Cover 9@9: Can Tuioti-Mariner help solve pass-rush woes?

Former undrafted and practice squad player Jacob Tuioti-Mariner turned in a master performance against the Raiders.

1. No spin zone. Despite his fantastic showing Sunday against the Raiders, defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner went back to his third-string spot on the team’s official depth chart.

Tuioti-Mariner, who was signed as a priority undrafted free agent after the 2019 draft, is listed behind Dante Fowler and Steven Means on the depth chart that was released by the team Tuesday.

In the 43-6 upset of the Raiders, Tuioti-Mariner had five tackles, his first career sack, first career forced fumble and first career fumble recovery. He finished with two fumble recoveries.

He played in eight games last season and took 186 defensive snaps.

He’s played in all 11 games and has 210 defensive snaps. He started making his mark on special teams, where he’s played 177 snaps.

“Tui has been really fun to watch, particularly this year for me because I’ve been able to lock into him in more details as far as the whole player, everything, being defensive coordinator,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said. “If you watch him starting off on special teams, started to have some success there, making plays running down on kickoff and really becoming a major factor and a guy who had to be up because of what he does on special teams and how much that means to him and this unit.”

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris was pleased to see this kind of performance out of the developing defensive lineman.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

The defensive end position has been tough for the Falcons.

They parted ways with Vic Beasley after last season and then signed Dante Fowler, who’s tried to play while hurt this season. They also released Takk McKinley, and that created more opportunities. The Falcons turned to veterans Allen Bailey and Means first.

With the goal of stopping the run, Tuioti-Mariner, who’s 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds, received more action against the Raiders. He played 40 snaps defensive (63%) in the Falcons 43-6 victory.

“Then, to watch him get a role on defense, particularly as one of our pass rushers and one of the guys that can absolutely do a bunch of different things for us with some versatility as far as dropping into coverage and doing some of the things that we can do because of his unique skill set and his athleticism, that he’s really developed into a fine player for us,” Morris said.

Tuioti-Mariner played for Falcons defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich in college at UCLA.

“We’re fired up about Tui and some of the things that he has done and how he’s developed,” Morris said. “I think starting on special teams with some of the confidence that he’s gotten. Now it’s trickling over to defense, and we’re starting to see a different human, a different player. It’s almost like stealing a draft pick, so to speak.”

2. Where to watch. The game will televised by Fox, with Kenny Albert handling the play-by-play, Jonathan Vilma as the color analyst and Shannon Spake as the sideline reporter. Vilma, a former Saints linebacker, had a rough call last week. Wonder if he’ll be objective covering the rivalry that he once played in?

3. Stat corner: The Falcons have completed 165 passes for first downs, the fourth most through 11 games in franchise history. They also have the third-most in the NFL this season, as only the Chiefs (179) and Buccaneers (169) have completed more passes for first downs in 2020.

4. Series history: This will be the 103rd regular-season meeting with the Saints. The Falcons lead the series 52-50, but the Saints have won five of the past six meetings.

5. Tight coverage? Part of the Saints’ defensive plan is to play tight man-to-man coverage that borders on questionable play.

“I think they go with the basketball theory that if you’re fouling on every play then they won’t call it all the time,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “That’s just part of it. That’s part of what makes them who they are. Then you couple that with they have a good pass rush, then you can’t hold the ball.”

The Falcons plan to run the ball better against the Saints because the pass defense was so stifling.

“We have to keep it from being a pass-every-down situation,” Koetter said.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter addresses the challenges of facing the Saints defense.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

6. Offensive game plan. Koetter knows that three field goals likely won’t cut it in the rematch.

“We’ll everyone that is playing these guys is struggling,” Koetter said. “If you look at the Saints’ numbers, they’ve got fantastic numbers. Nobody is giving you a lot of great ideas on how to run it up on them. I’ve never seen a defense ranked top 10 in so many categories, and they are playing with a lot of confidence.”

The Saints are ranked No. 1 in total defense, as they give up 284.9 yards per game. They are fifth in points allowed (20.5 per game), fifth in passing yards allowed (208.3 per game) and second in rushing yards allowed (76.6 per game).

