Cover 9@9: Falcons pass-rush still a work in progress

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is sacked by Falcons defensive end Charles Harris during the second half of 30-16 loss Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP)

Credit: AP Photo/Tom Lynn

Credit: AP Photo/Tom Lynn

Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog — our weekly list of nine things that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.

1. The no-spin zone. The decades long project to get a pass rush has yet to pay consistent dividends.

The latest pass-rush savior, Dante Fowler, started the season playing injured on a bum ankle.

Fowler, who has recorded one sack through four games, said he’s only now feeling 95% to 100% healthy after playing with an ankle injury.

“I feel like we are just kind of having some injuries, everybody is not playing, this is probably my first game actually feeling somewhat 95 to 100%, you know what I mean,” said Fowler, who had two tackles and one tackle for a loss in the 30-16 loss to Green Bay on Monday night. “It’s a long season. We just have to weather the storm, that’s all I have to say.”

The Falcons have recorded only seven sacks through four games and are on pace to match last season’s anemic output of 28. Fowler signed a three-year $45 million deal in free agency to replace Vic Beasley, the team’s leading sacker last season, who had eight.

Fowler had a breakthrough last season with the Rams, when he finished with 11.5 sacks.

“Focus on our mission, which is to get to the playoffs,” Fowler said. “Have a winning record and have a better quarter than our first quarter.”

Fowler is familiar with how the Falcons started 1-7 last season, but rallied to go 6-2 over the second half of the season.

“I feel like last year they went on a run, and I feel like we can do the same thing,” Fowler said. "It’s never over. We have three more quarters left. Four games in every quarter, so that’s 12 more games left.

“Now, you just have to be patient with us a little bit and good things will happen. We are not feeling sorry for ourselves. We just have to pick it up and find a way, figure something out and we will.”

The Falcons (0-4) have a short week to get ready for Carolina (2-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“I think that’s really good to go ahead and get that bad taste out of our mouths.” Fowler said of the short week.

Jarrett leads the team with 2.5 sacks and defensive end Charles Harris has two sacks.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

2. Three starters. The Falcons are hoping to get defensive end Takk McKinley (groin), strong safety Keanu Neal (hamstring) and free safety Ricardo Allen (elbow) back for the Carolina game.

“Takk, of the three, is the closest,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Then we’ll work into Rico and Keke (Neal) in to practice to see how they respond.”

3. Julio Jones update: Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones played only 15 of 70 snaps against the Packers and aggravated his hamstring injury.

Quinn stopped short of saying they are shutting down Jones until he fully heals.

“At this point, with Julio we’ll make sure all of the treatment, all of the strength is there for him to be at his best,” Quinn said. “If he is at his best, we’ll allow him to play, but not until them.”

4. Series history. This will be the 51st meeting between the Falcons and the Panthers. The Falcons lead the series 32-18. The Falcons have won the past five games and eight of the past nine.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Falcons running back Todd Gurley had two rushing touchdowns at Green Bay. He had 16 carries for 57 yards (3.6 yards per carry) in the loss.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

5. Explosive plays. The Falcons ended up giving up seven plays of 20 yards or more, six pass plays and one rush, to the Packers.

Entering the game, the Falcons gave up 18 plays of 20-plus yards in the previous three games. They gave up seven against Chicago, seven against Dallas and four against Seattle.

The pass rush needs to ramp up and the coverage must improve.

6. Simplifying the defense. With all of the injuries on defense, the Falcons need to consider simplifying things on defense. There have been too many blow coverages.

7. Kazee out for the season. Falcons free safety Damontae Kazee, who suffered a ruptured Achilles in the second quarter against Green Bay on Monday, will be out for the rest of the season, Quinn said Tuesday.

The team had a MRI to confirm the injury, and Kazee will be placed on injured reserve.

“We are so bummed for Kazee,” Quinn said. “He’s a relentless competitor and the energy that he brings, the toughness he brings and he’s a ball-hawk for our team. Losing him for the year, that’s tough.”

The Falcons have been hit hard by injury in the secondary.

Cornerback Darqueze Dennard (hamstring) is on injured reserve. Strong safety Keanu Neal (hamstring) and free safety Ricardo Allen (elbow) did not play against the Packers. Also, rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell is on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

In addition to losing Kazee, rookie Jaylinn Hawkins left the game Monday with an apparent concussion.

“Fortunately, a number of those guys will be able to make it back this year,” Quinn said. “Unfortunately, the news for Kazee wasn’t good, and we’ll lose him for the year. He’ll be back. He’s as tough and as rugged as they come.”

8. Play-time breakdown. Kazee (Achilles) and Hawkins (concussion) left the game, trusty special-teamer Sharrod Neasman and the scrappy Jamal Carter were pressed into service Monday at Lambeau Field.

Carter was called up from the practice squad earlier in the day to provide depth at safety.

Neasman played 42 of 67 defensive snaps (67%) and Carter played 31 (49%) snaps.

--Linebacker Foye Oluokun, who was coming back from a hamstring injury, played 61 snaps (97%) after missing last week’s game against the Bears.

--Cornerback Kendall Sheffield played all 63 snaps after missing the first three games with a foot injury.

--Left guards James Carpenter (37 plays, 53%) and rookie Matt Hennessy (33 plays, 47%) had a nearly even split.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons running back Todd Gurley said the team has to figure out a way to get a win.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

9. Depth chart. Allen (elbow) injured and Kazee (torn Achilles) headed to injured reserve, the Falcons listed Neasman as the starting free safety in the depth chart released Tuesday for the Carolina game.

Here’s a look at the official depth chart for the Carolina game:

OFFENSE

QB -- Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub

WR -- Julio Jones, Christian Blake

WR -- Calvin Ridley, Olamide Zaccheaus for Jones/Gage

WR -- Russell Gage, Brandon Powell

TE -- Hayden Hurst, Luke Stocker, Jaeden Graham (Team actually list Graham ahead of Stocker, but Stocker plays more)

RB -- Todd Gurley, Brian Hill, Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison

FB -- Keith Smith

LT -- Jake Matthews, Matt Gono

LG -- James Carpenter, Matt Hennessy

C -- Alex Mack, Justin McCray

RG -- Chris Lindstrom

RT --Kaleb McGary, Matt Gono, John Wetzel

DEFENSE

DE -- Takk McKinley, Allen Bailey, Charles Harris

DT -- Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson, Deadrin Senat

DT -- Tyeler Davison, John Cominsky

DE -- Dante Fowler, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

LB -- Deion Jones, LaRoy Reynolds

LB -- Foye Oluokun, Mykal Walker

CB -- Kendall Sheffield, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

CB -- Isaiah Oliver, Jordan Miller

NS --- Ricardo Allen, Jamal Carter

FS – Sharrod Neasman, Damontae Kazee (Headed to Injured reserve. J.J. Wilcox had a visit)

SS -- Keanu Neal, Jaylinn Hawkins

SPECIAL TEAMS

K -- Younghoe Koo

P -- Sterling Hofrichter

LS -- Josh Harris

KR – Brandon Powell

PR -- Brandon Powell

Falcons' next four games

Panthers at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11

Falcons at Vikings at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18

Lions at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday Oct. 25

Falcons at Panthers at 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29

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