Former Falcons cornerback Deion Sanders follows the team closely and is not happy with its 3-6 record this season.
“First of all, you’ve got to understand man, when you talk about being Falcons fan, I’m a Falcons man,” said Sanders, who spoke to the AJC as he helps Subway launch its contactless curbside-pickup program nationwide. “I’m an Arthur Blank supporter. I love the city. I love the team, but I must admit that it’s heartbreaking week-in and week-out seeing them squander a lead or seeing them lose, period. I just hate it.”
Sanders was selected fifth overall by the Falcons in the 1989 NFL draft out of Florida State. He played for the Falcons from 1989-93. He also played with San Francisco, Dallas, Washington and Baltimore until retiring after the 2005 season.
He also played baseball for the Braves, and he was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in 2011.
Sanders believes the Falcons’ problems are on defense.
“I think that they are close, but yet so far,” Sanders said. “They are several pieces away on the defensive side of the ball. Offensively, I feel like that can score with anyone, but defensively they’ve got to get some stops and that’s not happening.”
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is on pace to pass for nearly 5,000 yards, and the offense is averaging 27 points per game.
“I think we’ve done a nice job of being explosive in the first half of the season,” Ryan said when told of Sanders’ assessment of the offense. “In order for us to kind of score the way I think we can, we have to be a little bit more disciplined than we’ve been. We have to make sure that we don’t have self-inflicted wounds, we are not shooting ourselves in the foot.”
The Falcons want to improve on scoring touchdowns once they move inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. The Falcons are 27th in the league in red-zone scoring as they’ve converted 18 touchdowns on 34 trips (52.94%).
“But if we are on top of the details and we play the way that we are capable of, I certainly feel good about every time that we touch the ball,” Ryan said. “Having that mindset that we are going to get points.”
Part of the Falcons’ long-standing problem has been the front office’s inability to draft and develop defensive ends. The Falcons have not had two double-digit sackers since defensive end Patrick Kerney and Rod Coleman (a defensive tackle) had 13 and 11.5 sacks in 2004.
Sanders wouldn’t put all of the blame on the pass rush.
“It’s extremely hard finding that guy, it’s not as simplistic as it may sound,” Sanders said. “But when you’re not faring well, you’re going to get a high draft pick. You’ve got to do a better job of not only drafting, but acquiring talent in the offseason in free agency. Developing certain players as well, that may be a later-round draft pick.”
The Falcons missed on defensive linemen high in the draft – Jamaal Anderson (eighth overall, 2007), Vic Beasley (sixth, 2015) and Takk McKinley (26th, 2017). They did find defensive tackle Grady Jarrett in the fifth round of the 2015 draft.
“There are so many variables that go into this process,” Sanders said. “But they’ve got to cover better, too. They have to do a better job of covering as well.”
Falcons rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell concurred with Sanders.
“I definitely watched Deion growing up,” Terrell said. “Legendary at the cornerback position. But yeah, just as a team, as a defense, we have to play better. We have to finish and put games away. Just continue to make plays, week after week. I feel if we do that, we’ll finished the season strong.”
Sanders was named the head coach at Jackson State, members of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, in September.
“Jackson State has a tremendous tradition with four Hall of Famers, 99 players that have been in the draft,” said Sanders of Walter Payton’s alma mater. “We are looking for that fifth Hall of Famer and that 100th player to be drafted out of Jackson State University and we will get him.”
Sanders’ recruiting is off to a good start, which includes landing his son, Shedeur Sanders, a four-star quarterback recruit.
“We are going to level the playing field with players that are smart, fast and tough as well as disciplined,” Sanders said. “As well as persons that are highly skilled and truly want to play in at an HBCU.
“We are not going to spend countless hours trying to convince kids this is the right thing for him. We want who wants us, but we also want that kid that is willing and have the thought process that they could possibly provoke change.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, Sanders supports Subway customers having another safe and easy option to get their sandwiches when and how they want them.
“The contact-less curbside pickup program is phenomenal,” Sanders said. “I had the opportunity to really do it myself in actuality and not just a promo. I’m really excited with the whole the relationship with what they are doing with curbside pickup.”
Falcons’ next four games
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 Chargers at 4:25 p.m., Dec. 13
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