Falcons hope that sacks are contagious

Falcons safety William Moore strips Saints wide receiver Marques Colston causing a fumble recovered by the Falcons in overtime in their NFL football game on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, in Atlanta. Falcons linebacker Joplo Bartu (left) recovered the fumble. The Falcons went on to kick a field goal to win the game 37-34. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

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Falcons safety William Moore strips Saints wide receiver Marques Colston causing a fumble recovered by the Falcons in overtime in their NFL football game on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, in Atlanta. Falcons linebacker Joplo Bartu (left) recovered the fumble. The Falcons went on to kick a field goal to win the game 37-34. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

As the Falcons entered Week 3 as the only team in the NFL without a sack, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan waited patiently for the pass rush to show some signs of life.

A hint. A pulse. A tick.

Nolan wanted to see any sign of life.

In the 56-14 rout of the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night, the pass rush not only showed a pulse, but the Falcons posted three legitimate, bone-rattling sacks. The unit didn’t stop there, as it had seven quarterback hits and 12 hurries against the Bucs.

“It was much improved,” Nolan said. “I think that was evident.”

The defense hopes to maintain its pass rush when they face rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the Minnesota Vikings at 4:25 p.m. Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

“Once one person starts off with a sack it gets contagious,” said defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi, owner of the Falcons’ first sack of the 2014 season. “It’s like a virus and everybody wants to get infected.”

The Falcons had three or more sacks in a game only six times last season. They finished with 32 sacks, which was tied for 29th in the league.

“Sacks are always great,” Massaquoi said. “It was just guys running around. Guys playing with fire … and ready to go after the quarterback. It was great.”

On the first sack, Massaquoi was coming from left defensive end and was unblocked as the Bucs slid their protection to their left to account for Jonathan Babineaux and Osi Umenyiora.

On the second sack with 2:04 left in the second quarter, Umenyiora had a nice speed rush from right defensive end that forced Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon to step up into the pocket, and Corey Peters sliced in free from left defensive tackle for the sack.

On the third sack, Stansly Maponga had a nice takeoff on a speed rush, got underneath right tackle Demar Dotson and powered his way to the quarterback for an 11-yard loss with 1:14 left in the game.

“The defensive performance was good,” Massaquoi said. “We executed well in a lot of areas.”

It was Maponga’s first career sack.

“It felt great,” Maponga said. “I worked so hard during the week. I want to get me at least one or two each game.”

In addition to the three sacks, the 12 hurries were provided by Umenyiora (3), linebacker Paul Worrilow (2), Babineaux (2), Massaquoi (2), Peters (1), nickel back Robert McClain (1) and defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman (1), according to the analytics website profootballfocus.com.

“Guys ran around,” Massaquoi said. “We played physical.”

The Vikings have their own issues, as they’ve been impacted by the Adrian Peterson child-abuse indictment and the injury to Matt Cassel that will have Bridgewater making his first NFL start.

“They are still struggling with a lot of scrutiny from the media and a lot of things inside the organization that they have to deal with,” Massaquoi said.

Minnesota’s offensive line, which is anchored by tackles Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, is stout.

“They are a strong team and very physical,” Massaquoi said. “They have a lot of great weapons.”

Against Bridgewater, the Falcons must maintain their pass-rush lanes to keep him from escaping the pocket.

“He’s a rookie,” Massaquoi said. “This is his fourth NFL game. Hey, all we have to do is go out there and get after him.”

Bridgewater showed in college at Louisville that he can dissect a defense while on the move.

“We have a couple of college (videos),” Massaquoi said. “He has a good arm. He can get it out there and can use his legs as weapons. As long as we can contain the quarterback and get after him, we should have no problems.”

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