Falcons unleash blitz package in win over Panthers

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun on his big plays and on the unit pulling out the victory over the Panthers.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Something changed from the end of the Falcons’ game against Detroit the previous Sunday to Thursday night.

Instead of sitting back in zone coverages, as they did over the final 1:04 against Matthew Stafford, the Falcons decided to go after Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the Thursday night game in Charlotte.

The Falcons had some success with middle linebacker Deion Jones blitzing between the center and the guard, which is called the A-gap.

Cornerback Isaiah Oliver came on a blitz and landed his first career NFL sack. Safety Keanu Neal came off the edge and got in Bridgewater’s face a few times.

In the 25-17 win, the Falcons manufactured a pass rush that netted three sacks and six quarterback hits. The game ended with the battered Bridgewater tossing an interception to cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson with 75 seconds to play.

“They’ve got such a good offense, you have to get after the quarterback somehow,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said. “You must have answers. You must have reasons. I can’t keep standing in front of you guys talking about the four-man rush not getting home.”

The Falcons entered the game with only 10 sacks, which ranked 24th in the NFL. Against Detroit, Stafford, working from a mostly pristine pocket, drove them downfield to victory.

That was the last straw.

“As a coaching staff, we had to do something about it and my guys did tonight,” Morris said. “Give Jeff Ulbrich, give Aden Durde and Bob Sutton a lot of credit for the plan they put together. I was really fired up about it.”

The Falcons were fine with the new strategy.

“It just must have been what the coaches saw and thought that would affect the quarterback,” linebacker Foye Oluokun said. “He likes to get the ball out quick, so we were going to make it come out quick and then hunt when it came out.”

In addition to the sacks and hits, Bridgewater had to throw some passes away. He also has three passes defended by the Falcons.

“It was working so that’s what probably kept it going,” Oluokun said. “That was the plan going in. Getting that ball out quick and disguising where the blitz was coming from. Yeah, we were going to blitz.”

With the blitz and the threat of the blitz, the Falcons had to mix in some old-fashioned defense.

Oluokun also had two key stops on fourth down.

In the second quarter on fourth-and-1 from the Falcons 34, Oluokun wasn’t fooled on a zone-read play and held Bridgewater for no gain. After the stop, the Falcons got a field goal to take the 16-14 lead they’d not relinquish.

“It was a zone-read,” Oluokun said. “I know he pulls it sometimes. I saw he was kind of light with the handoff. He kept it because he expected me to dive down. Then it was just a chase to the sideline. I just had to make sure I got him down really.”

In the third quarter, Oluokun and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett stuffed Mike Davis for a yard loss on fourth-and-1 from the Falcons 42. The offense added another field goal to make the score 19-14.

“It was a formation that we recognized,” Oluokun said. “We were expecting a fullback dive with a toss. Then I saw the fullback go for the lead play. You have to make that play when it comes to you.”

Neal led the Falcons with seven tackles. Oluokun had five.

“He’s having a phenomenal year,” Morris said of Oluokun. “He’s been one of the most consistent players that we’ve had on defense all year. How he’s played, how physical he’s played. Getting after the ball. Making big play after big play. He made a couple tonight. At this point, it’s not even shocking. It’s almost expected from him.”

Oluokun contended that the defense was thoroughly prepared for the Panthers.

“Whenever they lined up, we knew the routes that were going to come from condensed formations or wide formations,” Oluokun said. “When they motioned a guy in, we knew the runs that were coming. We knew the runs that were coming in their dot formation. It was really just a lot of film study because we knew we needed a win.”

After kicker Younghoe Koo missed the extra-point attempt that would have made it a two-score game, the defense had to figure out a way to get a stop to secure the win.

“Obviously, it’s frustrating losing games that we should have won,” Oluokun said. “We are definitely going to keep grinding. Get wins. Get wins for the team and for ourselves.”

After the Detroit debacle, the Falcons discussed closing out games.

“We saw where we were making mistakes,” Oluokun said. "It’s all about having the confidence. We are out there to win the game. We are not out there to hold a lead. We are out there to take it over.

“Obviously, we got the turnover. Don’t falter. Don’t get flustered out there.”

Oluokun was elated the defense came up with a stop to help secure the victory.

“We knew it was going to come down to us, it was our turn to win the game,” Oluokun said.

Falcons' upcoming games

Broncos at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8

Bye Week

Falcons at Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22

Las Vegas Raiders at Falcons at 1 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 29

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