Falcons rookies Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone coming along at outside LB

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Ebiketie was named player of the game after win against Bears

FLOWERY BRANCH — Rookie outside linebackers Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone have combined to play more than 500 defensive snaps through the first 11 games of their NFL careers.

More important, they both are starting to show up at the ball. Both played key roles in the Falcons’ defensive plan to take away some of Justin Fields’ running lanes against the Bears in the 27-24 win Sunday.

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With the Falcons (5-6) set to face the mobile Taylor Heinicke and the Commanders (6-5) at 1 p.m. Sunday at FedEx Field, both will continue in their supporting roles.

“They’re playing – those guys are getting better every week,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said.

Ebiketie played 36 defensive snaps (52%), finishing the game with six tackles, but missed at least one sack.

“AK, we had him as our player of the game,” Smith said. “Just some stuff that he’s gotten better – got a sack, should’ve had another one, but you’ve got to give Justin credit, that was maybe the longest play in NFL history. It felt like both teams were in the mud at that point, but he’s playing really well.”

Smith is talking about Fields’ third-and-12 conversion, when he scrambled for 11.03 seconds before finding a receiver. Ebiketie missed him when he scrambled to the left and again when he made his way back to his right.

Fields completed a 14-yard pass to Equanimeous St. Brown. Four plays later, David Montgomery scored on a 2-yard touchdown run. The extra point tied the game at 24.

Malone, who was taken in the third round (82nd overall), played 19 defensive snaps (28%) against the Bears and had three tackles and one tackle for loss.

“It felt great just to get out there and showcase my talents and just ball with my brothers,” Malone said. “Justin Fields, he’s a great player. It’s always (a) tough task to contain him. But I felt like we did a great job in doing that.”

Malone, who played at Cedar Grove High and Western Kentucky, has played 115 defensive snaps over nine games. He has a sack, 15 tackles, three tackles for loss and a quarterback hit. He’s also played 125 special-teams snaps.

“This is my rookie year,” Malone said. “You have downs and lows, but you just keep grinding. Keep making plays and make the best out of nothing.”

The win over the Bears helped the Falcons pick up a half-game on the idle Bucs, and it snapped a two-game losing streak.

“It was a big win,” Malone said. “A lot of people were down on us, saying that we couldn’t win the game. But we just proved a lot of people wrong by just believing in each other.”

Malone is in line to get more snaps down the stretch.

“He has made, in the last four weeks, a quantum leap,” Falcons outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “It takes a little while. Maturity takes time. He’s grown a lot in that area. He understands what we are trying to get done defensively. He knows where he fits and why. It’s getting better.”

Ebiketie, who played at Penn State, was selected in the second round (38th overall). He’s played 11 games and made one start against San Francisco on Oct. 16.

“We prefer to AK doing what AK does, and that’s rushing the passer as often as we can, but he’s becoming a better run defender every week, too,” Monachino said.

He has played 423 defensive snaps (56%) and has 2.5 sacks, 26 tackles, three tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hits.

“AK is my guy,” Malone said. “Like I tell him, all the time, just meet me at the quarterback. I communicate with him, being on the same page. It’s always fun to have somebody with the same skill set as you on the other side. It’s fun.”

Both are soaking up as much information as they can from veteran outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter.

“We’re just learning from him,” Malone said. “The things that he does in his rehab. Basically, we just have to be a sponge. See how he goes about things and just capitalize off of that.”

Ebiketie is second on the team with pressuring the quarterback behind Grady Jarrett. He has a pressure number of 9.5, with the sacks, six quarterback knockdowns and a hurry, according to profootballreference.com.

“It’s some of the subtle stuff that he’s doing that can affect – when you coordinate some of the games, that he’s doing that I appreciate about him,” Smith said. “Him and DeAngelo are fun to work with, all of those young guys, (inside linebacker) Troy (Andersen), they had a big impact on (the) win.”

Andersen, who was taken in the second round (58th overall), has shown some promise at inside linebacker.

He had five tackles against the Bears and played 30 defensive snaps (43%).

Andersen has played in the 3-4 base, and the Falcons used a 4-3 with Andersen playing alongside Rashaan Evans and Mykal Walker.

Andersen has played in 11 games and made one start against San Francisco. He has 39 tackles, a quarterback hit and has blitzed four times. He also has played 270 special-teams snaps (70%).

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20

Oct. 9 Buccaneers 21, Falcons 15

Oct. 16 Falcons 28, 49ers 14

Oct. 23 Bengals 35, Falcons 17

Oct. 30 Falcons 37, Panthers 34 OT

Nov. 6 Chargers 20, Falcons 17

Nov. 10 Panthers 25, Falcons 15

Nov. 20 Falcons 27, Bears 24

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

BYE WEEK

Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD