Cover 9@9 blog: Falcons need to show Foye Oluokun the money

Atlanta Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun (54) picks up an on-side kick against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Atlanta. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

Credit: AP

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Atlanta Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun (54) picks up an on-side kick against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Atlanta. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

Credit: AP

(Here’s our weekly nine items at 9 a.m. Wednesday on the Atlanta Falcons, otherwise known as the Cover 9@9 blog!)

1. The no-spin zone: The first order of business for the Falcons this offseason is to sign middle linebacker Foye Oluokun, the team’s leading tackler and defensive signal-caller. He was named the NFC’s defensive player of the week on Wednesday.

“He runs the show out there,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “He embraced his role and has run with it this year. It’s been fun to watch his progress.”

Oluokun, ranks second in the NFL with 166 tackles, with two games to play. He was drafted in the sixth round out of Yale in 2018.

He helped the Falcons beat the Lions with an interception, his second of the season, in the final minute of the 20-16 win Sunday.

“Well, I think he’s an ascending player,” Smith said. “We’ve got some really good inside linebackers in this division. Certainly when you’re playing, at that position, it’s a chess match.”

Smith noted that New Orleans’ Demario Davis, Tampa Bay’s Devin White and Carolina’s Shaq Thompson are really good and instinctive linebackers in the NFC South.

“I’ve got a great appreciation for those type of players,” Smith said. “It will be the same things with (Buffalo’s Tremaine) Edmonds in the lineup this weekend up in Buffalo. So you know, I think he’s an ascending player. I don’t love comparisons. I’m happy with the way he’s progressing.”

Deion Jones was the Falcons’ middle linebacker in Dan Quinn’s 4-3 defense. He plays inside linebacker in the new 3-4 alignment.

“Foye has been lighting it up,” Jones said. “Foye has been having a great season. It a product of his hard work and how he attacks every week. It’s paid off. He closed out a game, this last game especially when we needed it right in the red zone. That’s closer mentality. He is doing his thing. He took the middle linebacker role and ran away with it. That’s just the type of guy he is, and I’m happy for him.”

Jones has embraced his changed role.

“I used to be in the middle of the defense, now I’m on the side or the edges of the defense,” Jones said. “Just new angles. New type of responsibility. Blitzing a little more. Covering different types of space, tight ends and running backs. Other than that, it’s just basically me being on the edges of the defense instead of being in the middle. That’s the big difference.”

The Falcons will need to rebuild the front of the defense and find some outside linebackers. By re-signing Oluokun and keeping him from reaching the free-agent market, the Falcons will stabilize the inside linebacker spots.

Oluokun wants to keep making big plays for the Falcons.

“So, when we saw (Russell Gage’s fumble with 2:18 to play in the fourth quarter), we all huddled up there in the beginning,” Oluokun said. “I said, ‘If they don’t score a touchdown, we win the game.’ And eventually when they ran out of timeouts, it was like red-zone 7-on-7. ... Everybody calmed down from there and just made the play happen.”

You also have to like Oluokun’s mentality.

“That’s how I grew up playing football, you’ve got to be gritty, not pretty,” Oluokun said. “A lot of times, you’ve got to get your way through problems and get your way to the football. Make plays on the ball when it’s time to be made.”

It wasn’t lost on Oluokun that the Falcons posted their first win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on his interception.

>>> Taeden Johnson was the Falcons’ honorary captain of Lion’s game Sunday. He lost his mother, grandmother and little sister in a fire at the family’s Athens home earlier this year.

2. Josh Allen is a beast: The Bills are led by quarterback Josh Allen, who we had rated as the third best quarterback in the 2018 draft behind Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold. Lamar Jackson was rated fourth and Baker Mayfield was fifth.

Allen completed 30 of 47 passes for 314 yards, three touchdowns and had a 104.4 passer rating in the 33-21 win over the Patriots on Sunday. He also rushed 12 times for 64 yards.

Allen, who was taken seventh overall in the 2018 draft out of Wyoming, tossed his 100th touchdown pass and became the ninth player in NFL history to reach 100 passing touchdowns in his first four seasons.

3. Beasley out, McKenzie in: Buffalo wide receiver Cole Beasley, who’s been fined more than $100,000 for not following COVID-19 protocols, will miss this game. He’s on the reserve/COVID-19 list. With Beasley out, wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, a former Georgia standout, had a career-high 11 catches on 12 targets for 125 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots.

“He’s makes those plays in practice,” McDermott said. “Just catching the football. The fundamental part of it. He brings energy all the time to our football team.”

McKenzie also returns punt and kickoffs for the Bills.

Allen’s top receiver is Stefon Diggs, who was selected for the Pro Bowl. Diggs had 80 catches for 1,091 yards and nine touchdowns. The Bills top rushers are Devin Singletary, who has rushed for 672 yards and Allen, who’s rushed for 619 yards.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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The Falcons linebacker sealed the 20-16 victory with an interception at the 1-yard line with less than a minute remaining.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

4. Top-ranked defense: The Bills’ defense, which allows 287.9 yards per game (No. 1 in the league) is led by linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. Edmonds leads the team with 97 tackles.

