COVER 9@9: Sanu fitting in nicely on offense

September 17, 2017 Atlanta: Falcons running back Devonta Freeman celebrates his touchdown with Mohamed Sanu for a 14-7 lead over the Packers during the second quarter in a NFL football game on Sunday, September 17, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

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 play the Detroit Lions at 1 p.m.  Sunday at Ford Field.

 1. WILD SANU?. Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu has added some force, power and tenacity to the offensive attack.

He also, as the quarterback in the wildcat formation, has added a little bit of flair.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn doesn’t want to call the attack the Wildcat. He commissioned the media to come up with a name. Carl Dukes and Mike Bell were taking suggestions on their show on 92.9 The Game on Monday. We’ll poll the media, have a suggestion jar and discuss the matter with Sanu.

Grits Blitz is already taken. Wild Dirty Bird? Wild Turkey makes me thirsty? Wild Sanu?

Sanu played quarterback at South Brunswick High in New Jersey. He also punted, handled kickoffs and played defensive back.

At Rutgers, he started out as a safety before being move to wide receiver and wildcat quarterback. He complete 8 of 18 passes for 207 yards and four touchdowns in college. After catching 115 passes in 2011, he declared for the NFL draft as a junior.

The Bengals selected him in the third round, but after four seasons he signed with the Falcons in free agency.

He has emerged as a dependable and sturdy No. 2 receiver, who’ll haul down the tough passes over the middle and make the clutch catch on third downs.

The Falcons had the Wildcat plays in for Sanu last season, but never used them. New Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, looking to run out the clock against the Packers finally called Sanu’s quarterback number.

He handed off to Freeman off some read-option action and the Falcons picked up a key first down.

“That was a big play for us,” All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones said. “We’ve been practicing that play since last year. We have a lot of things. We have a lot of special guys on this team.”

Jones also respects Sanu’s toughness. He caught five passes for 85 yards against the Packers. He caught a career-high 59 passes last season.

“See a lot of receivers don’t want to go across the middle,” Jones said. “They are scared to get hit and things like that…. but Mohamed doesn’t care. He goes across the middle in traffic. He’s a special player for us.”

Despite his success in Atlanta, Sanu remains humble.

“We got things going, we played well, we have some things to clean up but we felt good about it,” Sanu said about the win over the Packers. “The flow of the offense, guys making plays and flying around out there. Everybody doing their job.”

Like most of the Falcons, Sanu has moved on from the Super Bowl collapse.

“People always talk about panic, we’re not the same team as last year,” Sanu said. “We went out and we finished the game.”

2. SERIES RECORD. The Falcons (2-0) are set to face the Detroit Lions (2-0) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Ford Field. The Lions lead the series 24-12. The Falcons are 3-1 against the Lions with Matt Ryan at the controls. On Sept. 7, 2008, Ryan made his first NFL start against the Lions and guided the Falcons to a 34-31 victory.

3. KEY MATCHUP NO. 1.  Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn vs. Lions LT Greg Robinson:  Clayborn is part of the committee that will play more snaps with Vic Beasley out with a hamstring strain. He has a sack and three quarterback hits. The Lions are attempting to resurrect Robinson’s once promising career at left tackle. They acquire the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft from the Rams. Robinson played at Auburn. They Lions had to get Robinson after Taylor Decker suffered a shoulder injury. Robinson struggled against the Giants. He had three first-half penalties, allowed a sack  and was beaten badly on two other plays. Robinson has a tough time with power moves, which are Clayborn’s specialty.

4. KEY MATCHUP NO. 2. Falcons LT Jake Matthews vs. Lions DE Ziggy Ansah. Matthews will have his hands full with Ansah, who’s coming off a monster game. The native from Ghana, who went to BYU to play basketball, had six tackles, three sacks, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble against the Giants. Ansah has recovered from the ankle and knee injuries that  plagued last year.

5. GARLAND ON DEFENSE. Backup guard/center Ben Garland played one play at defensive left tackle in the goal line defense on Sunday. Last season, Garland played 42 defensive snaps including one play in Super Bowl LI.

“It was on the goal line,” Quinn said. “He played on one goal line snap at the left defensive tackle.”

6. TAKK ATTACK. With Beasley out at least a week, the Falcons will turn to rookie defensive end Takkarist McKinely to play left defensive end in the team’s nickel defense. De’Vondre Campbell has been playing the strongside linebacker spot in the base defense.McKinley played 44 of the 76 defensive snaps (58 percent) against the Packers. He played just 14 snaps against the Bears. McKinley had two quarterback hits against the Packers, one when he came free off a stunt with defensive end Adrian Clayboron.

7. RUN DEFENSE. After giving up 125 yards and 6.6 yards per carry to the Bears, the Falcons defense held the Packers to 59 rushing yards, 3.9 yards per carry.

8. SACK ATTACK. The Falcons sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers three times, extending their sack streak to 17 straight games and two straight games with three-plus sacks. The Falcons have seven sacks after two games, a pace that gave them 56 for the season. The Arizona Cardinals led the league with 48 sacks last season.  Jacksonville is leading the league with 11 sacks through two games.

9. DEPTH CHART:  The Falcons, who will be without defensive end Vic Beasley (hamstring strain/tear), released their official depth chart for the Lions’ game on Tuesday.

The Falcons (2-0) are set to face Matthew Stafford and the upstart Lions (2-0) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Ford Field.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said that rookie Takkarist McKinley, Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby will help try to replace Beasley in the lineup.

Also, defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw, who’s listed as a defensive end on the depth chart, has an ankle sprain and will not likely play. Defensive tackle Jack Crawford is likely to pick up his snaps behind starting defensive tackles Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe.

Ty Sambrailo, who’s listed as the backup left tackle, took over at right tackle when Ryan Schraeder left the Green Bay game with a concussion. He’s likely to start if Schraeder is not released from the protocol in time to start.

Here’s the depth chart:

OFFENSE

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

DEFENSE

DE 50 Brooks Reed, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takk McKinley

DT 92 Dontari Poe, 95 Jack Crawford

DT 97 Grady Jarrett

DE 91 Courtney Upshaw, 90 Derrick Shelby

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

SPECIALISTS

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

 

 


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