While trying to stay awake during the Falcons’ final exhibition game, my mind drifted toward the regular season.
Now that the Matt Bosher punt-a-thon is over, its’ time to get ready for some real football. With Matt Simms unable to create much offense behind the reserve line, Bosher was the star of the 13-7 loss to the Jaguars on Thursday night.
While thinking about the defending NFC Champs, based on what we’ve seen over the course of practice and the exhibition games, the Falcons are going to have a vastly improved defense. They might even have a dominating pass rush.
Yes, that’s correct.
After years of watching quarterbacks read books in the pocket before delivering darts through the air over at the Georgia Dome, we might just see more than a few of them on the turf in 2017.
First up will be our old pal from Tampa Bay Mike Glennon and the Chicago Bears followed by Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, the $135 million man Matthew Stafford in Detroit and then Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor.
Glennon, who’s expected to start over second-overall draft pick Mitchell Trubisky, and Stafford, will stay in the pocket. Rodgers can scramble and has the quick release. Taylor is also a mobile quarterback.
But the Falcons are prepared to unleash a nickel package front four of left end Vic Beasley, left defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, defensive tackle Dontari Poe or Jack Crawford and rookie Takkarist McKinley or Adrian Clayborn.
That’s six to choose from along with Derrick Shelby, Courtney Upshaw, Ra’Shede Hageman and Brooks Reed to help against the run.
The roster is built to send in defensive linemen in waves.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn, a former defensive line coach, believes that you must have at least 15 to 16 starting level players on defense. This is going to be a front that he can be proud of.
“If you have versatility on your team, whatever way the offense wants to play, you better be equipped to play it,” Quinn said. “If they play big boy ball, you have to be ready to play that. If they want to play four-wide receiver sets, the empty sets, you better be ready for that, too.”
The Falcons have their version of a NASCAR pass rush package. They have a stout front to stop the run.
Quinn knows that better coverage of running backs and tight ends will help the pass rush immensely.
“That’s why we were testing the guys out, all of the one on ones, that’s why you’ve seen guys like Rico (Allen) and Keanu (Neal) go and cover receivers or come down and take the tight end. Linebackers on tight ends or linebackers on backs.”
Speedy linebacker Jermaine Grace made interception while covering Jacksonville tight end Alex Ellis in the punt-fest.
If the coverage is tight, the defensive line will have more time to get to quarterbacks.
Let’s review the pass rush numbers.
The Falcons registered their 34 sacks over 655 pass attempts last season. They had a sack per 19.3 pass attempt. The Falcons had 19 sacks over 561 pass attempts (1 sack per 29.5 pass attempts) in 2015.
The 34 sacks were the post by a Falcons team since the 37 in 2007. The team has not had two double-digit sackers since the 2004 season when Rod Coleman (11.5) and Patrick Kerney (13 sacks) were attacking quarterbacks.
“There are going to be some times in the game where you need them,” Quinn said. “Nickel defense and base defense, you are already at 12 or 13 starters. You better have enough pass rushers to get going, so that’s 13, 14, 15 and I’ll say when you feel like you’re in that world, you feel like you’re more comfortable.”
With a good rotation along the defensive line, the Falcons should be able to chase quarterbacks for four quarters.
The players sense that things are coming together.
“Our chemistry and how we practice is starting to show on the field,” Crawford said. “It came alive (against the Cardinals). Coach Quinn preaches to us about the ball and how that’s everything to us. (Against Arizona) I think we did a good job of that.”
The play of the exhibition season was Crawford blasting into Arizona’s backfield and popping the running back to cause a fumble.
“The coaches did a good job of alerting us about what plays to expect given the formation,” Crawford said. “I didn’t know what they were going to run, but there are just certain feelings that you get before the play happens and you can feel what’s coming for you.
“It just so happened that he kind of over ran his block and I just kind of let him go. I didn’t try to fight him. I just let him go and went around him and made up the space by tracking the running back down and getting the ball loose.”
Most of the key defenders had the night off and were watching Bosher boom his punts.
“I’m feeling good about where we are heading as a defensive front,” Crawford said. “It’s fun to play alongside guys like Adrian Clayborn and Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Big Poe. I’ve learned a lot from them.
“I feel like our styles and play complement each other. There are no egos in the room....If one person makes the play, we feel like we all made the play. That’s kind of how it has to work on defense, otherwise we won’t be successful.”
Start thinking up those nicknames for the pass rush. Grits Blitz is already taken. Dazed by all of the punts, all I could come up with was, “Vic, Takk and Poe.”