Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly blog of everything you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons, the defending NFC Champions, who will host the Green Bay Packers in their home regular-season opener at 8:30 p.m. Sunday at the plush Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
1. REED AN UNLIKELY HERO: The soft-spoken Brooks Reeds was perhaps the most unlikely hero for the Falcons against the Chicago Bears.
Reed, who signed a five-year $22.5 million contract with the Falcons on March 20, 2015, has struggled to find a role with the team.
Now, he’s finally settling in at defensive end after shuttling back-and-fort from linebacker and defensive end. He has played well against the run, but had just two sacks over his previous 28 games (12 starts) with the Falcons.
“We like the nickel groups that we play with featuring Adrian Clayborn, Takk (McKinley), Brooks Reed, Vic Beasley, Derrick Shelby, and inside with Dontari Poe, Grady Jarrett, Jack Crawford, and Courtney Upshaw,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “We’re going to attack in a big way at the defensive line.”
Upshaw was not surprised.
“No, Brooks Reed is a play-maker,” Upshaw said.
With the Bears threatening to score on fourth down with eight seconds to go, Reed went to the outside and pummeled Chicago quarterback Mike Glennon for a walk-off sack which secured the Falcons’ 23-17 victory on Sunday at Soldier Field.
“Our (defensive backs) and linebackers were covering their guys and that gave me time to run the loop and get to the quarterback,” Reed said of the play.
The Falcons needed someone to step forward and make one final play. Reed, who had a sack earlier, was the guy.
“Our defense stepped up right there at the end and got the job done,” Quinn said. “I wasn’t surprised that we had to stand up there at the end and close it out. Terrific play by Brooks Reed.”
Reed, who’s floated back and forth between defensive end and linebacker, starts at defensive end in the base defense.
Reed played in 15 games and made seven starts last season. In 2015, he was slowed by a groin injury but started seven games and played in 13 as a linebacker.
He erupted against the Bears with two sacks, three tackles for losses and two quarterback hits.
Reed was proud of his game-clinching sack.
“Oh man, it was huge,” Reed said. “It’s what we preach about. It came down to the end against a very good team.”
Reed credits his teammates for his multiple sack game.
“Everyone did a good job of squeezing the pocket,” Reed said. “They did a good job of getting the ball off quick to their second and third options. They made a lot of plays. They ran the ball pretty well. We did just enough.
“It was kind of an odd game for us because we were in base package so much. There are a lot of mistakes that we have to correct and we’ll try and get that done this week.”
It was Reed’s biggest contribution since coming to the Falcons. He started his career with Houston after being selected in the second round of the 2011 draft.
“It was an awesome feeling to do that for the team and contribute toward the win,” Reed said. “In a situation like that on the last down and it came down to who was going to make that last play. It’s an awesome feeling to do it.”
Reed is happy to have finally have a key role on the defense.
“We added a bunch of depth this year especially on the line,” Reed said. “We have some guys who really fit in well here. We’ve created that depth.”
Reed was more thought of as an edge setter who could stack up the run and not let folks outside.
Now, he’ll have to be accounted for in pass protection.
“I feel super comfortable right now,” Reed said. “I’m glad to stay at one position. My career, I’ve done a lot of switching around. It’s cool to be able to stay in one position and contribute to whatever we have to do.”
2. POE POWER: Falcons defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who was signed in free agency, had a strong debut with his new team against the Chicago Bears.
Poe played 43 snaps and led the team with three quarterback hurries and one quarterback hit.
“It was good, although it may not have shown up on the stats sheet,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “One of the passes deflected, and I thought he missed a sack on the one that Adrian Clayborn hit him on, so I felt his presence inside.”
The Falcons didn’t re-sign longtime Falcons Jonathan Babineaux and Tyson Jackson over the offseason. They were essentially replace by Poe and Jack Crawford in free agency.
Poe signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Falcons.
“I felt him push the pocket,” Quinn said. “They really didn’t take a lot of shots down the field. It was more of a quicker passing game. For me, I wanted to see the get-off, and with him being lighter could he really affect the game in that way.”
Last season, Poe, a former Pro Bowl selection, had just one game with four quarterback pressures or more.
“He was a factor inside for sure,” Quinn said.
3. TAKK ATTACK: Falcons rookie defensive end Takkarist McKinley, who was selected in the first-round (26th overall) of the 2017 draft played 14 snaps in his NFL debut against the Bears.
He had two tackles and two quarterback hurries off of bull rushes.
“I really felt his speed off the edge,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “In particular, one play where it was a pass that was thrown and he came out of the stack to make a tackle. Those are the plays that are really his style. It’s quintessential Takk Mckinley speed, effort, and toughness.”
Against the Bears, the Falcons stayed in the base defense for more than 51 percent of their 67 defensive snaps.
“We didn’t play as much nickel in this game as we do normally, and I anticipate that his reps will ramp up each week as we go,” Quinn said.
4. SERIES HISTORY: 29th regular-season meeting. Packers led series 15-13. The Falcons beat the Packers in the regular season in 2016 and thumped them 44-21 in the NFC championship game last season to earn the franchise’s second trip to the Super Bowl.
5. KEY MATCHUP NO. 1: Packers TE Martelius Bennett, who not as fast as he was earlier in his career, vs. Falcons SS Keanu Neal, who’s a big hitter: Bennett caught three of six targets for 43 yards against Seattle as the Packers moved him around in different formations. “He’s a good match-up guy,” Quinn said. The Falcons have the option of using Neal or strongside linebacker DeVondre Campbell to cover Bennett. Campbell had a pass breakup against the Bears.
6. KEY MATCHUP NO. 2: Packers WR Randall Cobb, who caught nine passes against Seattle, vs. Falcons CB Brian Poole, who plays nickel back. The Packers like to hit Cobb of short quick routes so that he can make a move and get in the open field. Poole is a tough defenders and strong open field tackler. Cobb caught six passes for 82 yards in the NFC championship game against the Falcons last season.
7. INJURY REPORT: Running back Brian Hill is recovering from an ankle injury.
“We were very fortunate from an injury standpoint,” Quinn said. “We may have a player or two that’s limited, but nothing that was serious with no MRIs and no medical checks in that way. That part we came out healthy. We are able to have a normal week after the opener which is great for us.”
8. THE RETURN OF THE PACKERS: Good news: Weather permitting, the roof will be open when the Falcons face the Green Bay Packers at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday at the plush $1.5 billion football cathedral, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Bad news: The defense that the Falcons shredded 44-21 in the NFC championship game to earn the franchise’s second trip to the Super Bowl is not coming.
9. DEPTH CHART: Here’s the Falcons official depth chart for the Packers game. It was release at 9:06 p.m. Tuesday.
WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 19 Andre Roberts
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 64 Sean Harlow
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland
RG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 63 Ben Garland
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 68 Austin Pasztor
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 85 Eric Saubert
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 15 Nick Williams
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 25 Brian Hill
FB 40 Derrick Coleman
DE 50 Brooks Reed, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takk McKinley
DT 92 Dontari Poe, 95 Jack Crawford
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 91 Courtney Upshaw
DE 90 Derrick Shelby, 91 Courtney Upshaw
SLB 44 Vic Beasley Jr.
MLB 45 Deion Jones, 56 Jermaine Grace
WLB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 52 Jordan Tripp
CB 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole, 30 Deji Olatoye
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 20 Sharrod Neasman, 27 Damontae Kazee
S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael
K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy
PR 19 Andre Roberts, 18 Taylor Gabriel
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher