Cover 9@9: A closer look at the Falcons’ pass rush by committee

9/17/17 – Atlanta, GA – Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn hits Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers as he throws. Atlanta Falcons vs Green Bay Packers. The Falcons opened the roof for the Falcons season opener at Mecedes-Benz Stadium. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly blog of nine things at 9 a.m Wednesday that  you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons (3-1). The defending NFC champion Falcons are set to face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

1. UPDATE ON PROJECT PASS RUSH: The Falcons defense has started a nice little streak.

The pass rushing committee has recorded a sack in 19 straight games and will put that streak on the line against Miami at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

In the last outing against Buffalo, the Falcons had three sacks and two quarterback hits. It was the eighth straight game that the defense had two or more sacks in a game.

The Falcons, who could get sackmaster Vic Beasley back from a hamstring strain/tear, have 12 sacks and 26 quarterback hits this season. Brooks Reed leads the team with three sacks and is tied for the lead in quarterback hits with Adrian Clayborn with four each.

Beasley, who’s missed the past two games, has two sacks and two hits. He led the league in sacks with 15.5 last season. Rookie Takkarist McKinley has a sack and three quarterback hits.

There are four other players with combination of three plays on the quarterback. Nickel back Brian Poole (one sack, two hits), defensive end Derrick Shelby (one sack, two hits), strongside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (one sack, two hits) and defensive tackle Jack Crawford (three hits).

Middle linebacker Deion Jones (sack, hit), defensive tackle Dontari Poe (one hit) and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (two hits) have also made plays on the quarterback.

Crawford has been placed on injured reserve. Joe Vellano and Courtney Upshaw, upon his return to action from an ankle injury, will get his snaps. Defensive tackle Taniela Tupou was promoted to the 53-man roster from the practice squad on Tuesday.

The Falcons believe they can turn the heat up higher on quarterbacks.

“Everyone in this locker room plays hard and with a lot of heart,” Reed said. “That’s what you need as a defensive player in order to implement the plan and execute the play, you need that type of person that is just relentless and that’s what we have.”

The Falcons are going to miss Crawford.

“It’s always tough when you lose a guy like that,” Reed said. “It’s the NFL and the next guy is going to have to step up and try to fit that role. That’s just the nature of the business.”

2. MISSED TACKLES: Rookie linebacker Duke Riley has to cut down on his missed tackles.

“It wasn’t more than we expected in the four games,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “The thing that we were encouraged about and we wanted to talk to him about is these are correctable mistakes. Tackling is such a fundamental part of what we do.”

The Falcons started working on the tackling on Monday.

“We put the guys right in space and worked some drills at that to make sure we’re going to get that part of our game really intact,” Quinn said. “One of the things I really admire about our team is the way they love to compete. If they’ve got something to improve to get better on, we generally shine a light on it and we get a lot better at it.”

The Falcons are not too worried about Riley’s progress.

“He’s been through it now four weeks, in terms of the regular season, (with) good match-ups and good stuff,” Quinn said. “I intend on seeing real improvement on him over the next cycle of games.”

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3. KEY MATCHUP NO. 1 — SUH vs. SCHWEITZER: Miami defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is off to a strong start with 10 tackles and one sack. He will be the best player that Schweitzer has seen since Chicago’s Akiem Hicks in the regular-season opener. Schweitzer has been playing well in the run game, but will get tested in pass protection against Suh, a four-time Pro Bowler.

4. KEY MATCHUP NO. 2 — TUNSIL vs. CLAYBORN:  Laremy Tunsil played well at left guard as a rookie last season. The Dolphins let go of Branden Albert in order to move Tunsil to left tackle, his natural position. The former All-American from Mississippi struggled early in the transition. Against the Chargers, when he gave up two sacks and three pressures. The hard-charging Clayborn has two sacks and four quarterback hits on the season.

 5.  EFFORT IS STRONG: One of the key points that came up during the bye week self-scout of the first four games was that the coaches were pleased with how hard the team played. “We like the effort in all three phases that the guys are playing with,” Quinn said. “Now, let’s match the execution to that kind of effort. When we do the three things together, when we talk about those three pillars , the ball, the battle and the brotherhood, not only are we hard to beat when those things really come to life.

“We’re a lot of fun to watch. We’re a lot of fun to coach and we’re a lot of fun to be around. We are going to work like crazy to get those parts of our game, the battle, the prep, the competition and all of the practice things we want to improve upon.”

October 1, 2017 Atlanta: The Falcons cheerleaders perform during the first half against the Bills in a NFL football game on Sunday, October 1, 2017, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

6. CUTLER COMING TO TOWN: Quarterback Jay Cutler has been ineffective as Miami fans and some in the national media — Rodney Harrison and Boomer Esiason — have called for him to be replaced by Matt Moore. However, head coach Adam Gase, remains supportive of Cutler.

With Cutler at the controls, the Dolphins rank last in the NFL (32nd) in seven key offensive categories: yards per game (231.3), yards per play (3.9), passing net yards per game (156.5), passing net yards per play (4.35), first downs per game (15), third down efficiency (25 percent) and points per game (10.3).

The Dolphins, who went to the playoffs last season, opened with a win over the Chargers before losing to the Jets and Saints. Cutler out-dueled the Titans’ Matt Cassel for a 16-10 win last week. He directed the Dolphins on their third offensive touchdown drive of the season to pull out the win.

Cutler has completed 82 of 131 passes (62.9 percent) of his passes for three touchdowns and three interceptions. He has a career-low passer rating of 74.8.

7. DOLPHINS BRING DRAMA: The Dolphins offensive line coach Chris Foerster re-signed on Monday after a video of him allegedly snorting cocaine was released on social media and went viral.

8. WIDE RECEIVING CORPS: Miami’s trio of Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker is talented. Landry has 30 catches for 210 yards and one touchdown. Parker has 19 catches for 236 yards and one touchdown. Stills has 10 catches for 114 yards.

Landry does most of his damage working out of the slot and running inside routes. Parker left the last game with an ankle injury.

9. DEPTH CHART:  The Falcons promoted defensive tackle Taniela Tupou to the 53-man roster from the practice squad on Tuesday.

The Falcons placed Crawford on injured reserve due to a bicep injury, ending the season of the defensive lineman last Tuesday.

The promotion of Tupou is the corresponding roster move.

Tupou, 24, is listed at 6-foot-1 and 284 pounds. He played at Washington.

Crawford suffered the injury in Sunday’s loss to the Bills. The Falcons signed Crawford in March. He played in all four games this season. Crawford recorded five tackles and three of the Falcons’ 27 hits on opposing quarterbacks.

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, 93 Taniela Tupou

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 94 Joe Vellano

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

S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Damontae Kazee, 20 Sharrod Neasman

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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