The Atlanta Falcons Have Their "Neo" (Keanu Neal) Back

Jeremy Johnson

In "The Matrix" hit movie series, one character came and changed the course of a lost war. Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, arrived in Zion after being pulled from the Matrix by Morpheus, Trinity and the gang.

You know the rest.

For the Falcons, their very own Matrix will return the field in 2020. The Matrix is a nickname tagged onto safety Keanu Neal early in his career.

The Falcons’ Matrix could be the missing piece to an improving defense. He could be the one for the Falcons in 2020.

Expectations shouldn’t be through the roof. Neal has suffered a torn ACL and torn Achilles in back-to-back seasons.

He won’t be the guy who put up 116 tackles, snagged an interception and played in the Pro Bowl in 2017. At least he won’t be initially. Falcons’ head coach Dan Quinn has spoken about Neal’s injury this offseason and has been optimistic about his rehabilitation.

It seems like Neal will be ready to be on the field early in the season. There is a difference between being on the field and being back, however.

Health is the biggest question with Neal. There is also the question of where exactly he fits in the equation. In his time off the field, a new player has established himself as a starting caliber player in the Falcons’ secondary.

Damontae Kazee has grabbed 10 interceptions in the last two seasons. Kazee only graded a 60.8 by Pro Football Football Focus last season. Neal may have been the better player when he was healthy. Neal graded at 43.1 as he was trying to get back in the swing in three games last season.

Neal could be used as a backup to Kazee at the strong safety position initially. Kazee’s turnover potential dictates his presence on the field. Neal may not be as quick in the open field initially coming off two major injuries.

Neal has always been a physical player. That won’t change. It didn’t change in 2019 when he returned after his torn ACL. Neal picked up a few 15-yard personal fouls that probably wouldn’t have been flags when he entered the league.

Neal could be allowed to play alongside Kazee and Ricardo Allen as a third safety or linebacker hybrid to provide his thump in the run game.

Rule changes aside, he’s an intimidator. The Falcons’ defense missed that last season. There’s a need for nasty. Neal is that. No matter the snap total he plays opponents will want to know where Neal is when the ball is heading toward them or in their hands.

Discomfort leads to indecisiveness. In the NFL, indecisiveness leads to turnovers and missed opportunities. Neal’s presence alone makes the Falcons’ defense better. His voice has been a missed one in the locker room.

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