattle Seahawks, but also a standard coverage used throughout the league.

Better yet, offenses are best trying to mix up their routes rather than being predictable. Forcing defenses to have to defend the entire field is an excellent strategy, but it simply can’t be accomplished as well with the same, predictable route combinations.

Vic Beasley gets a healthy workload. He is a frequent contributor in the team’s nickel sub-package and now with his recent conversion to linebacker, he’s also getting reps in the base defense. Which is something he hasn’t really experienced since midway through his rookie season in 2015.

Yes, the fact that Beasley hasn’t been a regular at defensive end in the base defense is tied primarily to his deficiencies as a run defender. Brooks Reed is simply a much better player in that capacity and has been a much more effective pass-rusher this season than in the past, making it a no-brainer to have him get most of the snaps at “LEO” (or weakside defensive end) on run downs.

However if Beasley’s workload in the nickel has been reduced this year, it’s primarily because the Falcons have a deeper rotation at defensive end. The addition of rookie defensive end Takk McKinley means that the Falcons can give Beasley a breather from time to time. Overall, it means a reduction of a half dozen or so snaps per game for Beasley in the nickel. But that has been the case for Adrian Clayborn as well. Right now, the Falcons have a three-man stable in their nickel downs between Beasley, Clayborn and McKinley. And that’s a good thing.

It should be noted that since Beasley moved to linebacker in Week Eight, his production as a pass-rusher has improved dramatically. Through the first seven weeks, Beasley had totaled three sacks and three hurries on 73 snaps rushing the passer according to Pro Football Focus. Over the past three weeks, he’s totaled one sack and nine hurries on 58 pass-rush snaps. While his sacks are down, his pressures are up significantly.

It’ll definitely be worth monitoring if this trend continues. While sacks are king, I’d much rather have a guy that generates a high amount of pressure and a low amount of sacks than vice versa. The latter was what colored Beasley’s 2016 and the start of his 2017 season. So I’m liking this change to a linebacker a lot.

That’s it for this week’s leftovers. I hope you enjoyed. And be certain to send in more questions for next week’s Q&A podcast. Find me or the show on Twitter, Facebook or email.

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Aaron has covered the Atlanta Falcons since 2006 on his website He is the host of the Locked on Falcons podcast and co-host of Falcons Central Radio podcast at Pro Football He’s also contributed in the past for draft website, The Huddle Report, and been a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. He currently resides in North Carolina, is an alumnus of the University of Pittsburgh and has a deep abiding passion for chicken wings.

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