Foye Oluokun had a feeling that change was in the air before the Falcons defeated the Saints on Sunday, and he has a feeling that going forward the stories that will fly around the team will continue to be different.
Leading the Falcons with eight tackles? Nah, the second-year linebacker didn’t see that coming ahead of the 26-9 party near Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Playing a season-high 30 defensive snaps? Nope. The former sixth-round draft choice from Yale wouldn’t have predicted that, either.
As the Falcons idled a couple of weeks ago in their bye week, on the heels of a 27-20 home loss to the Seahawks, coach Dan Quinn changed a few coaching assignments on the staff and tweaked a few philosophies as well.
In holding the Saints without a touchdown, the Falcons played more 4-3 defense than they did in general in the first of the season, when a 3-4 alignment was more common.
It’s possible to parse definitions, but the reality is the Falcons previously spent more time with three down defensive linemen – generally tackles Grady Jarrett, Tyeler Davison and Allen Bailey – in three-point stances with ends Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley in what approximated stand-up outside linebacker positions.
The Falcons' depth chart listed, and still lists, Beasley, McKinley and Bailey listed as ends, as that's still listed as the base defense on the team's website
When the game at New Orleans began, the Falcons again had that alignment, but the third defensive end to start the game according to the lineup submitted by the Falcons was Oluokun rather than Bailey. And he was standing up.
Semantical quibbling aside, it was a more standard 4-3 base. And the Falcons played more of that than any 3-4, or 5-2, or nickel or whatever you’d call whatever they were doing most before.
“I didn’t know how much more (he’d play),” Oluokun said. “I knew I’d be in base, but I didn’t know how much more base we would were going to play. ... Yeah, that was (the base). I guess maybe since that worked in the beginning, we put it in more.”
There should be no surprise that Oluokun played well, as the Falcons (2-7) surely hope he will Sunday against the Panthers (5-4) in Carolina.
He played in all 16 games as a rookie, starting seven times even though he wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in 2018. Oluokun finished second on the team in total tackles (91) behind linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (94).
Oluokun played more than expected because Deion Jones broke a foot early in the season, and he was better processing assignments than was Duke Riley.
With Jones back and the Falcons so much more often before the bye deploying just two linebackers, playing time dropped, especially in the four games preceding the bye. Oluokun banked single-digit defensive snaps in each of those in a combination of backing up Jones and Campbell for a play here or there or scant few true 4-3 deployments.
It should be noted that his 181 special-teams plays rank second on the team to only Sherrod Neasman’s 206.
While he probably wouldn’t suggest that the Falcons would go six consecutive quarters without allowing a defensive touchdown, as they have after outscoring Seattle 20-3 in the second half of the 27-20 loss to the Seahawks on Oct. 27, Oluokun felt good about the Falcons’ chances before New Orleans.
“It was a good week of practice, and we knew we wanted to compete. This is the NFL, and any team can beat any team. We had a good week of preparation, and we wanted to execute well on the field, put good tape out there.
“So, we had good vibes, a good, positive attitude and we wanted to show our work from the week. It really started in the second half of the Seattle game.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll might have seen some of this coming.
After that game, he said, “Their resolve to keep fighting and clawing and scratching ... they got physical, took over the game, really (in the second half). We are fortunate we were out ahead enough to hold them off. It was a great testament to Danny (Quinn) and what he’s doing with these guys, the mentality and attitude and all of that.”
The Falcons were indeed physical, and it felt good from nearly the moment the game kicked off in the Superdome.
“Getting in the rhythm, and feeling those hits on the shoulder pads, you get in a hitting mood,” Oluokun said. “Getting reps in a game you get in a rhythm.”
That rhythm never stopped in New Orleans. The Falcons sacked Drew Brees six times after registering seven sacks in the first eight games. The last sack came with four down linemen, although three were ends -- Beasley, Adrian Clayborn were the bookends, Jarrett was the only true tackle, and McKinley lined up down at left tackle. Beasley scraped off his backside on a loop to score the sack.
So, there was some scheming going on, and Oluokun hopes to remain part of the plan because, man, it sure felt good in the locker room after that Saints game.
“We were happy. ... We know how much work we’ve put in this whole season and we just need to keep executing the details. Seeing it payoff was definitely good,” he said.
“The coaches basically it was a new season. We’ve got to treat it like that, treat every game like a new game. It’s kind of a re-set for us.”
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