Coach Dan Quinn knows that if the Falcons are going to salvage the season, the revamped defense must make major strides quickly.
The Falcons dropped to 1-3 after blowing their third fourth-quarter lead of the season in a 37-36 loss to the Bengals on Sunday.
After reviewing the film of the game, Quinn noted that the tackling was much-improved. However, as the team tries to replace middle linebacker Deion Jones (broken right foot), strong safety Kean Neal (knee) and free safety Ricardo Allen (torn left Achilles), all starters, there must be major improvements. Quinn means in all phases of defense: pass rush, pass coverage and run defense.
“I certainly liked how we came back out in the second half,” Quinn said on Monday. “Where we hadn’t played well in the first half.”
Quinn was not happy with the Bengals connecting on two touchdowns on routes up the seam of their zone defense in the first half.
“We put Brian (Poole) some at strong safety,” Quinn said. “Playing in the nickel package. We wanted to make sure that our matchups heading into the game where right. We still have work to do to get there, but we are a lot closer now to that vision.”
Desmond Trufant slid inside to Poole’s nickel spot and rookie Isaiah Oliver took over at cornerback.
“Playing nickel and strong safety for Brian is similar in a lot of ways,” Quinn said. “You are down in the box quite a bit. You are involved in some of the run fits. He certainly is capable of doing that. We haven’t all the way come to that’s how we’ll land, but that’s where we are at. We thought that was the best matchup heading into the game.”
The Bengals scored on a 14-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green with seven seconds left when Oliver, who was the team’s second-round draft pick, didn’t drop far enough into his zone.
“There will be some on the job training with him,” Quinn said. “For instance, on the last one where he had to throw it into the end zone, you’d like to play it from high-to-low. But I really felt like he stood up. You got a chance to see his ball skills. He can go and attack. For his first time out, we certainly saw a lot of encouraging things.”
If the defense doesn’t improve, the Falcons will not have a chance to turn around the season.
Only two times in franchise history the Falcons have bounced back from a 1-3 start to make the playoffs. In 1978 and 2002, the Falcons started 1-3 and made it to the playoffs as a wildcard team. Both teams won a playoff game before losing in the divisional round.
In 2002 under Dan Reeves, the Falcons went 7-0-1 over their next eight games after the poor start. The Falcons went on to post a historic playoff win over the Packers in Lambeau Field before losing to the Eagles in the divisional round.
In 1978, Leeman Bennett’s team won 6 of their next 7 after the start. They finished 9-7 and beat the Eagles in the wildcard round before losing to the Cowboys in the divisional round. It was the Falcons’ first trip to the playoffs.
So, there is some hope.
Linebacker Duke Riley, who had five tackles against the Bengals, has improved since taking over for Jones.
“Just from looking at the tape, we did a lot good and there are lot of things we have to get corrections on and move forward,” Riley said.
After giving up four straight touchdowns drives, the defense got off the field on three consecutive drives with two sacks from defensive end Takk McKinley on third down and an interception from free safety Damontae Kazee to slow the Bengals in the second half.
But in the fourth quarter, the defense gave up a field goal and couldn’t get a stop on the final 16-play drive that covered 75 yards.
“I could have done a little bit more,” McKinley said. “Especially on that last drive with that game-winning touchdown. I had my opportunity to be the closer and I didn’t do enough to get more heat on Andy (Dalton) to finish the game. That was pretty much that.”
The Falcons also blew fourth-quarter leads in losses to the Eagles and Saints. The Falcons held a 12-10 lead over the Eagles with 9:48 to play in the season opener. They lost 18-12. After defeating the Panthers 31-24, the Falcons lost 43-37 to the Saints in overtime. They led the 37-30 with 6:56 to play in regulation before they gave up the game-tying touchdown and could not stop the Saints in overtime.
“The biggest thing is that it’s still early in the season,” McKinley said. “(Quinn) always preaches that there are four quarters to the season. We are 1-3 in the first quarter. The second quarter, we are 0-0. We have to move on from this quarter and go to the next.
“Guys are competing out there. We all have to feel like we are closers. Not just wait for the next person to close the game out. You be the closer.”
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