Falcons’ top tackler would like to return on improving unit

Rashaan Evans sees reason for optimism despite mounting losses
Falcons linebacker Rashaan Evans, who leads the team in tackles, wants to return next season. (Curtis Compton file photo / Curtis Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Falcons linebacker Rashaan Evans, who leads the team in tackles, wants to return next season. (Curtis Compton file photo / Curtis Compton@ajc.com)

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons linebacker Rashaan Evans, who leads the team in tackles, wants his fellow defenders to keep their heads up.

The Falcons, who are devoid of a consistent pass rush and have coverage issues, have continued to battle through 12 one-score games this season, posting a 4-8 record in those contests.

The Falcons (5-10) are set to host the Cardinals (4-11) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in a battle of two teams that have been eliminated from playoff contention.

The Falcons are coming off a 17-9 loss to the Ravens on Saturday.

“I’m still proud of the defense and just with how we fought,” Evans told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Things didn’t go our way, but that’s what happens in the NFL. In this league, sometimes you get into situations and everything is not hitting like you want it. But I’m still proud of how we fought and everything.”

The Falcons’ losses to the Bengals and Panthers were not one-score games. The Bengals torched the Falcons 35-17 on Oct. 23. The Panthers won 25-15 on Nov. 10. Also, the Falcons beat the 49ers – their signature win of the season – 28-14 – on Oct. 16.

Over the last four losses, the defense has allowed 17, 21, 19 and 19 points.

Teams are doing most of their damage in the second quarter. The Falcons have given up 78 points in the first quarter, 143 in the second, 56 in the third and 73 in the fourth.

“At this point, you know the reality of the situation that you’re in,” said Evans, who has 150 tackles. “At this point, you have to finish strong. At this point, it’s all about character as far as the guys, the mentality and what they believe in.”

The defense will try to close out strong against the Cardinals and against the Buccaneers in the regular-season finale.

“Right now, we just have to gather as a team and make sure that we put good film on these next two games,” Evans said. “I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Evans, who was taken in the first round (22nd overall) by the Titans in 2018 after starting at Alabama, signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Falcons this offseason. He wants to return.

“Oh, yeah, most definitely,” Evans said. “Just being here in general, it’s been amazing being around great coaches, great fan base and great staff.”

The Falcons’ defense is in the bottom half of the league in the four main statistical categories. They average 23.3 points allowed (23rd), 373 total yards allowed (28th), 133.5 rushing yards allowed (24th) and 239.5 passing yards allowed (25th).

The lack of a pass rush continues to be an issue as the Falcons are last in sacks per pass rush attempt at 3.9%. Overall, the Falcons have 19 sacks, which is 31st in the league. The Bears are last with 18 sacks.

The defense is making teams grind in the run game. They give up 4.42 rushing yards per play, which ranks 17th in the league.

Despite the statistical data, Evans believes the Falcons’ defense has made strides.

“Obviously, things haven’t been going our way,” Evans said. “It’s just some things here and there that you’ve got to fix. It will probably be a different picture next year.”

Evans thinks the defense has made progress over the season.

“Oh, no doubt,” Evans said. “We are trending in the right direction. I for sure think that.”

The Falcons are certain to add some players in free agency and the draft, while continuing to develop young players such as linebackers Troy Andersen, Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone and Ade Ogundeji.

“Just some missing pieces as far as the things we can do to be at an elite level,” Evans said. “I think this offseason, next offseason, after the season, maybe getting some guys, different guys and changing some schematics and stuff like that, I think will do us some good justice.

“As far as the mentality, grit and the grind, we’ve got all of that. I think that’s really all that it is.”

Safety Richie Grant, who was taken in the second round of the 2021 draft, is second on the team with 106 tackles. Linebacker Mykal Walker has 105 tackles but has lost playing time to Andersen late in the season.

Grant believes the unit has made progress, too.

“Obviously, the (season) is not going how we intended to this year, but we’re doing a (heck) of a lot better than people thought we would,” Grant said. “And at the end of the day, we still have something to prove. There’s still a lot of year left, and that gives you hope to build the defense that we want to be.”

Defensive tackle/end Grady Jarrett has turned in another fine season and hopes the defense can finish strong.

“You have to put your best foot forward,” Jarrett said. “Every time you play the game, you play the game to win. It will be encouraging to see everybody put their best foot forward and get a win, especially to close out at home strong.”

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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 Commanders 19, Falcons 13

Dec. 4 Steelers 19, Falcons 16


Dec. 18 Saints 21, Falcons 18

Dec. 24 Ravens 17, Falcons 9

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

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD