Can they do it again?
The Falcons found a winning formula Sunday against the Saints.
Now, the Falcons (2-7) will try to replicate their plan when they play the Carolina Panthers (5-4) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
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The Falcons swept the Panthers last season, winning 31-24 in Atlanta on Sept. 9, 2018, and 24-10 on Dec. 23, 2018, in Charlotte.
The Falcons lead the series 30-18 in regular-season games.
On a six-game losing streak, the Falcons wanted to create turnovers, communicate better on defense and win the field position battle. Toss in a productive running game and a new-found pass rush and the Falcons managed to post a wire-to-wire victory over the Saints and halt their skid.
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“Could we improve our communication?” Falcons coach Dan Quinn wondered Monday. “Could we improve our field position? We were hoping to see some of those things come to life. Although we didn’t win the turnover margin, I did think we were bold. We were aggressive.
“The communication had improved. There were a number of things I thought we did better.”
The Falcons lost the turnover battle, 0-1.
Most of the defenders attributed their play to communicating better and getting the calls out correctly.
“Just make sure that we communicated and make sure that we are on the same page,” cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson said. “Get the call in and get it around. We had 11 guys playing as one, when you play as one you can accomplish things.”
The Falcons didn’t have any obviously blown coverages and were able to limit the Saints’ explosive plays.
“Coming off the bye week it was something that we stressed,” Wreh-Wilson said. “We had a very good week of practice. We practice some of the things we did. It was kind of the same. Just going out there and trusting our training really helped out today.”
The Falcons’ rushing attack was key to the field position battle.
The Saints entered the game with the fourth-ranked run defense in the league and the Falcons’ run offense was ranked 29th in the league.
“They’ve been an excellent team against the run,” Quinn said. “When they are that stout and strong inside. How do you get the ball out on the perimeter? One of the ways is to toss it. You saw those.
“Another one is where you saw a couple of flip plays where you fake an inside run and you go outside. The third way would be to sweep the ball to a receiver who can get out on the edge quickly.”
The Falcons opened the game with wide receiver Calvin Ridley running a jet sweep.
Brian Hill led the rushing attack with 61 yards over 20 carries. Devonta Freeman (foot injury) ran the ball well before leaving the game in the second quarter.
“The wide receivers had their best blocking game,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said.
With a lead, the Falcons were able to stay with the running game.
“That helps in the pass game,” Quinn said. “To win the time of possession, all of those things factored in.”
Defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, who played four seasons with the Saints, was one of the happiest Falcons after the win.
“It feels real good,” Davison said. “I think it was a good complete team effort. The offense was doing their thing. We got ahead early. We stopped the run early. When that happens, the other team’s offense has to resort to passing the ball all of the time.”
Davison finished with one tackle, but was excited about the pass rush, which netted six sacks and 11 quarterback hits.
“That’s when our pass rushers can pin their ears back and go get the quarterback,” Davison said. “I think that’s what we did. We put everything together in all three phases. Offense did their job. We did our job stopping the run and we saw what the result was with our pass rushers being able to go back there and do their thing.”
For the third quarter of the season, the Falcons got off to a good start.
“I thought we did have a good start to (the third quarter),” Quinn said. “That’s all it is, a good start. I was pleased to see the aggressiveness, I was pleased to see the toughness that the team displayed.
“Some of things we were wanting to measure, they nailed.”
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