Also, the secondary is anchored by safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, who both have five interceptions. Cornerback Tre’Davious White suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 31-6 win over the Saints on Thanksgiving.

5. Battle of the Georgia Southern kickers: The Falcons’ Younghoe Koo and Buffalo’s Tyler Bass both played at Georgia Southern.

Koo, who is the second alternate for the Pro Bowl in the NFC, has made 23 of 25 field-goal attempts this season.

Bass, who is the fifth alternate for the Pro Bowl in the AFC, has made 26 of 30 field-goal attempts this season.

Thinking we’ll see one of those jersey exchanges after this one.

6. Tale of the tape: The Falcons have the 25th-ranked offense (309.5 yards per game) going against the league’s No. 1-ranked defense (287.9 yards per game) defense.

“They are the No. 1-ranked defense in the league for a reason,” Smith said. “They have some explosive players on offense. They present a lot of problems. We’re going to have to play really well when we go up there on the road in Buffalo.”

Falcons Bills

18.5 (25t) Pts/Game 28.5 (3)

309.5 (25) Tot Off. 381.2 (6)

86.2 (31) Net Rush Yds/Game 120.4 (11)

223.3 (16) Net Pass Yds/Game 260.8 (7)

28:57 (26) Poss Avg. 30:54 (8)

27.4 (31) Opp Pts/Game 26.1 (26)

364.9 (24) Opp Tot Off. 287.9 (1)

120.9 (22) Opp Rush Yds/Game 114.8 (17)

244.0 (23) Opp Pass Yds/Game 173.1 (1)

-5 (24t) Turnover Differential +10 (4t)

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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The quarterback discusses the 20-16 win that keeps the Falcons' playoff hopes alive.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

7. Riverboat Sean?: McDermott, who was Carolina’s defensive coordinator from 2011-16 under Ron Rivera, has a little bit of “Riverboat Ron” in him. He made three of four fourth-down conversions against the Patriots. He uses analytics to help him decide when to go for it, while Rivera was more of a gut feeling guy while in Carolina.

“We had some opportunities where we wanted to go for it on fourth down,” McDermott said. “Then they executed well. Those are important situations for us to execution in. I was really happy to see the level of play in those situations.”

The Falcons need a victory to keep their playoff hopes alive.

“This is a good football team coming in here in the Atlanta Falcons,” McDermott said. “They’ve got a quarterback that’s seen a lot of ball over the years. It’s certainly a good football team.”

8a. Series record: This will be the 13th meeting. The Falcons lead the series 7-5. The Bills won the last meeting 23-17 on Oct. 1, 2017 when Tyrod Taylor led them to victory.

8b. Betting line: The Falcons were 15-point underdogs on betonline.ag on Tuesday. It dropped to 14.5 on Wednesday. The over/under on the game has remained at 44 points.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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The head coach discusses Sunday's 20-16 victory.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

9. Depth chart: Linebacker Brandon Copeland, wide receiver Tajae Sharpe, outside linebacker James Vaughters and inside linebacker Dorian Etheridge were placed on the reserve COVID-19 list Monday.

The Falcons (7-8) are set to face the Bills (9-6) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. If Copeland and Vaughters can’t clear protocols, the Falcons will be very thin at outside linebacker.

Outside linebacker Quinton Bell is on the practice squad and defensive lineman John Cominsky has been working out with the outside linebackers. Defensive end Nick Thurman also is on the practice squad.

Sharpe suffered a foot injury against San Francisco and did not play against the Lions. Marvin Hall was called up from the practice squad to replace him.

The Falcons are already thin at defensive tackle with Marlon Davidson and Tyeler Davison also are on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Here’s the official depth chart for the Bills’ game:

OFFENSE

WR - Christian Blake, (Calvin Ridley on the NFI list)

TE - Kyle Pitts, Lee Smith

LT - Jake Matthews, Jason Spriggs

LG - Jaylen Mayfield, Josh Andrews

C - Matt Hennessy, Drew Dalman

RG - Chris Lindstrom, Drew Dalman

RT – Kaleb McGarry, Colby Gossett

TE – Hayden Hurst , *Keith Smith (Has not lined up as traditional TE), *Feleipe Franks (was part of TE/QB package)

WR - Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby

RB - Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Davis, Qadree Ollison

FB - Keith Smith

QB - Matt Ryan, Josh Rosen or Feleipe Franks (Has served as No. 2 QB for the past threre games)

DEFENSE

DE - Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson

NT - Ta’Quon Graham, Anthony Rush

DE - Jonathan Bullard, Mike Pennel, John Cominsky

OLB - Dante Fowler

ILB - Deion Jones, Mykal Walker

ILB - Foyesade Oluokun, Darren Bates

OLB – Steven Means, Adetokunbo Ogundeji, James Vaughters

LCB - A.J. Terrell, Darren Hall

FS - Jaylinn Hawkins, Shawn Williams

SS - Duron Harmon, Richie Grant

RCB - Fabian Moreau, Avery Williams, Kendall Sheffield

SPECIAL TEAMS

K - Younghoe Koo

P – Thomas Morstead

LS - Josh Harris

H - Thomas Morstead

PR - Avery Williams, Olamide Zaccheaus

KOR - Cordarrelle Patterson, Avery Williams

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