During their win this past Sunday against the St. Louis Rams (1-1), the Atlanta Falcons (1-1) suffered a number of key injuries that have caused many fans to worry about the team's chances this season.
During the game, defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann, who was expected to play a big role in Mike Nolan's defense this year, suffered a season-ending Achilles injury.
Last year's fifth-round pick and starting fullback, Bradie Ewing, separated his shoulder in the first quarter while making his second-career NFL catch and was placed on injured reserve, effectively ending his season. Ewing was also supposed to be Atlanta's starting fullback a season ago, but was lost for the year after tearing his ACL in the preseason.
On the same drive, running back Steven Jackson injured his thigh while scoring his first touchdown of the season. Jackson did not return to the game and is expected to miss up to four weeks.
Perhaps the most crushing news to come out of last Sunday's contest was the fact that linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (arguably the team's best defender) was placed on the short-term injured reserve list after sustaining a foot injury, which will cause him to miss at least eight weeks.
Also, starting left tackle Sam Baker will miss this Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins (2-0), as he nurses both a knee and an ankle injury. Right tackle Lamar Holmes will slide over to left tackle (the position he played in college), and the recently signed Jeremy Trueblood will step in for Holmes at right tackle.
The team was without veteran cornerback Asante Samuel (hamstring) for the first game at New Orleans, and he only played a handful of snaps against St. Louis before watching the rest of the game from the sidelines.
The high-ankle sprain that wide receiver Roddy White suffered in the preseason has kept him limited in the first two games and he and fellow wideout Julio Jones are listed as questionable for this Sunday.
If you made it through that lengthy injury report you can sum up that the Falcons are in dire straits when it comes to finding 45 healthy players to suit up this week. Head coach Mike Smith stated that roster moves would be made this week to address the injury concerns. However, it appears that the team will stick with the standard "next man up" approach, as the signings of Jamar Chaney, Omar Gaither and Chase Thomas aren't expected to make much of an impact on the depth chart.
As far as the Biermann injury goes, second-year defensive end Johnathan Massaquoi will likely get the starting nod with rookie Malliciah Goodman getting considerable work as well. The Falcons notched zero sacks against Sam Bradford last week, but Massaquoi applied pressure on a number of occasions. If the two young defensive ends can produce any semblance of a pass rush, they would surpass Biermann's production in that category. However, replacing Biermanns's coverage skills and overall versatility is an entirely different task.
The team signed fullback Patrick DiMarco from the practice squad to replace Ewing in the lineup. Due to injury, Falcons fans haven't been able to see much of Ewing, so the sting of his absence won't be felt too much if DiMarco can step in and knock some linebackers around.
Steven Jackson should only miss a few weeks with his thigh injury, so it shouldn't worry too many fans to see familiar faces Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling get those carries. Both backs have plenty of experience with filling in from the Michael Turner days. Both are also excellent receivers out of the backfield, which will be a useful trait in this offense as the Falcons have only called 29 run plays this season compared to 86 pass plays. It will also be interesting to see if special-teams ace, Antone Smith, gets some work out of the backfield in the coming weeks.
The eight-week foot injury sustained by Sean Weatherspoon will be felt the most, as he is the team's defensive signal caller and vocal leader. Undrafted rookie linebacker Joplo Bartu looked good enough in camp to beat out veteran Stephen Nicholas for the starting job next to "Spoon" and Akeem Dent, and will be asked to do even more now to pick up some of the slack. Nicholas, however, will slide back into the starting lineup due to the injury. This is an area of the team that may be a major issue going forward, as none of the starting linebackers have made much of an impact in the league to this point. It should be noted that Bartu has shown promise so far this season, Dent has clearly shown improvement from last season, and Nicholas should definitely have something to prove after losing his job to an undrafted rookie.
The Sam Baker injury is one that hasn't alarmed many Falcons fans, mostly due to Baker's lousy play so far this season after receiving a contract extension this past summer. The offensive line has indeed been a problem area this season, and Baker has been the main problem. The focus coming into this season was if new starter Lamar Holmes could hold up in pass protection. While Holmes has had his struggles he's outperformed his more experienced counterpart on the opposite side of the line by a considerable margin. Baker has been responsible for three of the five sacks on Matt Ryan this season, and has been called for drive-killing penalties on a couple of occasions (Most notably on a third quarter drive in the loss to the Saints). If there was ever a time when losing your left tackle could be a positive, this is it.
Asante Samuel should be back soon, but the Falcons aren't rushing him back as their rookie corners, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have played well to this point. Also, expect Atlanta's star-studded receiving tandem to start against the Dolphins despite their questionable status, with Roddy once again in a limited role.
Falcons fans will have to keep faith in the team that GM Thomas Dimitroff assembled, and hope that there is enough depth to compensate for the numerous injuries.
Darryl L. Jones is an authority on Atlanta sports. He has lived in Atlanta his entire life, and has followed the Falcons his entire life. He is also the Atlanta Sports Examiner for Examiner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DarrylJonesATL.