Falcons moving McKinley, Fowler around like chess pieces

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons coach Dan Quinn utilized Fowler, McKinley mostly as outside linebackers in an 3-4 alignment against the Seahawks.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

In their season-opening loss to the Seahawks on Sunday, the Falcons moved Dante Fowler and Takk McKinley around like chess pieces.

Expect more of the same when the Falcons (0-1) face the Dallas Cowboys (0-1) at 1 p.m. Sunday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris mostly used Fowler and McKinley as outside linebackers with three down linemen in a 3-4 alignment.

The Falcons flip-flopped them from the right side to the left side. Sometimes they had their hands on the ground and other times they stood up.

They rushed the passer, while sometimes stunting with the tackles, and they both had pass-coverage responsibilities as the Falcons tried to create chaos upfront.

“I think the Falcons and (coach) Dan Quinn, Raheem Morris did a great job of creating some looks to create questions in the minds of an offensive line,” said Fox analyst Mark Schlereth, who was part of the broadcast team for the game. “What front are they in? What are they actually playing? You can create that moment of hesitation. You can create pressure just from the way that you line up.”

Dallas coach Mike McCarthy noted the difference in the Falcons' defensive front.

“Defensively, I thought they were extremely active,” McCarthy said. “They were flying all over the place. It looks like they’ve changed some from last year. We are just expecting to prepare and compare last year to Week 1 against Seattle.”

Quinn was asked about how the ends/linebackers were deployed.

“No. 1, how do we affect the quarterback,” Quinn said. “It usually starts with speed and get off. Those are two traits that Dante and Takk have together. How do they work in coordination. They are usually on opposite sides. Whether it’s a high-low rush, in other words one guy can stunt underneath and the other guy (can go) over the top.”

On Seattle’s first play of the game, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson tried to roll out on a bootleg. McKinley was not overly aggressive and stayed at home for the easiest sack of his career.

McKinley was at left outside linebacker, Grady Jarrett was at left defensive end, Tyeler Davison was at nose tackle over the center and John Cominsky at right defensive end and Fowler at right outside linebacker.

On the second sack, Fowler and Jarrett did a stunt. Jarrett came free while looping to his left and benefited from Fowler’s hard inside rush.

On the third sack, Wilson looked out to his right, but his receiver was covered. He tried to look back to his left, but Jarrett and Fowler got off their blocks and unloaded on Wilson.

“Both of them have similar skill sets,” Quinn said. “They can both play very aggressive.”

McKinley finished with four tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, one pass breakup and six quarterback hits.

Fowler, who’s playing with an ankle injury, finished with four tackles, half a sack, a tackle for a loss and one quarterback hit.

McKinley was playing left outside linebacker and dropped to his right into the middle up the field and got his hands up to block a Wilson pass.

“You probably saw a couple of good run plays from Dante knocking back a guy from the counter for a TFL,” Quinn said. “That part was good to see because (players) don’t see some of those runs in the training camp.”

It was a relative strong start for McKinley and Fowler.

“More than anything, can they be disruptive,” Quinn said. “That’s the No. 1 goal for both of them, the disruption of the QB.”

Allen Bailey, Davison and Cominsky didn’t flash much. The Falcons are hoping that rookie Marlon Davidson can work his way into the tackle mix. He’s coming back from a knee sprain, though, and is doubtful for the game Sunday.

Cominsky, a second-year player, made his first career start. He played 40 percent of the snaps and finished with two tackles.

“I’m hopeful that the more John plays. … I thought John had one of the very best training camps of anybody on the team,” Quinn said. “I think the experience in playing is going to be an important part for John and his ability to continue to improve. Sometimes, you just need to get into it, and I think that’s going to be the case with Cominsky.”

The rest of the defensive line will have to get more active to go with some tighter coverage.

Despite Morris' comments that the defense was too eager to stop the run against Seattle, they tried a lot of formations and different personnel.

“He was a little bit looking at hindsight, knowing that they were such an effective running team for so long,” Quinn said of Morris' comments. “I think what he was referring to is coming in with the mindset that we’ve got to stop run and when they threw it as well, you want to adjust as quickly as you can.”

The Falcons, who will face running back Ezekiel Elliott, must stop the run again. Also, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott has much better receivers than Wilson has in Seattle.

“We’ve got a playbook with a complement of defenses,” Quinn said. “What you choose to feature in a game, that kind of goes all of training camp. … You don’t use the whole playbook in every game.”

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