Good morning! Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly dive into nine issues at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Everything you need to to know about the Atlanta Falcons.
1. Base defense: When Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley didn’t start against the Steelers on the defensive line, I thought, wow, they must have missed curfew or something.
But after the game, defensive end Brooks Reed told me that the Falcons opened the game in their base defense against Pittsburgh’s double-tight end and one running back formation.
McKinley and Beasley were schemed out of the game.
“I play what I play,” McKinley said. “Nickel (defensive) end. Brooks (Reed) is our Leo. If he needs sub, I’ll come and get him. If I need a sub in nickel, he’ll come and get me. It’s one of those things where they forced us to play a lot of base.”
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Beasley referred questions about him not starting to Falcons coach Dan Quinn.
“I think coach had a good game plan,” Beasley said. “I think that would be a good question to ask him about what his intentions were. I think we were in the right position at times, but too many mistakes on my end and other guy’s too. We have to be better.”
McKinley said the psyche of the team is good after losing its third straight game.
“We are good,” McKinley said. “A little disappointed, but we can’t dwell (on it). We just have to keep those spirits high and find a way to win a game.”
The Falcons had more than 10 missed tackles again. They missed 15 against the Saints earlier in the season.
The Falcons must stop the missed tackles. They made James Conner look like Le’Veon Bell with all the missed tackles.
“Practice,” said McKinley, when asked about fixing the missed tackles. “Drills. Pad us up. I don’t know. It’s not that guys don’t know how to tackle. They’ve been tackling their whole career. You just have to stick with your fundamentals.”
The Falcons defense is still trying to come together in the wake of all of the injuries.
“We just have to play better,” Reed said. “We have to tackle better. We just have to take a hard look at ourselves and see what we can improve on. We just have to play better. I have to look at myself.”
Reed normally does a good job of setting the edge on outside runs in the base defense.
“It was just the little things that were hurting us from not getting off the field on third downs,” Reed said. “Penalties and a couple of missed tackles here and there. The little things just add up to where big moments in the game decided it.”
The Falcons are clearly still looking for a decent formula on defense.
“It is a challenge,” Beasley said. “We are down. Guys are playing injured, fighting through a lot of pain. That’s pretty much every team I guess. I feel like we’ve been hit pretty hard here lately.
“We have to keep going. They are not going to cancel a game from week to week. You have to go out there and play with the guys that you’ve got.”
2. Series history: When the Falcons host the Bucs on Sunday it will be the 50th meeting in the series. The Falcons lead the series 25-24 and have won the last three games.
3. Sack review: Here’s a breakdown how the six sacks happened against the Steelers:
One: On third-and-6 on Pittsburgh’s 38 with 5:58 left in the first quarter, running back Tevin Coleman failed to pick up linebacker L.J. Fort, who was on a delayed blitz. Coleman was trying to help tight end Austin Hooper and didn’t see or look for the linebacker coming.
Two: On first-and-10 from Atlanta’s 27 with 14:22 left in the second quarter, Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt worked his way around Falcons right guard Brandon Fusco to get his first sack of the day.
Third: On first-and-10 from Pittsburgh’s 14 with 5:55 left in the second quarter, right tackle Ryan Schraeder whiffed on Watt’s speed rush to the outside. Watt dropped quarterback Matt Ryan for a loss of 9 yards.
Fourth: On third-and-19 from Pittsburgh’s 23 with 5:07 left in the second quarter, Cameron Heyward, Ironhead Heyward’s son, steamrolled Falcons center Alex Mack on his way to Ryan. After the 6-yard loss, the Falcons had to settle for a field goal.
Fifth: On first-and-10 from Atlanta’s 25 with 1:39 left in the third quarter, Heyward pushed left guard Wes Schweitzer up the field. He came free underneath and made a straight line to Ryan. Linebacker Jon Bostic was free on a delayed blitz. Heyward and Bostic shared the sack.
Sixth: On first-and-10 from Atlanta’s 14 with 3:45 to play in the fourth quarter, Watt beat Schraeder to the outside again with a speed rush. He popped Ryan and knocked the ball loose. Fort recovered in the end zone. Ryan jogged off the field and didn’t appear to hurt his foot, which was later X-rayed.
4. Scoring defense: The Bucs’ defense, which is under the direction of former Falcons head coach Mike Smith, is giving up 34.8 points per game, which ranks last in the league. The Falcons give up 32.6, which ranks 31st.
The Falcons are set to face a well-rested Tampa Bay squad that’s coming off its bye week.
After winning two games, the Bucs dropped games to the Steelers (30-27) on Sept. 24 and were routed by Chicago on Sept. 30.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick playing at a high level, the Bucs opened the season with stunning victories over New Orleans (48-40) on Sept. 9 and Philadelphia (27-21) on Sept. 16.
5. Pass rush: The Bucs and the Falcons have two of the weakest pass rushes in the league. Both have just eight sacks (26th in the league) and feature one rusher. Tampa Bay’s Jason Pierre-Paul has four of the Bucs’ sacks and McKinley has five of the Falcons’ sacks.
6. Film review: Check out the film review report card from the Falcons 41-17 loss to the Steelers.
7. Georgia connections: Running Peyton Barber (Milton High/Auburn) and linebacker Cameron Lynch (Brookwood High/Syracuse) are the only two players with Georgia connections on the Bucs’ roster.
8. Penalty corner: The Falcons, with 42 penalties, are tied for being the third most penalized team in the league with the Indianapolis Colts. Only Baltimore (47) and Pittsburgh (46) have more penalties than the Falcons.
The Bucs have 31 penalties, which ranks 23rd in the league.
9. Depth chart: Here’s the official depth chart released by the Falcons on Tuesday:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy,17 Marvin Hall
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo
LG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 63 Ben Garland
C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer
RG 65 Brandon Fusco, 68 Zac Kerin
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 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 24 Devonta Freeman, 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, 93 Michael Bennett IV
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
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