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Chris Owens Back In the Fold as Replacement Nickle, + Roster Updates

The pressure is on Chris Owens yet again. The fourth year corner from San Jose State hasn’t been a starter for much of his NFL career, but you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t follow this team and were to stumble upon Owens’ career stats. When Owens assumes the nickel position left vacant by Brent Grimes tonight against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, he will have started two of Atlanta’s last three non-preseason games, and two of the last three he has appeared in overall. Owens started against the other Manning in the NFC Wildcard round of the playoffs last winter, and after missing the entire 2012 preseason with injury Owens will be right back at it tonight against Denver.

And the Falcons desperately need him to be up to speed.

Peyton Manning won his Broncos’ debut handily against the Steelers last Sunday night, and threw only seven incompletions in the victory. With the strength of the Falcons’ offense and the lack of concern regarding weather in tonight’s game, an offensive shootout seems likely. That could lead both teams to throw more than run, and with Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson as the other two corners tonight, logic leads one to believe Owens will be the guy Manning elects to pick on.

Technically, Owens isn’t likely to be in the Falcons’ 11-man starting lineup on defense. Robinson will continue to occupy his spot, and Samuel will be the man to actually replace Grimes. Owens then shifts into Samuel’s spot from last week, in the nickel and in centerfield on deep passing downs.

Still, that role is significant enough to permit Owens to see quite a bit of action tonight. Samuel recorded three tackles and a pass defended last week in Kansas City, while Owens, off the bench, recorded just one tackle.

Of the utmost importance however, is the fact that as the starting nickel-corner, Owens won’t be allowed to necessarily play to his strengths. At 5’9, 180, Owens isn’t the biggest hitter, but has had past success disguising himself in the blitz.
Owens recorded a sack last season against Christian Ponder, and is a capable run and option defender.

He didn’t record an interception in 14 games last year, but held his own when he started for Grimes in the playoffs last year. His performance against Eli was a significant improvement from his showing against the Packers in the 2010 playoffs, where Aaron Rodgers repeatedly exploited the undersized Owens.

While ideally the Falcons won’t need to put anybody not named Dunta Robinson or Thomas DeCoud in coverage against Denver’s top receiving threat (and Georgia native and GT alumnus) Demaryius Thomas, look for a lot of Chris Owens tonight nonetheless.

On offense, the Falcons would be well served to see an improvement from tight end Michael Palmer. Palmer certainly wasn’t a liability last week, but did look a little out of sorts when used as an upback alongside the Falcons’ true fullback Lousaka Polite. Palmer didn’t handle KC’s linebacker Justin Houston in blitz pick-up, and Houston was the one man to sack Matt Ryan.

That sort of thing may become a non-issue once Polite grows into Dirk Koetter’s offense, but for now Palmer (or Tommy Gallarda) should be ready to help out in the backfield.

One final note involves the Falcons bringing back wide receiver James Rodgers. Rodgers, the older brother of running back Jacquizz, was signed to the Falcons practice squad last week. He, like his younger brother, played collegiately at Oregon St.

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