Falcons’ Grady Jarrett pleased with growth of the defense

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) runs the ball against Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (97) for a two-point conversion during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Credit: Seth Wenig

Credit: Seth Wenig

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) runs the ball against Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (97) for a two-point conversion during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, a two-time Pro Bowler, sounded like a proud parent at a PTA meeting when discussing some of the younger players on the defense.

He was gushing with pride when discussing recent interceptions by defensive tackle Marlon Davidson, cornerback A.J. Terrell and linebacker Mykal Walker, all second-year players. He sees their progress as part of the defense’s continued growth and development.

“You know how hard they work,” Jarrett said. “You know how bad they want it for themselves.”

The Falcons (6-7) will need Jarrett and the younger defenders to play strong against the 49ers (7-6) at 4:05 p.m. Sunday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

“I remember being a young guy and when I was able to make a big play or something to impact the game, whether it was a QB hit or something, or whatever it may have been,” said Jarrett, who’s in his seventh season in the NFL after being a fifth-round pick out of Clemson in 2015. “It’s just means a lot to you because it’s like dreams coming true.”

Jarrett has been the anchor to the front of the defense while the rest of the positions in the new 3-4 alignment have been evolving.

“Well, that’s why I have so much respect for Grady,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “He’s a true pro. He comes to work every day. He’s got the right mindset. He’s a real leader. He’s not some fake guy that had status.“

Davidson, a defensive tackle, had a interception against the Bucs off of Tom Brady that he returned three yards for a touchdown. Terrell and Walker had interceptions against the Panthers. Walker returned his interception 66 yards for a touchdown.

After getting blown out 43-3 in Dallas on Nov. 14, the defense has strung together four respectable outings.

I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” Jarrett said. “Getting more reps together. Having more confidence in the calls. Coaches trusting us more to make some nice plays. Putting us in the right position. So, I think it’s a lot of hard work being done by everybody across the board, and we’re just making it an effort to put some good defense on the field.”

The defense, which gives up 364.5 yards per game and is ranked 25th in the league, is far from being a finished product.

“Even when we do have a good showing, there are always some things out there that we think we can get better at,” Jarrett said.

The Falcons will replace Erik Harris, who had surgery Thursday to repair his torn pectoral muscle, with Jaylinn Hawkins at free safety and Richie Grant at nickel back.

“It’s always sad to see a teammate go down, the second starting (defensive back) that we had go down this year,” Jarrett said. “Isaiah (Oliver) and now Erik, two guys who were crucial parts of the defense. We are definitely going to miss ‘E.’ We wish him well in his recovery.”

Harris was preparing Hawkins to eventually takeover the position. Strong safety Duron Harmon has been holding after practice sessions with Grant.

“Erik was the kind of guy to pour (knowledge) into the young guys for moments like this,” Jarrett said. “Even when they would sub out and do things, he was one of the more vocal and active leaders on the defense to make sure everybody was on their details. Coach would have them prepared, but he definitely was a leader, and he would help whoever was going to be on the field prepared.”

Jarrett is looking forward to facing the 49ers offense, which is led by coach Kyle Shanahan. Jarrett doesn’t believe he has an advantage from the two years he faced the offense in practice when Shanahan was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator in 2015 and 2016.

“He’s got a style of offense that he likes to play,” Jarrett said. “But every offense has different pieces each year. Every year is different. Everybody is always trying to evolve as an offense. We definitely just have to focus on the players they have this year. Just try to become and be the best defense against that.”

Jarrett has started all 13 games and has 44 tackles, 11 quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. The unit’s uptick in play has been cited by Smith and defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

“Doing the job right,” Jarrett said. “Doing it 100% right. Making the plays when they are there. Not making bonehead mistakes or emotional things like late hits on the quarterback or hits out of bounds. There have been times that we have been close, but we pulled up.”

Jarrett said Terrell’s interception was a play that could have been negated by penalty.

“That was a big play for us,” Jarrett said. “We had three guys by the quarterback, and if any us hit him, it could have been a flag to take it away. Things like that are what coach (Smith) means by playing smart and having emotional control.”

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Atlanta Falcons schedule and scores

Eagles 32, Falcons 6

Buccaneers 48, Falcons 25

Falcons 17, Giants 14

Washington 34, Falcons 30

Falcons 27, Jets 20

Bye Week

Falcons 30, Dolphins 28

Panthers 19, Falcons 13

Falcons 27, Saints 25

Cowboys 43, Falcons 3

Patriots 25, Falcons 0

Falcons 21, Jaguars 14

Next four games

Tampa Bay at Falcons, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 5

Falcons at Carolina, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 12

Falcons at San Francisco, 4:05 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 19

Detroit Lions at Falcons, 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 26