Falcons’ Dante Fowler healthy, ready to start terrorizing QBs again

FLOWERY BRANCH -- Falcons outside linebacker Dante Fowler, after a season of being banged up, pronounced himself as having a clean bill of health.

“These past two games I haven’t had to worry about lateral movements, getting off the blocks and knowing that if I do a certain movement my ankle will probably give out or something like that,” Fowler said. “I’m just out there being able to play.”

On Tampa Bay’s second possession of the game Sunday, Fowler came up with a sack and strip on third-and-20 from the Falcons 23. The Falcons dropped eight in coverage and sent three rushers. Linebacker Mykal Walker recovered the fumble.

Fowler is hoping to get after the quarterback when the Falcons (0-2) play the Giants (0-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

After he signed a three-year, $45 million deal with the Falcons in free agency in the 2020 offseason, Fowler fought through an injury-plagued season. He finished with only three sacks and took a pay cut to stay with the team.

The sack-strip against the Bucs is what the team envisioned when he was signed.

“I’m healthy, and I don’t have to worry about (any) of that stuff,” Fowler said. “I think that game last week kind of showed me that I’m ready to go. I’m just getting back into (being) myself. That was a pretty good cool game to start off with.”

Fowler’s play energized the unit. Defensive tackle Marlon Davidson and linebacker Deion Jones also had a sack.

“Just believing in the pressure, and I always try to encourage the guys up front. Whenever you are on a good defense, it starts with those guys up front,” free safety Erik Harris said. “They apply the pressure. They stop the run, and everything else kind of flows after that. Those guys have been doing great up front and continue to grow each week.”

Fowler finished with the sack, three tackles, two quarterback hits and one forced fumble.

“I think he had a great camp,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I feel like he’s progressing very well. That was a big strip-sack that he had last week. We just have to keep that thing going in the right direction.”

It’s early, but the Falcons’ pass rush is showing signs of life.

The Falcons had a sack and a quarterback hit in the 32-6 loss to the Eagles in the season opener. They had three sacks and five quarterback hits in the 48-25 loss to the Buccaneers.

“We hit Tom (Brady) quite a few times,” Pees said. “We hit him, but we didn’t always sack him. We sacked him, what three (times). We hit him another five (times). That’s not bad against Tampa and against Tom. I thought we made some strides there, a little bit on the pass rush and a little bit on the (stunts).”

The sack-strip was exhilarating for Fowler after a rough season.

“It felt good just to be able to make a play for my team,” Fowler said.

The Falcons defense has been made baby steps early in the season.

“We have to keep coming together as a defense and finding ways to get the offense back the ball so that they can score points and things like that,” Fowler said. “Finding a way to come out with a (win).”

The Falcons have converted to the 3-4 defense, which is new for most of the players. Fowler played in a similar scheme when Wade Phillips was the defensive coordinator with the Rams (2018-19). Fowler had 11.5 sacks in 2018, and if he hits that number this season, he’ll pick up a $4 million bonus in his new incentive-laden deal.

“I think we just found out who we were,” Fowler said. “We had some momentum going into it. We knew we had confidence in ourselves, and we knew that we could do it. We could probably pull a win out. Then just to see the defense playing hard football that was good.”

Fowler is hoping to stay healthy and lift his level of play.

“No, I’m not thinking about (the ankle),” Fowler said. “I just know that it was hurt last year and stuff like that. Basically, going into this year knowing that it’s not hurt and I can do what I want to do.”

Fowler will be on the lookout for Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, who’s the team’s leading rusher on 15 carries for 122 yards.

“They are a pretty balanced offense,” Fowler said. “They run the ball really well. They can throw the ball really well. They are really good with the RPOs (run-pass options) and zone reads. They have a quarterback that can run, so you have to be pretty disciplined in your technique.”

The Falcons gave up 62 yards rushing to Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts in the opener. They know Jones is dangerous.

“You watch film every day and basically see him running 70-yard, 80-yard touchdowns by himself,” Fowler said of Jones. “So, you just know that you can’t let him out of the pocket.”

The Falcons plan to make a better accounting for Jones than they did for Hurts.

“We obviously didn’t do a very good job with that in the first game,” Pees said. “We’ve got to do a better job with that in this game. It certainly was a point of emphasis. It doesn’t matter who’s guy it is, it’s not just Dante Fowler, whoever has got him, whoever assigned to him has to do a good job, be patient and do their assignment and take care of the quarterback.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees addresses the defense's ability to reach the quarterback and the play of linebacker Dante Fowler.

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Atlanta Falcons Schedule

Eagles 32, Falcons 6

Buccaneers 48, Falcons 25

Falcons at New York Giants, Sept. 26 at 1 p.m.

Washington FT at Falcons, Oct. 3 at 1 p.m.

New York Jets vs. Falcons in London, Oct. 10 at 9:30 a.m.

Here’s the rest of full schedule.