Cover 9@9: Falcons’ pass rush trending upward

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

1. The no-spin zone: One of the Falcons’ major offseason projects was to create a pass rush.

The Falcons switched out all of their outside linebackers and were hoping that either Ta’Quon Graham or Marlon Davidson would step forward at the defensive end spot opposite of Grady Jarrett to give them a better interior push.

Through three games, the pass rush has shown signs of marked improvement. The pass rush helped win the game against Seattle with a clutch third-down sack by Jarrett and another one by Lorenzo Carter on the final drive.

The Falcons have seven sacks and 15 quarterback hits through three games. They are on pace to have 39.6 sacks and 85 quarterback hits.

That’s a pace that would more than double the 18 sacks they had last season, which was the lowest output in the NFL.

Graham, who had two quarterback hits against the Seahawks, is coming through for the defense.

“TQ is playing really well,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “A lot of subtle things. I think some of these pressures late affected the quarterback, and he kind of grinded out some rush, and that’s why you keep chipping away.”

Carter was going against Seattle rookie left tackle Charles Cross, who was the ninth player taken in the NFL draft this year. Some thought the Falcons could have solidified their line by taking Cross at No. 8 instead of wide receiver Drake London.

“Lorenzo Carter, nice job setting that one up, and those are the games within the games,” Smith said. “You know, he’s going against Charles Cross, and some of the way that he was rushing him and then he got him.”

Carter set up the rookie and then delivered a key sack at crunch time.

“We needed a play, and he had set that thing up, and he was able to pull him back in there and make a big sack,” Smith said. “The same thing with Grady.”

Jarrett leads the Falcons with 2.5 sacks. Carter has 1.5, and Mykal Walker, Arnold Ebiketie and Ade Ogundeji have a sack each.

Graham leads the Falcons with five quarterback hits. Jarrett and Carter have three quarterback hits.

Walker, Ebiketie, safety Richie Grant and cornerback Mike Ford each have a quarterback hit.

“So, (I’m) pleased, and obviously a lot of things we got to clean up with some of these young guys,” Smith said. “We’re making some pretty good progress.”

2. Vote on the Coach of Week: South Cobb’s Thomas Hanson, Carver-Atlanta’s Darren Myles and Towns County’s Jason Roquemore are up for the Week 5 Coach of the Week honor. Click here to vote.

The Atlanta Falcons Coach of the Week program, presented by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, will recognize 10 high school varsity tackle and girls flag football head coaches across Georgia and Alabama for their hard work and dedication to making a difference in athletes’ lives on and off the field.

3. 500 carries for Nick Chubb: The game Sunday between the Falcons and the Browns will feature two of the league’s top three rushers. The teams’ game plans likely will not call for either of the quarterbacks to throw 63 times as Buffalo did against Miami on Sunday.

Cleveland’s Nick Chubb, who starred at Georgia, leads the league with 341 yards rushing on 61 carries. The Falcons’ Cordarrelle Patterson has rushed for 302 yards and trails only Chubb and New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, who has rushed for 317 yards.

“Everybody sees the tape; it’s going to be a really physical game on Sunday,” Smith said. “They’re going to try to run Nick Chubb 500 times, and we got to stop him.”

Chubb is well rested after helping the Browns defeat the Steelers 29-17 on Thursday. Chubb rushed 23 times for 113 yards and a touchdown to help carry the offense.

4. Series history: This will be the 16th meeting. The Browns lead the series 12-3. The Browns have won four of the past five meetings. The Falcons’ last victory over the Browns was in 2010, 20-10 in Cleveland. Former Falcons defensive end Kroy Biermann had a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown in the game.

5. Throwback offenses: The Browns are close to 50% run and 50% pass in total yards gained. The Browns have gained 572 yards rushing and 596 passing.

The Falcons have gained 470 yards rushing and 640 yards passing.

“We’re going to try to run the ball and play our game, too,” Smith said.

6. Waiting for Deshaun Watson: Over the offseason, both teams pursued quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Falcons were considered the leaders in the clubhouse, before the Browns jumped back into the derby with a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million deal.

Watson is serving an 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy. The Browns have turned to Jacoby Brissett as their place-holder quarterback.

Brissett has completed 61 of 92 passes (66.3%) for 596 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. He has a passer rating of 94.3.

7. Jacoby Brissett vs. Falcons: Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett had one of his better games against the Falcons. On Sept. 22, 2019, Brissett led the Colts to a 27-24 win. He completed 28 of 37 passes for 310 yards and finished with a 118.1 passer rating.

8. Myles Garrett update: Myles Garrett, the Browns’ three-time Pro Bowl defensive end, was in a car accident Monday. He has non-life-threatening injuries, but his status for the game is unknown.

Cleveland defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (ankle injury) did not play against the Steelers and could miss the game against the Falcons. If Clowney and Garrett do not play, the Browns could turn to rookies Alex Wright and Isaiah Thomas.

Wright was drafted in the third round out of Alabama-Birmingham and Thomas in the seventh round out of Oklahoma.

9. Depth chart: Wide receiver Bryan Edwards and left guard Elijah Wilkinson, who did not play Sunday against Seattle, retained their spots on the official depth chart released by the Falcons on Tuesday.

Edwards was inactive for the game, and Wilkinson was tending to a personal matter and was excused. The Falcons took four tight ends into the game Sunday.

“We’ll do what we think is best for the game plan and the team, so sometimes it’s not necessarily that the player did something wrong,” Smith said. “If we feel we’ve got a good matchup somewhere else or somewhere we feel like we need help on special teams, and we’ll make those evaluations.”

Colby Gossett started for Wilkinson, who is expected to return to the team Wednesday.

“I think Gossett played pretty well, but we’ll start with Elijah and see how it looks this week,” Smith said.

Here’s a look at the depth chart:

OFFENSE

QB – Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder

RB – Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Allgeier, Avery Williams

FB – Keith Smith

WR – Drake London, Bryan Edwards, Jared Bernhardt

TE – Kyle Pitts, Parker Hesse, Anthony Firkser, Feleipe Franks

LT – Jake Matthews, Chuma Edoga

LG – Elijah Wilkinson, Colby Gossett

C – Drew Dalman, Matt Hennessy

RG – Chris Lindstrom, Colby Gossett

RT – Kaleb McGary, Germain Ifedi

WR – Olamide Zaccheaus, KhaDarel Hodge, Damiere Byrd

DEFENSE

OLB – Lorenzo Carter, DeAngelo Malone

DE – Grady Jarrett, Timothy Horne

NT – Anthony Rush, Abdullah Anderson

DE – Ta’Quon Graham, Matt Dickerson

OLB – Ade Ogundeji, Arnold Ebiketie, Quinton Bell

ILB – Rashaan Evans, Nick Kwiatkoski

ILB – Mykal Walker, Troy Andersen, Nathan Landman

CB – A.J. Terrell, Mike Ford

FS – Jaylinn Hawkins, Dean Marlowe

SS – Richie Grant, Erik Harris

CB – Casey Hayward, Darren Hall, Dee Alford

SPECIAL TEAMS

K – Younghoe Koo

P/H – Bradley Pinion

LS – Liam McCullough

KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Avery Williams

PR – Avery Williams