COVER 9@9: Dan Quinn on catching Carolina in the NFC South

Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman (24) and Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) exchange words after a play during an NFL football game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015. (Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini)

Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman (24) and Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) exchange words after a play during an NFL football game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015. (Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini)

1. CATCHING CAROLINA: The Falcons, Saints and Bucs are chasing the Carolina Panthers who have taken control of the NFC South with three consecutive titles.

The Falcons won the NFC South in free agency, according to our Michael Cunningham’s Mike Check blog. But what must the Falcons do to make sure that winning in the offseason translates to the season? What must they do to catch the Panthers, return to playoffs and become a Super Bowl contender again?

Falcons coach Dan Quinn has some thoughts on the Panthers, who reached  Super Bowl 50 before going down to the Denver Broncos.

“No. 1, they did the best job (with the) turnover margin,” Quinn said during his media session at the NFL’s owner’s meeting. “They played a tough style. They are physical on both sides of the line of scrimmage, but the turnover margin was the thing I think that set them apart.”

Carolina led the league with a plus-20 turnover differential. The Panthers had 39 takeaways and  committed 19 turnovers.

The Saints  were tied for 15th at plus-2. They had 22 takeaways and 20 turnovers.

The Bucs were tied for 22nd at minus-5. With a rookie quarterback, the Bucs had 23 takeaways and 28 turnovers.

The Falcons were 27th in the league with a minus-7 turnover differential. They had 23 takeaways and 30 turnovers.

So, you can see that the Falcons were the worst team in the division in the turnover differential. That’s why Quinn has been harping on this over the offseason.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton celebrating after scoring a touchdown against the New York Giants last December. (Associated Press)

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton celebrating after scoring a touchdown against the New York Giants last December. (Associated Press)

“Aside from some of the players they had, that was one of things that impressed me about Ron (Rivera’s) club this year was their ability to take it away and their ability to take care of it,” Quinn said.

The Falcons have noted that they were 7-1 when they won the turnover battle. But the Panthers had play-makers with speed on defense who created their 39 turnovers.

“The ability when you get turnovers and the speed that comes with that when you create them, sometimes it may just be a tipped ball that went in the air and you’re really hauling, that’s the pass that you can catch,” Quinn said. “They played with good energy and toughness. Tackling from a defensive standpoint, they looked like somebody that was always bringing it. Yes, I was impressed with their club for sure.”

Quinn has made it point to note this offseason that the Falcons must improve the speed on defense.

The Panthers, although things got out of hand in the New York Giants game when cornerback Josh Norman and Odell Beckham Jr. basically had an on-field brawl, played with a physical style and swagger.

“When you play to your style and you know who you are, you don’t have to change week to week,” Quinn said. “You never have to be something different. That’s one of the important things with our club, making sure that we are all staying true to our identity and style. I tip my hat to them in terms of the style that they play.

“They are not going to back off.”

Quinn was also impressed with Carolina’s offensive coordinator Mike Shula and how he’s incorporated quarterback Cam Newton’s designed runs into the offense.

“Cam has designed quarterback runs that make it a challenge whereas other teams may run a little bit of zone-read, but if the quarterback is going to get hit, he takes the slide and goes down,” Quinn said. “But with him, the thing that impressed me the most for him was that they were designed runs for him, inside runs, quarterback runs, especially down in the red zone.”

BTW, QUINN IS JUST FINE WITH MATT RYAN’S PLAYERS ONLY PASSING CAMP THAT IS GOING ON IN FLORIDA.

2. RELIGIOUS LIBERTY: We have to keep track of this political stuff because the folks alleging to represent the people may cost the state a Super Bowl bid. So, here’s Jeff Schultz latest take after Governor Nathan Deal vetoed Bill 757.

3. OFFICIAL DRAFT ORDER: The NFL released the official order of the upcoming draft, which will be held April 28-30 in Chicago, on Tuesday.

The Falcons, who pick 17th overall in the first round, only have five picks this season.

The team lost its fifth round pick as a penalty resulting from pumping fake noise into the Georgia Dome during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The team traded away its sixth round pick to acquire guard Andy Levitre from Tennessee.

The Falcons still have picks in the second round (50th overall), third round (81st), fourth round (115th) and seventh round (238th).

4. ALL-RED UNIFORMS ON THE WAY: You’ve seen the Falcons play in all-black uniforms. You’ve seen them play in all-white. Next season, could have you seeing red.