In the previous meeting, the Saints sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan eight times and registered 11 quarterback hits. He had his lowest passer rating (48.5) since Game 7 of the 2013 season (47.2).

“I think when you look back at our first game, we have to minimize the negative plays, do our best to stay ahead of the chains, stay out of third-and-longs, then you have to find some ways to make explosive plays,” Koetter said. “Now, that’s all good coach’s talk and is easier said than done, because they are playing so well on defense right now.”

7. Home dogs. The Falcons are 3-point home underdogs to the New Orleans Saints (9-2), according to BetOnline.

Here are the early NFL betting lines for Week 13, per BetOnline:

Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020

  • Bengals at Dolphins (-11½)
  • Colts (-3) at Texans
  • Lions at Bears (-3½)
  • Jaguars at Vikings (-9½)
  • Raiders (-7½) at Jets
  • Saints (-3) at Falcons
  • Browns at Titans (-5½)
  • Giants at Seahawks (No line yet)
  • Rams (-3) at Cardinals
  • Eagles at Packers (-9)
  • Patriots (pick) at Chargers (pick)
  • Broncos at Chiefs (-14)

Monday, Dec. 7, 2020

  • Cowboys at Ravens (No line yet)
  • Washington at Steelers (-10)
  • Bills (-2½) at 49ers

8. Injury report. Morris is “hopeful” that he’ll get wide receiver Julio Jones (hamstring) and running back Todd Gurley (knee) back to face the Saints.

The Falcons also could be without starting left guard James Carpenter who left the 43-6 win over the Raiders on a cart with a groin injury. Also, wide receivers Calvin Ridley (foot/ankle) and Olamide Zaccheaus (toe) were injured against the Raiders. Ridley returned to the game, but Zaccheaus did not and was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.

“He does bring that old-school toughness,” Koetter said of Carpenter. “Carp went out of his way to lose weight and lose body fat. He really came in with his body in a good place. He hasn’t had the little nagging injuries.

“This time, it might be a little bit more serious, we’ll have to see what the doctors say.”

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter comments on the state of the offensive line without James Carpenter, who left game against Raiders with an injury.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Justin McCray took over for Carpenter, but will have to beat out Matt Hennessy and Matt Gono in practice if Carpenter can’t play.

“Carp has 10 years of NFL experience and he’s played a lot of football in this league,” Koetter said. “He’s seen it all. He definitely brings a certain toughness. He’s an excellent competitor and just a really good teammate.

“If we are not going to have Carp, it’s going to be some big shoes for somebody else to fill.”

9. Depth chart: The Falcons released their official depth chart for the second Saints’ game Tuesday.

Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who was activated to the roster, was slotted behind Calvin Ridley on the second team.

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 13 Christian Blake

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 73 Matt Gono

LG 77 James Carpenter, 65 Justin McCray

C 51 Alex Mack, 61 Matt Hennessy

RG 63 Chris Lindstrom

RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 75 John Wetzel

TE 81 Hayden Hurst, 87 Jaeden Graham, 88 Luke Stocker

WR 83 Russell Gage, 15 Brandon Powell

WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 80 Laquon Treadwell

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub

HB 21 Todd Gurley, 23 Brian Hill, 25 Ito Smith, 30 Qadree Ollison

FB 40 Keith Smith

DEFENSE

DE 93 Allen Bailey, 92 Charles Harris

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 90 Marlon Davidson, 94 Deadrin Senat

DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 50 John Cominsky

DE 56 Dante Fowler, 55 Steven Means, 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

LB 45 Deion Jones, 59 LaRoy Reynolds, 46 Edmond Robinson

LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 43 Mykal Walker

RCB 34 Darqueze Dennard, 20 Kendall Sheffield

LCB 24 A.J. Terrell, 44 Tyler Hall

NCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson

FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman

SS 22 Keanu Neal, 32 Jaylinn Hawkins

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo

P 4 Sterling Hofrichter

LS 47 Josh Harris

KO 7 Younghoe Koo

KR 15 Brandon Powell

PR 15 Brandon Powell

Falcons’ next four games

Saints at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6

Falcons at Chargers at 4:25 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 13

Buccaneers at Falcons at 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 20

Falcons at Chiefs at 1 p.m., Dec. 27

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