Falcons’ defense looks to cut down opponent’s explosive plays

Over the past two games, the Falcons’ defense allowed a score on 13 of 14 possessions before finally getting three consecutive stops against the Cardinals.

During their four-game losing streak, the Falcons have surrendered 138 points — a staggering 34.5 points per game.

Head coach Dan Quinn is coordinating the unit this season. So, what’s wrong with the defense?

“For sure, the explosive plays are the things 100 percent jamming us up,” Quinn said Monday. “As I was referring to, you do it well 8-of-10 times, and if you don’t have it nailed the whole time, that’s where it gets difficult.”

For the second game in a row, the Falcons gave up a play of 50 yards or more. In the loss to Houston, which scored on 8-of-9 possessions in the game, Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson had a 51-yard completion to wide receiver Keke Coutee.

In the 34-33 loss to the Cardinals, rookie quarterback Kyler Murray had a 58-yard completion to Damiere Byrd.

“I thought the explosive plays, we went hard into it during our week out in Arizona,” Quinn said. “It was a big emphasis on our zones and to see a couple of errors take place in those, that was difficult.”

Against the Cardinals, the defense also gave up explosive pass plays of 38, 31, 30, 22 and 20 yards. They also gave up a 17-yard rushing play.

Second-year cornerback Isaiah Oliver had another rough outing. He was in coverage on the 58-yarder and the 38-yarder. His help was late getting back on the 58-yarder.

“A contested catch if they earn them, whether it is in man-to-man or zone, you definitely can live with those,” Quinn said. “Not the ones that are self-inflicted. That’s part of the things we’ve been talking about. I thought the tackling was better. But at the end of the day, not having the explosive plays, where obviously the scoring goes way up when you have an explosive.”

The big-plays coupled with the inability to create turnovers are the key problems for the defense even before you get to the lack of a pass rush.

“Not to create any takeaways, that’s also not giving the offense a chance for that drive to end where it should,” Quinn said. “We allowed some explosive plays and not being able to create the takeaways, I think that’s the recipe that every mistake gets magnified. We’ve got to get that fixed.”

The Cardinals were also effective on third downs as they converted 7-of-13 (54%).

The Falcons are last in the league in third-down efficiency as teams have converted 42 of 75 (56 percent) third down attempts.

“If you’re going to play really good defense, takeaways better be part of it,” Quinn said. “Playing good third-down defense better be part of it so we can get the ball back to our offense. Those two things have to be a priority.”

While Quinn wouldn’t address two questions about Oliver’s play, he was pleased with the play of rookie Kendall Sheffield, who started at left cornerback for the injured Desmond Trufant (toe).

“We’ve featured him more in nickel, but to see him work outside I think he really responded to the challenge,” Quinn said. “We’ll keep him outside. We like the work that he did into that space. As we get into the week, we’ll see where we go and how the matchups look.”

Sheffield, a fourth-pick from Ohio State, finished with four tackles against the Cardinals.

“He played square and tough at the line of scrimmage,” Quinn said. “What I hoped to see from him, I did. That was a good start for him being outside.”

If Trufant can make it back, the Falcons could bench the struggling Oliver.

“Sheffield definitely deserves some more playing time on the outside spot base on that performance and what he’s done in practice,” Quinn said. “Tru is still part of going through to see if his toe can respond and how quickly it can. As you know, it has to be right to do that. As soon as we can, we’ll get him out there, but it’s just not there yet.”

The pass rush, which had no sacks or quarterback hits against the Cardinals, is kind of an afterthought. The Falcons are tied with MIami for last in the league with just five sacks.

Quinn noted that the Cardinals had 19 of 20 passes that were thrown in under 2 seconds, which doesn’t allow for a rush.

The Falcons are set to face the Los Angeles Rams, the reigning NFC champs. Quinn plans to spend a lot of time on the pass rush this week, too.

“That’s where we’ll obviously focus a good bit of our time leading into this week, knowing how effective the Rams have been throwing the ball,” Quinn said. “What I want to see is us build some really rock solid consistency where we don’t beat ourselves.”


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