You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Injuries thin Falcons defense for stretch run

There’s nothing positive about the Falcons losing Desmond Trufant to season-ending surgery or the news that defensive end Adrian Clayborn reportedly also is set for a procedure. The defense has been vulnerable to big pass plays and now the Falcons will make their final push for the playoffs without their best cornerback and a key pass rusher.

But at least the Falcons can say they’ve been here before. Important players at every level of the defense have missed games because of injuries this season and yet the Falcons (7-4) are in control of the NFC South and lately have shown steady signs of improvement on that side of the ball.

Trufant sat out for the second straight game on Sunday and Clayborn departed early with a knee injury, yet the Falcons limited the Cardinals to six points in the second half of a 38-19 victory.

“We don’t generally say ‘next man up’ but as you are part of this team we recognize the value that you have,” Quinn said Monday. “That’s why we push each guy to take them as far as we can, knowing that when your (opportunity) is called, you are ready to answer. That is one of the best way to demonstrate earning your respect from your teammates: ‘Here is my opportunity, I’m going to go nail it.’”

Quinn wasn’t ready to officially rule out Trufant for the season but Trufant already has surgery scheduled for Thursday to repair a torn pectoral muscle. ESPN reported later Monday that Clayborn likely will have surgery after tore the MCL and meniscus in a knee.

Opponents targeted Trufant fewer times than any cornerback in the NFL last season, when he earned his first Pro Bowl selection. Clayborn leads all defensive linemen in snaps played and his 4 1/2 sacks are second on the team behind Vic Beasley (9.5).

The Falcons have used a collective effort to generate pass rush. But Trufant’s replacement, Jalen Collins, will be taksed with reguarly covering opposing wide receivers with little or no help.

“We prepare, so I’m sure I can get it done,” Collins said. “I’m ready.”

When Trufant left the Nov. 3 Buccaneers game, Collins replaced him in the starting lineup and has generally played well since. Quinn said he was most pleased with Collins’ competitiveness against the Cardinals.

“He had really difficult matchups on a number of good players and he just kept responding,” Quinn said. “We are anxious to see where he goes but, for me, his arrow is certainly trending up.”

The Falcons selected Collins in the second round of the 2015 draft out of LSU and his size/speed combination seemed to make him a good fit for Quinn’s defense. But Collins struggled in coverage as a rookie and then missed the first four games of this season because of a violation of the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

The Falcons didn’t activate Collins for the first two games after he was eligible to return. He played solely on special teams in the Week 7 loss to the Chargers and then was back on the inactive list for Week 8.

Now the Falcons are counting on Collins to fill in for their best cornerback.

“Trufant is a guy that you cannot really replace, but it is next man up and we will get at it,” Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones said. “We have Jalen in now. We have to keep giving him those looks and keep giving him those reps at practice. Then, when he gets to the game, he will be a lot more comfortable.”

The Falcons’ defense has pushed through several injuries this season.

The linebacker corps made do after injuries felled Sean Weatherspoon and De’Vondre Campbell. The Falcons managed to improve their pass rush even as injury slowed defensive end Dwight Freeney and Derrick Shelby had season-ending surgery. The secondary did without promising rookie Keanu Neal when he missed the first two games following knee surgery.

“When your number is called we expect you to step up,” Quinn said. “Your teammates do; your coaches do. We don’t make a big deal out of it: ‘Man, you really have to play well now, so and so is out.’ They are pretty aware of that going into the game, that’s why you re there. But at the same time, as a real competitor, ‘All right, man, here’s my shot and I’m going to go take it.’ We have a lot of good competitors here.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Atlanta Falcons

NFC South teams making moves, trying to catch Falcons
NFC South teams making moves, trying to catch Falcons

The past two NFC champions have come from the South Division, the Falcons and the Carolina Panthers. Tampa Bay and New Orleans have been active in free agency trying to catch the Falcons, and the Panthers are trying to revive their operation after dipping from 15-1 in 2015 to last place at 6-10 in 2016. With free agency basically over and the teams...
Would Falcons ‘opt out’ of color rush uniforms?
Would Falcons ‘opt out’ of color rush uniforms?

The Atlanta Falcons are scheduled to play a Thursday night home game in the 2017 season and wear red from head-to-toe as part of the NFL’s “color rush” promotion. A bylaw presented to the league by the Washington Redskins, however, seeks to give teams the opportunity to “opt out” of wearing the one-color scheme uniforms...
Fate of Dwight Clark, Gale Sayers reaffirm NFL not doing enough
Fate of Dwight Clark, Gale Sayers reaffirm NFL not doing enough

First came news that Gale Sayers, one of the more graceful athletes ever to carry a football, suffers from dementia so severe that he gives blank stares when asked to sign his own name. Then we heard Dwight Clark, whose strong hands gripped more than 500 receptions in his career, including arguably the most memorable in NFL history, struggles today...
Take the ultimate Falcons draft quiz
Take the ultimate Falcons draft quiz

The Falcons have the 31st pick in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, which will be held April 27-29.
Julio Jones’ injury update: ‘The foot’s good’
Julio Jones’ injury update: ‘The foot’s good’

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, who recently had foot surgery, gave an update after his appearance at the state capitol Wednesday. “I’m good,” Jones told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The foot’s good. I’m two weeks out now, I think, but it’s good.” Jones was on hand to announce the name for the...
More Stories