Cover 9@9: Oluokun named NFC’s player of the week

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun discusses his development and the win over the Broncos hiding into the bye week.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly list of nine things at 9 a.m. on Wednesday that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.

1A. Awards: Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun, a sixth-round pick from Yale in 2018, was named the NFC’s defensive player of the week for Week 9 on Wednesday.

Oluokun made 10 total tackles (seven solo), had his first-career sack, one tackle for loss, one pass defensed and a career-high four quarterback hits in the 34-27 win Sunday over Denver.

This is Oluokun’s first Player of the Week award in the NFL. The third-year linebacker is the first Falcon to win NFC award since Grady Jarrett in Week 15 of the 2018 season.

Oluokun, 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, leads the Falcons in tackles with 64. He also has an interception and three forced fumbles.

1B. The no spin zone. The Falcons players, while on their bye week, had to stay in town and continue to get tested for COVID-19.

“We have pretty strict rules for us just in general,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said. “We still continue to test every day, so we’ll be required to be up here for our testing times. That will continue through the bye week, so this is really hindering my traveling time as well.”

During a team meeting Monday, Morris stressed to the players to need to remain safe.

“Because the only thing that can really slow you down is COVID-19 issues and things like that,” Morris said. “(We) talked about wearing your mask out in public.”

The Falcons pointed out some examples of what not to do from the NFL and NBA.

“We want to handle it better,” Morris said. “Protect the team, rule No. 1. It’s definitely in effect for all of these guys. We definitely want to stress that this week in talking about COVID-19.”

The Falcons have worked from home twice this season after positive tests. They’ve had three players placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list during the season.

“All of that is going to come up, especially with the holidays coming in, people’s families coming in town and how you protect yourself there, just have to do some things to be smart this year,” Morris said. “Try to figure it out because it’s definitely going up and increasing in the world as we see.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons running back Todd Gurley discusses his ninth rushing touchdown of the year and the win over the Broncos.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

2. Rushing attack. Overall, the Falcons are averaging 106.8 yards per game, which ranks 20th in the league. They are averaging 3.7 per rush play, which ranks 30th in the league.

Todd Gurley has rushed 159 times for 584 yards (3.7 per carry) and nine touchdowns. He’s picked up 308 yards after contact. Brian Hill has rushed 56 times for 243 yards (4.3 per carry) and one touchdown. He’s picked up 109 yards after contact. The Falcons running backs have rushed 228 times for 871 yards (3.8 per carry) and 10 touchdowns.

“Todd, I think he’s leading the league in touchdowns, if not, certainly our team,” Morris said. “Right now, what he’s given us is a really good red zone runner. He knows how to get his pads down and find the end zone. That’s been awesome.”

Gurley is on pace to rush for 1,038 yards, which would be his first 1,000-yard season since 2018 when he rushed for 1,251 yards and led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns.

“He’s done a really good job,” Morris said. " The best thing he’s done for us right now really is in protection. When he has a chance to go out there and protect Matt and keep the hits off him so Matt can make some of the throws down the field, that’s really been nice to see and a really nice addition that you don’t know you’re necessarily getting when you get a really good runner like that."

Morris would like to see more breakout runs.

3. Power runs lacking: Also, the Falcons have not been able to run the ball and close out games. They were stuffed four times for 1-yard gains in the red zone against Carolina and couldn’t run out the final 1:51 against the Broncos.

“I think that will really help us finish games, really help us end the fourth quarters the way you want to end it,” Morris said.

Falcons cheerleaders perform in military-theme uniforms during the game against the Denver Broncos Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Falcons cheerleaders perform in military-theme uniforms during the game against the Denver Broncos Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

4. Robinson signed to 53-man roster: Linebacker Edmond Robinson, who has been on the practice squad and shuttling back and forth to the game-day roster, was signed Tuesday to the 53-man roster.

The Falcons created an open roster spot when they waived defensive end Takk McKinley on Monday.

Robinson, who played at Newberry, was selected by Minnesota in the seventh round (232nd overall) of the 2015 NFL draft. He also has played with the Jets and Cardinals, as well as the Arizona Hotshots of the Alliance of American Football and the Houston Roughnecks of the XFL.

In six games, Robinson has seven tackles and one quarterback hit. He has played four games as a COVID-19 replacement and two as a standard practice squad elevation.

5. Blitz watch: The Falcons blitzed the Broncos 23 times on 73 offensive snaps. They had one sack and nine quarterback hits.

