The Falcons defense’s house is on fire.
After giving up 172 yards rushing in the season opener, the Falcons (0-1) know they will see a heavy dose of running plays when they face the Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) at 8:20 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“We just have to put the fire out,” strong safety Keanu Neal said.
The Eagles rushed 31 times for 123 yards in their 32-27 win over the Redskins on Sunday.
“It’s something that we are working on,” Falcons linebacker coach Jeff Ulbrich said Wednesday. “In the NFL, when you put something on film, the fire is lit. So, we have to put the fire out. It’s something we’ll definitely see from here on out until we put the fire out. That’s what we plan to do.”
The Eagles feature running backs Darren Sproles, Jordan Howard, who was acquired in a trade with Chicago, and rookie Miles Sanders, a second-round pick out of Penn State.
Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook did most of the damage with some improvisational runs that the Falcons failed to contain and push back to the middle of the field. He finished with 111 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns.
“Talking to their running back coach Kennedy Polamalu, he’s a good friend of mine, and those plays weren’t designed to get outside,” Ulbrich said. “It’s just that (Cook) kind of went dot, dot, dot. He saw air and just kind of went."
And the Falcons were chasing.
“Yeah, we talked about it,” Neal said. “We have to do a better job with that. A lot of it is technical things we could have done, technique-wise. Setting edges and things like that. That’s everybody on the defense. We have to be better and we will.”
Defensive ends Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley were standing up as outside linebackers. The Falcons have been working on the scheme modification for most of the offseason.
“We’re pros,” Neal said. “We know how to work through things. We’ll be all right.”
Falcons speedy middle linebacker Deion Jones finished with five tackles. If the play gets turned back inside, he would likely have had another five tackles.
“Yeah, they drew up some stuff,” Jones said. “Like I said, just make corrections quicker. When we did make the corrections. ... But they had kind of did their damage.”
Jones also believes the Falcons can quickly fix their run defense.
“If you watched the game, there were some real good glimpses of ball, you know what I’m saying,” Jones said. “Just some runs here and runs there. Once we get that cleaned up, we’re good.”
The Falcons are confident because the middle of the defense was stout. Grady Jarrett played strong and newcomer Tyeler Davison led the team with eight tackles. Also, defensive end/tackle Allen Bailey also was stout.
“Tyeler is a war daddy,” Jones said. “I love having him in front of me fighting. All of those guys up front did a great job.”
The Falcons respect the Eagles’ rushing attack.
“They are a good team,” Jones said. “We just have to do what we’ve got to do.”
While the Falcons defenders are running to put out this fire, they don’t want to overreact.
“We’ve got a long season,” Jones said. “We have a lot of fighting to do. We’re going to be all right.
“They did some things that we had to adjust to on the move. That’s part of the game. The quicker we were able to get those down, we’ll be better. I’m glad we got it settled and got back on our feet. It was a good game. Something to build from. This is the first one. With a good week of practice, we should be good.”
Free safety Ricardo Allen functions as the quarterback of the unit, and he had them lined up properly.
“It comes down to everybody knowing their role, and that’s what they have to do on the defense,” Allen said. “Knowing what you have to do if you are a turn-back player or an inside-out dude. Once you get to the block, even if you’re the turn-back player, you’ve got to turn-back and get off the block and be able to turn to get on to the ball carrier, too.”
Allen believes the Falcons have to attack more.
“You’ll see that it was people in great position,” Allen said. “We just weren’t making the plays. We were soft on the outside, and we were making them run away from where everybody was helping out. We just have to come together and play our team defense, knowing that we are playing our one-eleventh of what we can do.”