Saints quarterback Drew Brees is sacked by Falcons' De'Vondre Campbell during the first half Nov. 10, 2019, at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Photo: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Photo: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Cover 9@9: Falcons need rush-coverage marriage to work

1. Where did the pass rush go? After two games of getting to the quarterback, the Falcons had only one quarterback hit in the 35-22 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday.

Where did the pass rush go? The Falcons had 11 sacks and 21 quarterback hits in the two previous games, both divisional road wins. 

“It was a combination of everything,” Falcons linebacker coach Jeff Ulbrich said on Tuesday. “The coverage wasn’t as good. The coverage and the rush are married, of course as we know. We just have to tighten things up and get back to the ball that we were playing.

“In all phases, not just the front. The back end. We’re all tied together. It’s a marriage.”

In the last meeting with the Saints, the Falcons sacked Drew Brees’ six times and had 11 quarterback hits.  

But against the Bucs, the Falcons couldn’t get to Jameis Winston, who repeated found wide receiver Chris Godwin open. He finished with seven catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns.  

“You have to give (Winston) a ton of credit,” Ulbrich said. “There were some balls that he threw in zone coverage there are going to be opportunities to have completions and there are soft spots in every zone. Unfortunately, he found a few of those.”

Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said the Falcons’ stuck with simple zones against the Saints and Panthers. The Bucs were ready for the zones. 

“Part of it was the zone, part of it was the scheme, part of it was the execution,” said Ulbrich, who’s calling part of the defense in the Falcons bifurcated play-calling set up. “Part of it was the execution by them. It’s never just one thing.”

The Falcons went back to the drawing board on the short week as the host the Saints on Thursday night. 

“A lot of contributing factors to it,” Ulbrich said. “I felt like it was an opportunity for us to go back, as we’ve done numerous times this season, and re-emphasize all of the little fundamentals. All of the little details. That’s been one a huge point of emphasis.”

2. Tuioti-Mariner makes a move. With defensive end Takk McKinley limited with a shoulder injury last week, defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner played a career-high 32 defensive snaps against the Bucs. 

Tuioti-Mariner, who played at UCLA, spent the 2018 season on the practice squad. 

“I thought he played well for the first time out having that much run, substantial run,” Ulbrich said. “A lot is said about our Plan D program, he embodies what that program can develop. He’s a guy who came here and has improved daily. Just finding little inches of his game whether if it’s his pass rush, his hand placement or leverage. I thought Sunday, he showed a lot of that. It was really cool to see.” 

3. Stopping the Saints. The Falcons held the Saints without a touchdown when they met Nov. 10.

The Falcons’ victory over the Saints, who were 13.5-point favorites, broke a streak of 110 home games in which they scored in double-digits. The Saints were one shy of the NFL record set by the Colts from 1997-2011. 

“On these short turnarounds, the game-planning it’s maybe less for both sides of the ball,” Ulbrich said. “At the end of the day, whatever we call we’re going to have to execute it at a high level.”

4. Series record. The Falcons lead the regular-season series 52-48 against the Saints. The Falcons also have a 1-0 lead in the only playoff meeting.

5. Thomas is an issue. After having a tough time with Tampa Bay’s Chris Godwin, the Falcons will attempt to mix their coverages against Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas. 

“He’s got ridiculously good change of direction,” head coach Dan Quinn said. “He can put his foot in the ground, stop and that can be a comeback (route). It can get an outside route and he knows how to beat somebody’s leverage. 

“Then the catching radius that he has. They know exactly where to put the ball. With that kind of accuracy. ... He’s really aggressive when there is a 50-50 ball. He’s at the top of his game for sure.”

Thomas has 104 catches for 1,242 yards and six touchdowns. 

6. Run game. Saints’ running backs Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara, who played at Norcross High, combined for 118 yards rushing on 18 carries against the Panthers in a win last week. Kamara had a 26-yard touchdown run. 

The Saints’ defense ranks 10th in yards allowed at 321.3 per game, third against rush at 88.3 yards per game and 14th in passing yards allowed at 232.7 per game. 

The defense wants to show that the 143 yards the Falcons amassed was an aberration. 

“On the defensive side, they’ve done an excellent job in the run game,” Quinn said. “The linebackers, (Demario) Davis has the run-and-hit factor. He’s taken his game to another space.”

7. Injury report. Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (shoulder injury), tight end Austin Hooper (knee) and tight end Luke Stocker (back) did not practice on Tuesday as the team is preparing to the face the Saints at 8:20 p.m. Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

Running back Devonta Freeman (foot sprain) participated during the open portion practice. He ran plays with the first-team offense in the walk-through practice.

He didn’t speak to the media after practice during opening locker room.

Hooper was off to the side working with the training staff. 

Cornerback Desmond Trufant (toe), cornerback Jordan Miller (illness), defensive tackle Tyeler Davison (neck) fully participated in practice.

Safety Sharrod Neasman (shoulder) and McKinley (shoulder) were limited. 

8. Larkin released. Defensive end Austin Larkin, who was signed to provide defensive end depth on Saturday, was released by the Falcons on Tuesday.

Larkin played 11 snaps on special teams in the 35-22 loss to the Bucs on Sunday. 

Larkin, who had a strong exhibition season for the Falcons, has had three stints on the team’s practice squad this season. 

The Falcons waived guard Sean Harlow on Friday to make room for Larkin. Harlow was re-signed to the practice squad on Monday.

9. Depth chart. After missing the past two games, Freeman took part in both walk-throughs on Monday and Tuesday. He did not speak to the media on Tuesday after saying he would talk after he received treatment.

Here’s the official depth chart released:

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 83 Russell Gage, 13 Christian Blake
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 73 Matt Gono
LG 77 James Carpenter
C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer
RG 68 Jamon Brown and 71 Wes Schweitzer
RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 74 Ty Sambrailo
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Luke Stocker, 87 Jaeden Graham
WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 23 Brian Hill, 38 Kenjon Barner, 32 Qadree Ollison
FB 40 Keith Smith

DEFENSE

DE 98 Takk McKinley, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 55 Austin Larkin
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford
DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 94 Deadrin Senat
DE 93 Allen Bailey, 50 John Cominsky
DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 54 Foyesade Oluokun
LB 45 Deion Jones, 53 Jermaine Grace
CB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 20 Kendall Sheffield
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 28 Jordan Miller
SS 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman
FS 27 Damontae Kazee, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 35 Jamal Carter

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo
KO 7 Younghoe Koo
P 9 Ryan Allen
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 9 Ryan Allen
KOR 38 Kenjon Barner
PR 38 Kenjon Barner

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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