The NFL debuted “color rush” uniforms for four Thursday night games late last season. Teams were “saturated head-to-toe by one of the respective team’s current or historic primary colors.”

If the Falcons are lucky enough to be scheduled to play on a Thursday night game in 2016, you could see them in all-red.

5. OFFSEASON  CONDITIONING: The offseason conditioning program starts on April 18.

6. ICYMI – Falcons transactions since March 1.

7. NEW EXECUTIVE HIRED: The Falcons have hired a key executive from the outside sales firm handling the team’s personal seat license sales.

Michael Drake leaves Legends Global Sales to become senior vice president and chief revenue officer-business operations of AMB Sports & Entertainment (AMBSE), which includes the Falcons and the Atlanta United soccer team.

In his new position, Drake will oversee all ticket and suite sales for the Falcons and Atlanta United, as well as tour and catered-events business at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Falcons cheerleader Macy. (Curtis Compton / AJC)

Falcons cheerleader Macy. (Curtis Compton / AJC)

 

8. CHEERLEADER AUDITIONS:  Falcons cheerleader auditions are set for  Sunday, April 24, 2016. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.

9. UPDATED DEPTH CHART:  Here’s an updated look at the post-free agency depth chart after the signings of Courtney Upshaw and Philip Wheeler:

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 16 Justin Hardy, 17 Devin Hester, 18 Jordan Leslie

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 76 Tom Compton

LG 67 Andy Levitre, 64 Collin Rahrig

C   51 Alex Mack, 62 James Stone

RG 68 Mike Person 63 Ben Garland, 67 Adam Replogle

RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 72 Bryce Harris

TE 83 Jacob Tamme, 80 Levine Toilolo, 86 D.J. Tialavea, 86 Beau Gardner

WR Mohamed Sanu, 14 Eric Weems, 15 Nick Williams, 89 Aldrick Robinson, 89 C.J. Goodwin

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 12 Sean Renfree, 8 Matt Schaub, 1 Matt Simms

RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 33 Terron Ward, 35 Gus Johnson

FB 42 Patrick DiMarco

NICKEL DEFENSE (60 PERCENT)

RDE  99 Adrian Clayborn, 94 Tyson Jackson

DT 95 Jonathan Babineaux  97 Grady Jarrett

DT 90 Derrick Shelby, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 74 Joey Mbu

LDE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 93 Malliciah Goodman, 41 Tyler Starr

LB 52 Sean Weatherspoon, 56 Brooks Reed, Philip Wheeler

LB 55 Paul Worrilow, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 53 LaRoy Reynolds

RCB 32 Jalen Collins, 28 Akeem King

NCB 23 Robert Alford

LCB 21 Desmond Trufant, 43 DeMarcus Van Dyke

FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Robenson Therezie

S 30 Charles Godfrey, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 40 Damian Parms

SPECIALISTS

K 3 Matt Bryant

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 17 Devin Hester, 14 Eric Weems

PR 17 Devin Hester, 14 Eric Weems

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 5 Matt Bosher

FREE AGENCY STORIES

Falcons’ Dan Quinn loyal to Shanahan, staff, amid heat

Linebacker Jerrell Freeman won’t be joining Falcons

Falcons mulit-level free agency makeover underway

Weatherspoon hopes to revive career, where it started

Falcons, O’Brien Schofield at impasse

Falcons agree to five-year deal with center Alex Mack

Mohamed Sanu: ‘I’m not trying to fill anybody’s shoes’

2016 NFL COMBINE COVERAGE

Alabama defensive tackles (A’Shawn and Jarran) are NFL-ready

Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox gets into shoving match at NFL combine

Floyd, Jenkins are stellar NFL prospects

Firm helps NFL prospects prepare for newfound wealth — 7 financial pitfalls they’ll face

Ex-Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins has met with the Falcons

Clemson’s Shaq Lawson interviewed with the Falcons

Nkemdiche has uphill battle to improve NFL draft status

Nkemdiche would love to play for the Falcons

14 questions with Georgia Tech standout Adam Gotsis

Falcons checking out interior linemen at the combine

18 questions with Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff

Quinn still evaluating the roster — Nothing new on Roddy White

7 players the Falcons are watching at the combine

13 questions with Falcons coach Dan Quinn

5 questions with Duke punter Will Monday (Flowery Branch High)

26 State prospects hope to make impact at NFL combine


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