According to the AJC, Chris Owens has been officially named the Falcons nickel corner. When the Falcons decide to add a fifth defensive back to help play the pass, Chris Owens will be that player.
This comes on the heels of the injury to Brent Grimes that knocked him out for the rest of the season. Owens is the best corner on the Falcons roster after Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel, so it seems like a natural fit that he would be the nickelback on the defensive side.
We have seen some really good things out of Owens, and also some really miserable things. First the bad. Against the Green Bay Packers in the 2010 playoffs, Owens was the player that Aaron Rodgers picked on the most, and who gave up the most yards and touchdown passes. It was a little bit of Rodgers and his receivers being on fire, but also a little about Owens having a hard time covering the multitude of directions slot receivers can go. Playing nickel corner is much different than outside corner, and Owens hasn’t had a great showing in the slot up to this point.
One the outside, the last time we saw Owens he was playing really well. In the playoff game against the New York Giants, Owens filled in for Grimes again, and this time he got playing time on the outside corner spot. Owens didn’t pick off any passes, but he was tested over and over by Eli Manning and his very good receiving corps, and gave up little to nothing. While covering the outside receivers Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks (one of the best and most physical receivers in the league) Owens gave up only a couple catches for negligible gains. The same can’t be said for the other defensive backs, but Owens certainly held his own and gave up very little.
That performance on the outside is what makes me a little surprised the Falcons didn’t try Robinson in the slot and Owens on the outside. The reason Owens is going to be in the slot, I believe, is due to his outstanding speed. Several times last season, he ran down the ball carrier, whether it be a receiver or a special teams returner, and saved touchdowns. He is extremely fast, and extremely athletic. He has been battle tested, and if he hasn’t learned from his multitude of past failures, there’s no way for this guy to learn. I think he won’t be fantastic, but Owens will be a lot more solid as a nickel defender than he has been in the past. The Falcons need him to be.