Elusive rookie running back Saquon Barkley is a problem of major proportions for the Falcons, who have missed more than 10 tackles in three of their games this season, including 16 last week against the Bucs.
The Falcons have 64 missed tackles, the fifth most in the NFL, according to NFL Media.
“When you watch tape and you see someone with talent, who’s hard to tackle, as in previous weeks, we did an emphasis on tackling,” Falcons defensive tackle Jack Crawford said. “We are going to get better at that. We have to get better at that in order to stop him.”
Barkley has rushed 84 times for 438 yards and four touchdowns. He’s also caught 40 passes for 373 yards and two touchdowns.
“You know that they are going to give Saquon his touches,” Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said. “He’s going to touch the ball. We are fools if we don’t believe that.”
The Falcons haven’t face a elite running back since they played the Saints and Alvin Kamara, but Pittsburgh’s James Conner, their second-string running back, rushed for more than 100 yards and last week Tampa Bay’s Peyton Barber rushed for 82 yards and caught one touchdown pass.
Manuel compared Barkley, a rookie from Penn State, with Marshall Faulk, who’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“He’s a great combination guy because he has great contact, balance, speed and vision,” Manuel said. “He can break loose and break arm tackles. ... Then you have to factor in that he can line up a wide receiver.”
The Falcons know that Barkley is a threat in the passing game, too.
“You don’t know when or where he’s coming from,” Crawford said. “That’s why all of 11 of us on defense are going to be running to the ball or wherever he’s at. We are going to try to put pressure on the quarterback and try and put pressure on the receivers and get to him.”
Crawford, who played for Dallas, used to face Giants quarterback Eli Manning twice a season and is not buying the talk that the two-time Super Bowl winner is washed up.
“To me he looks the same,” Crawford said. “He’s got elite qualities to him. But you have to be on you’re A-game against a quarterback who can play at that level.”