Keanu Neal is the key to this Atlanta Falcons defense.
The Atlanta Falcons have missed the playoffs in back to back years after going 7-9 each of those seasons. Anyone could list the reasons why they haven’t been able to get to the postseason and injuries are one of the main reasons.
Atlanta Falcons safety Keanu Neal is coming off of his second consecutive season-ending injury. The fact that the Falcons haven’t had him on the back end of that defense has affected them in a big way. With all due respect to the likes of Deion Jones and Grady Jarrett, Keanu Neal is the most valuable player on this defense.
If you take a look at the numbers, you can see the impact Neal makes on this team. The four years since he was drafted, the Falcons made the playoffs in two of those years including a Super Bowl appearance in his rookie season. In his second season, the Falcons ranked 9th in the league in points allowed per game with 19.7.
Neal was the ultimate safety blanket for the Falcons in pass coverages. He has a knack for being around the football and is the best and hardest-hitting tackler the Falcons have.
In his two full seasons, Neal accumulated 222 combined tackles, 14 pass deflections, and eight fumbles. Had Neal been healthy enough to play the full season, he would have been able to save the Falcons from embarrassment from a pass defense perspective.
The Falcons signed some veterans to add depth in the secondary but the secondary is still young. As talented as Kendall Sheffield and Isaiah Oliver are, having Neal back there would have worked wonders. With first-round pick A.J. Terrell now in the fold, the young corner might have to look to Neal to assist in his growing pains gaining NFL experience.
The Atlanta Falcons defense play much better in the second half of the season when Jeff Ulbrick took over play-calling duties. He returns this year and Raheim Morris is now the defensive coordinator.
With the Saints and Bucs loading up on offensive weapons, the presence of Neal in the secondary is as important as it’s ever been. The defense should improve drastically and the presence of Neal on the secondary will have a profound effect.