Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly list of nine things that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.
1. Irvin Derby: Bruce Irvin, who was with Falcons coach Dan Quinn in Seattle for the two Super Bowl runs, cleared waivers at 4 p.m. on Tuesday and signed a one-year deal with the team on Wednesday.
“We know exactly how Bruce will fit into our team on the field and just as importantly into our locker room,” Quinn said. “He will add to our rotation along the defensive line, while adding to our pass rush. He is familiar with our scheme and we are familiar with his strengths, so we are looking forward to getting him on the field as soon as possible.”
It was no surprise that the Falcons wanted to add Irvin. They have 17 sacks, which ranks 27th in the NFL. They have an upcoming three-game stretch where they will have to put heat on New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees (Nov. 22), Baltimore’s Joe Flacco (Dec. 2) and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (Dec. 9) to have a chance to the playoffs.
It was a business decision by the Raiders, who have also unloaded Khalil Mack and wide receiver Amara Cooper, to release Irvin.
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“If Bruce Irvin clears waivers, it will be interesting to see whether he returns to Seattle,” wrote sports business analyst Joel Corry on Twitter. “Any team claiming Irvin will be picking up his remaining $3,764,706 of salary for this year and his $9.25 (million) 2019 salary, which isn't guaranteed.”
The pretty much explains why Irvin, who’s from Atlanta, was not claimed after being placed on waivers by the Raiders on Monday.
The Raiders announced their plans on Saturday. Irvin was phased out of the defense under the new Jon Gruden regime.
Irvin, 31, has three sacks, four quarterback hits and one forced fumble on the season. He could help the Falcons pass rush and give starters Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley a break.
McKinley leads the team with 5.5 sacks and Beasley has one sack and just three of the past 18 games.
Seattle was also interested in Irvin. The Seahawks drafted him in the first round in 2012 after his career at West Virginia.
He was considered at reach as a speed edge rusher. But turned into a strongside linebacker. He teamed with middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and weakside linebacker K.J. Wright on Seattle’s Super Bowl winning defense, which was coordinate by Quinn.
After playing four seasons with Seattle, Irvin signed a four-year, $27.7 million contract with Oakland in free agency.
The Falcons and the Seahawks are both 4-4.
Quinn and Irvin have a mutual respect for one another after their two seasons together in Seattle.
The Falcons would not confirm on Tuesday if they were interested in Irvin. On Monday, they didn’t want to comment while he was clearing waivers. Early Wednesday morning, they had a deal.
Irvin has played in 98 games and made 75 starts in the NFL. He’s made 40 sacks and has three interceptions.
Irvin discussed his rough upbringing in Atlanta and how he wanted the Falcons to sign him the last time he was a free agent.
Irvin has talked about his days of being homeless and living on the streets of Atlanta.
He had a rugged home life and was expelled from his house by his mother, Bessie Lee. Irvin attempted to move from Stockbridge to Stephenson High, but ended up never playing in high school.
Irvin was living with drug dealers in Gwinnett and eventually decided to get his GED and started to turn his life around.
He was hyped about the deal.
“Man, it’s time,” Irvin tweeted out. “You (can’t) put a price on the chance for me to play for my people and city it’s bigger than money.”
Irvin, who expected to play against the Browns on Sunday, could help to bolster the Falcons’ injury-ravaged defense.
He’ll add to the momentum the unit is building after holding Washington’s Adrian Peterson to 17 yards rushing and New York’s Saquon Barkley to 43 yards rushing over the past two games.
He will also be expected to uplift the sagging pass rush.
The defense was without cornerback Robert Alford against the Redskins as they played without four starters who opened the season.
The Falcons have missed four starters in six of their eight games this season.
Strong safety Keanu Neal and free safety Ricardo Allen are out for the season. Middle linebacker Deion Jones could return against Dallas in two weeks.
Over the Falcons’ 4-4 start, Beasley has played 401 of the defensive snaps (72.8 percent), but has just one sack.
Over his past 18 games, including the playoffs, Beasley has only three sacks. In April, the Falcons picked up his $14.2 million fifth-year option.
Beasley had 15.5 sacks to lead the league in 2016. He had five last season.
Beasley has been close on some sacks, but the Falcons hope those close calls turn into production over the second half of the season.
The Falcons were hopeful that Beasley and McKinley would turn into a formidable pass rushing tandem.
