Falcons’ A.J. Terrell needs another fine performance against Bucs

111821 Atlanta: Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell intercepts Patriots quarterback Mac Jones during the third quarter in a NFL football game on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Atlanta.    “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
caption arrowCaption
111821 Atlanta: Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell intercepts Patriots quarterback Mac Jones during the third quarter in a NFL football game on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

FLOWERY BRANCH -- The Falcons will need another stellar performance from left cornerback A.J. Terrell when they face Tom Brady and his fleet of receivers at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Falcons (5-6) can take firm hold of second place in the NFC South and legitimize their playoff position with a upset of the Buccaneers (8-3).

In their matchup against the Buccaneers on Sep. 19, Terrell, a Westlake High alum, left the game with a concussion. He finished the game with two tackles and two pass deflections before his departure.

This time, he plans to be ready for whatever the Buccaneers throw at him and the defense.

“The whole key to preparation is to being a step ahead,” Terrell said. “I feel like going into this week, as a whole for the defense, we should be more familiar with everything and be able to play faster.”

The Falcons battled back into the game that day. The score was 28-25 before things got out of hand late with a rash of turnovers.

The Falcons will need Terrell to continue his high level of play Sunday against Brady and wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin when they show up on his side of the field. Wide receiver Antonio Brown is not expected to play.

Terrell has 33 solo tackles and one forced fumble and an interception.

You may look at those stats and wonder what’s so great about him? The answer is simple: Quarterbacks are not targeting him as much because of his ability to lock down one side of the field.

On Sunday against the Jaguars, he recorded six tackles and one pass deflection and allowed five receiving yards after he was targeted four times.

Teams have targeted Terrell 49 times and have completed 25 passes (51%) for 178 yards, according to Pro Football Reference.com’s advanced statistics. Opposing quarterbacks had a 58 passer rating when throwing at Terrell, the best on team.

“The more he’s played, he’s gotten better,” secondary coach Jon Hoke said. “He does a good job of working at it in practice. Football is one of those games where it’s a rep game, and the more you play and the more situations you’re in, the better you can (be).”

Hoke has seen Terrell’s practice habits improve over the course of the season.

“It just helps,” Hoke said. “I think the way he prepares and the way he works in practice is also a big piece of it. He’s done a really good job. It’s been good steady growth day to day, week to week.”

Opposing quarterbacks have had more success throwing at right cornerback Fabian Moreau (121.1 passer rating), strong safety Duron Harmon (109.8) and free safety Erik Harris (90.1).

Terrell clearly has taken the next step in his game in his second season with the Falcons.

Last season, Terrell finished with 74 tackles, seven pass deflections, three forced fumbles and one interception. It was a strong season, but he was edged out by Minnesota’s Cameron Dantzler and Kansas City’s L’Jarius Sneed on the Pro Football Writers of America’s NFL all-rookie team.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has noticed Terrell’s improved play this season.

“He’s played great,” Ryan said. “I think a lot of it is not only experience of seeing more things, but I also think the experience of him getting prepared every week. He’s a really mature young player. He’s one of those guys that’s constantly locked in.”

Terrell, who was taken with the 16th overall pick in the 2020 draft, started immediately at left cornerback, the premier spot in the secondary. Many fans questioned the selection after Terrell struggled in the College Football Playoff Championship game in January 2020.

In that game, then LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (now a Bengals receiver) burned Terrell on a couple of occasions. Chase finished the game with nine catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns. Terrell finished with five tackles and one pass deflection.

Terrell has rebounded from that game.

“Short-term memory,” Terrell said when describing his mind-set after the championship game. “Everybody got an opinion. When you play good, they love you; play bad, they don’t. That’s how it’s been since I was young. You just have to keep a chip on your shoulder and keep it pushing.”

Terrell came out of the game undaunted. He made it a priority to eat better, work out more, study film and continued to work on technique.

“It started with mentorship,” Terrell said. “You have to want better for yourself. Can’t nobody make you do anything. (You) just have to be prepared, you can’t ever be overly prepared.”

Preparation is only a part of what is helping Terrell have a good season.

“All around, just being locked in and honing in on what everybody has to do around me to allow me to play faster,” Terrell said. “Preparation and taking care of the body.”

About the Author

Editors' Picks