Oluokun, who had a sack and four quarterback hits, blitzed six times.

Linebacker Deion Jones blitzed five times. Cornerback Isaiah Oliver (four) and strong safety Keanu Neal (four) also rushed the passer.

Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun (54) sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) during the second quarter Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun (54) sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) during the second quarter Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

6. Red-zone defense/offense: The Falcons have allowed 22 touchdowns on 29 red-zone trips (75.86%) by the opposition, which ranks 29th in the league.

The Falcons' red-zone offense ranks 29th in the league after scoring touchdowns on 2 of 4 possessions in the 34-27 win over the Broncos. The Falcons have scored touchdowns on 18 of their 34 drives (52.94%) inside the opposition’s 20-yard line this season.

7. Sack watch: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked 48 times last season. He’s been sacked 19 times through nine games and is on pace to be sacked 34 times.

Teams have blitzed Ryan 97 times and have 38 hurries and 31 hits. He was blitzed 199 times, hurried 54 times and hit 62 times last season.

Takkarist McKinley of UCLA poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #26 overall by the Falcons during the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on April 27.
Takkarist McKinley of UCLA poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #26 overall by the Falcons during the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on April 27.

8. Takk Watch: The Takk McKinley transaction didn’t happen Monday until after 4 p.m. league deadline, so he can’t clear or be claimed until 4 p.m. Wednesday.

9. Barton named coach of the week: Alicia Barton of Shaw High School in Columbus was named the Falcons' high school coach of the Week. Barton is both the first girls flag football coach and the first female head coach to earn the honor since the program started in 2009.

As part of the program, the NFL and the Falcons recognize head high school varsity football coaches across the state for their hard work and dedication.

Two years ago, the Atlanta Falcons and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation agreed to partner with Gwinnett County Schools to fund the first-ever girls’ high school flag football league in Georgia. In December 2019, the Georgia High School Association announced that flag football is now a sport that high schools can choose to offer to girls, making Georgia the fourth state in the country to officially sanction the sport.

Alicia Barton of Shaw High School in Columbus was named the Falcons' high school coach of the week.  (Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons).
Alicia Barton of Shaw High School in Columbus was named the Falcons' high school coach of the week. (Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons).

Barton led Shaw to a 7-3 record in 2019 and a runner-up finish in Muscogee County during the school’s inaugural season last year. After leading flag football clinics to grow the game this summer, Barton’s Raiders are off to another impressive start in 2020.

Below is the full list of Atlanta Falcons High School Coaches of the Week for 2020:

Week/Head coach/High school

  1. Barrett Davis, Southeast Bulloch High School
  2. Jaybo Shaw, Rabun County High School
  3. Bill Stewart, North Gwinnett High School
  4. Pete Wiggins. Callaway High School
  5. James Lal, Stone Mountain High School
  6. Matt Helmerich. Johns Creek High School
  7. Chris Slade. Pace Academy
  8. Joshua Moore, BEST Academy
  9. Alicia Barton, Shaw High School

9B. Depth chart: Here’s a look at the official depth chart:

OFFENSE

QB -- Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub

WR -- Julio Jones, Christian Blake

WR -- Calvin Ridley, Olamide Zaccheaus

WR -- Russell Gage, Brandon Powell

TE -- Hayden Hurst, Luke Stocker, Jaeden Graham (Team actually list Graham ahead of Stocker. Stocker has played more snaps)

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

FB -- Keith Smith

LT -- Jake Matthews, Matt Gono

LG -- James Carpenter, Matt Hennessy

C -- Alex Mack, Matt Hennessy (Team lists Justin McCray as the backup, but when Mack was injured against Detroit, Hennessy played so we move McCray to backup right guard).

RG -- Chris Lindstrom, Justin McCray

RT --Kaleb McGary, Matt Gono, John Wetzel

DEFENSE

DE -- Allen Bailey, Charles Harris

DT -- Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson, Deadrin Senat

DT -- Tyeler Davison, John Cominsky

DE -- Dante Fowler, Steven Means, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

LB -- Deion Jones, LaRoy Reynolds

LB -- Foye Oluokun, Mykal Walker, Edmond Robinson

LCB – A.J. Terrell, Tyler Hall

RCB – Darqueze Dennard, Kendall Sheffield

NCB -- Isaiah Oliver, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

FS --- Ricardo Allen, Sharrod Neasman

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

Bye week

Falcons at Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22

Raiders at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29

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

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

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