The Atlanta Falcons are getting healthier in the secondary, and that could be helpful for the Bears.
Starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen will return from season-ending injuries that devastated that defense in 2018. This will kick Damontae Kazee – who showed out in their absence – down to the slot corner spot, where the Falcons like him a lot.
Atlanta’s rejuvenation in their defensive backfield left a couple of odd men out. One was Robert Alford, he of the Super Bowl pick-six, who was released and signed in Arizona shortly thereafter. The other is a fourth-year man who played in the slot for the past three years, and he is the guy who could interest Ryan Pace and the Bears, assuming he came to Chicago on an affordable deal.
His name is Brian Poole, and these are my thoughts on his impending free agency and fit with the Bears.
Poole is a bit of a mercurial talent. He does a lot of things well, and we’ll get into that in a bit, but Falcons fans will probably not be too saddened to see him go. This is why:
Rule number one of football: know where your help is. Poole had Alford to his right, and to the ballcarrier’s right, on a simple scramble drill. If he took a more vertical angle and kept the runner on his inside shoulder, the Falcons would have no problems on a pivotal play against a division foe.
Instead, he almost cut Alford off, attacking the worst possible side of his target. He inexplicably aimed for the QB’s outside shoulder when he had help to his outside. As a result, Poole was put in the spin cycle by Drew Brees of all people, and Atlanta lost the game.
That was the problem this year for Poole – tackling. That plus regained depth in the secondary is why the Falcons decided not to tender Poole, who was a restricted free agent until that decision. That’s why he wasn’t in my article about restricted free agents for the Bears to target, which can be viewed here.
So why should the Bears, or anyone for that matter, be interested? For one, tackling was not an issue for Poole in the first two years of his career, which indicates that his 2018 performance is fixable. More importantly, Poole is coming off his best season in the takeaway department; he intercepted three passes, which is a career high. His ball skills are quite impressive for someone of his stature.
Additionally, Poole also has a great track record as a blitzer, recording three sacks and five quarterback hits last year. He does have a reputation as a hard hitter as well. Some in Atlanta actually think Poole might be a better fit at strong safety, which makes a great deal of sense, because it’s a better spot to hide inconsistencies.
While Poole certainly has his problems as a player, a defensive back who is capable of three sacks and three picks in a season is relatively uncommon. For that reason, he’ll attract interest as a free agent.
I look at Poole as a great fit in Chicago for a few reasons. As I have noted before, solid coverage and tackling ability from the strong safety spot isn’t really necessary for the Bears. Eddie Jackson is more than capable of concealing the weaknesses of his partner, and when a front six is as stacked as Chicago’s, run support from the strong safety is not a requirement.
I also know just where to slot Poole in Chuck Pagano’s defense. If Adrian Amos walks, and he probably will, I think Poole can slide right in as Pagano’s primary in-box/blitzing safety. With Baltimore in 2011, Bernard Pollard thrived in that role due to his size, physicality, and versatility. While he isn’t quite as large as Pollard (6’2″, 225), Poole (5’10”, 211) is one of the larger and more physical defensive backs in the league.
Finally, Poole will not be expensive. If the Bears offer him a three year, $9 million deal, he would probably accept it and join a unit that is ready to dominate the league once again. This deal would allow the Bears to re-sign Bryce Callahan as well, and it would let Pagano create a host of exotic looks involving the two of them.
I think he’s a better fit for the in-box safety role than Amos, who will be far more expensive. Poole isn’t as sure-handed as a tackler or in coverage, but he makes far more plays, both in the secondary and in the quarterback’s face.
Poole is versatile, gets after the quarterback, has excellent ball skills for his size, and should come on an affordable deal. Despite his inconsistencies and flaws, he would fit very well in Chicago.
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