“I think we can be better,” McKinley said. “I feel like we can be a lot better and that’s pretty much all that I’m going to say on it.”
McKinley was elated with the signing.
2. Chubb is a hit in The Land: The Browns have a lot of young and talented players in addition to quarterback Baker Mayfield, cornerback Denzel Ward (hip) and running back Nick Chubb, who starred at Georgia.
“Getting back to the basics on a few things, especially with a young team,” Browns interim coach Gregg Williams said. “Getting back to the basics and do not forget how important that is with guys that need as much time on task at this fast level of football with not a lot of experience.”
Chubb has taken over at running back for the Browns after they traded Carlos Hyde, who was another free-agent signee, to Jacksonville.
“Man, is Nick (Chubb) a guy we know well and saw his toughness right there front and center (while at Georgia),” Quinn said. “He's getting a lot more playing time now over the last few weeks.”
3. Browns have dominated series: This will be the 15th meeting between the Browns and Falcons. The Browns lead the series 11-3 and have won three of the last four meetings.
The Browns have 13 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries for 23 turnovers. They have a plus-11 takeaway margin, which is first in the league.
“That part jumped off the tape to me,” Quinn said of the Browns’ ability to create turnovers. “Then the speed and talent that they have outside at receiver, at running back, then on the defensive side at a number of spots, specifically the secondary and their pass-rusher.”
After slowing Barkley and Peterson, Chubb will be another challenge for the Falcons.
4. Oluokun moves ahead of Riley: The Falcons are pleased with the play of rookie linebacker Foye Oluokun, who led the team in tackles with six against Washington.
“He's always had the ability,” Quinn said. “You've heard me (talk about) how excited I have been about him, and then he had the ankle sprain, and we held him a little bit. But over the last few weeks he's earned more playing time.”
Oluokun, a sixth-round pick in the 2018 draft from Yale, has moved ahead of Duke Riley, a third-round pick in the 2017 draft.
“As a linebacker, he plays really square behind the line of scrimmage, and that helps in your tackling,” Quinn said. “He's got good anticipation. He's a good communicator on the field. ... I would just say it's his versatility and tackling that's allowed him to get more playing time.”
5. Rookie Ridley: Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley tied Marques Colston and Martavis Bryant for the most receiving touchdowns through a player’s first eight games in the last 30 years. He scored on a 40-yard touchdown catch in the final minute of the second quarter against the Redskins on Sunday and now has seven touchdowns on the season.
6. Coleman corner: Running back Tevin Coleman now has a touchdown in three straight games and has one in five of the last six road games. Coleman’s 39-yard touchdown reception was the longest receiving score of his career and third of the season. Coleman amassed 156 total yards from scrimmage, the second-highest output of his career, against the Redskins.
7. Ryan on fire: Matt Ryan completed 26 of 38 passes for 350 yards, including four touchdowns and an interception against the Redskins. He finished with a 121.6 passer rating.
It was Ryan’s 35th career game with three or more touchdowns and his 50th 300-yard game, the 12th-most 300-yard passing games in NFL history.
8. Smith is valuable: Rookie running back Ito Smith rushed for 60 yards on six carries against the Redskins, including a 12-yard touchdown. Smith has four rushing touchdowns on the season, tied for the most rushing touchdowns by a Falcons rookie since T.J. Duckett (4) in 2002.
9. Depth chart: The Falcons released their official depth chart for the game against the Browns, which is set for 1 p.m. Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
WR 11 Julio Jones,14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo
LG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 72 Rees Odhiambo
C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer
RG 63 Ben Garland, 68 Austin Pasztor
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 69 Zane Beadles, 77 Matt Gono
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 82 Logan Paulsen, 85 Eric Saubert
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub
RB 26 Tevin Coleman, 25 Ito Smith, 32 Brian Hill
FB 30 Ricky Ortiz
DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 90 Derrick Shelby, 56 Steven Means
DT 99 Terrell McClain, 94 Deadrin Senat
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford
DE 98 Takk McKinley, 50 Brooks Reed
LB 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael
LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 55 Bruce Carter
LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell
CB 23 Robert Alford, 20 Isaiah Oliver, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole, 28 Justin Bethel
FS 27 Damontae Kazee, 35 Keith Tandy
SS 29 Jordan Richards, 41 Sharrod Neasman
K 3 Matt Bryant, 4 Giorgio Tavecchio
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 14 Justin Hardy,18 Calvin Ridley
PR 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher