Falcons rookie middle linebacker Deion Jones wants to set the tone for the run defense.
“It’s just a matter of our mind-set and getting lined up and playing with great effort,” Jones said. “Having that mind-set that no one else is going to run the ball on us. That’s pretty much it, you know.”
The Falcons gave up a season-high 208 yards rushing against Philadelphia and have stewed about it over the bye week. They’ll get a prime opportunity to show improvement when they face the Arizona Cardinals at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
“We understood that was not our standard, and we just have to get back to it,” said Jones, who’s second on the team in tackles with 62. Fellow rookie, safety Keanu Neal, leads the team with 66 tackles.
Philadelphia’s Ryan Matthews became the first running back to rush for more than 100 yards against the Falcons this season. He rushed for 103 yards, including 39 yards after contact.
The Falcons will face Arizona running back David Johnson, an emerging runner in his second season in the NFL.
“He’s a great running back,” Jones said. “He’s a fast and physical guy. He can run the ball and catch out of the backfield. You can tell that he loves (to play football) and that he’s going to bring it every Sunday.”
The Falcons are giving up 102.9 rushing yards per game, which ranks 16th of 32 teams in the league. The Cardinals average 111.7 yards rushing per game (13th). Johnson has rushed 197 times for 863 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn was not pleased with the effort against the Eagles. This week, he had Jones and the rest of the defensive front working on getting off of blocks before facing the Cardinals. Quinn wants the defenders to use their hands more.
“We want to attack these blocks,” Quinn said. “We can’t stay on them.”
Jones has the quickness to find the ball once he’s free or if he can slip or shed a block.
“He’s got the speed and quickness to get outside in the pass game, but we want to fill the aggressiveness in the run game,” Quinn said.
The Cardinals like to use Johnson, who’s 6-foot-1 and 224 pounds, on inside runs.
“They play aggressive in that way,” Quinn said. “The use of his hands in the run game is going to be key.”
Quinn compared Johnson, a second-round pick in 2015 from Northern Iowa, with former Falcons running back Steven Jackson, who rushed for more than 11,438 yards over his career.
“He’s got the size of a big back, but the jump-cut ability of a guy who’s smaller,” Quinn said. “Having the right strike zone and where to hit and getting to his legs is going to be important. We’ve seen when guys try to tackle him high, he gets yards after contact much like Mathews did in our game.”
In addition to stopping the run, Jones has the signal-calling responsibilities.
“Deion has been great,” veteran defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said. “He’s been getting better over the course of the season as far as his vocal ability. He’s even louder now making the calls and getting guys where they need to be. He’s starting to learn and get a feel for what needs to be done as a (middle) linebacker at the NFL level. The sky is the limit for him.”
Defensive end Tyson Jackson clearly was upset after the Philadelphia game. He takes the run defense personally.
“You put it in the past, but at the same time you recognize where we were wrong,” Jackson said. “We know what we have to do to get better.”
Jackson has the confidence in Jones to lead the way.
“Deion has been doing a really good job,” Jackson said. “He came in and stepped up. There has been a lot of good communication from across the board from the back end of the secondary to the front end with the defensive line.
“The guy has been making some really big plays out there. We are really happy with Deion, and he’s going to continue to get better throughout the season.”
Jones knows the run defense will be tested.
“I’ll be ready for this run game,” Jones said.