Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel was not happy with his unit.
“We will tackle,” Manuel told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after pulling a reporter to the side after his regular media session.
The performance against the Saints on Sunday, where the defense missed a whopping 15 tackles, was totally unacceptable. The Falcons lost 43-37 in overtime, and Manuel attributed the loss to the missed tackles.
The hardest one to swallow was Brian Poole’s missed tackle on quarterback Drew Brees, where he knocked cornerback Robert Alford out of the play. Brees went on to score and force overtime.
To make matters more difficult, the Falcons must move forward without starting free safety Ricardo Allen, who was lost for the season with a torn left Achilles in the overtime period.
“Again, next man up,” Manuel said. “But this time, the next man up has got to be ready to tackle. We all saw that. It was nowhere near our standard a week ago. If you make tackles you win the game.”
Manuel knows the unit is going to miss Allen.
“It was another devastating blow,” Manuel said. “Again, my heart goes out to him. You all know how hard he worked from the time they cut him prior to me coming here. He was a cornerback that nobody wanted to a guy you know is a leader of the defense.”
Manuel has clearly challenged his unit to get back to their fundamentals of tackling.
“Tackling is effort,” Manuel said. “It’s you versus the other guy. You have to want to. I think just from that standpoint, there were a lot of finishing opportunities out there for us to capture and we didn’t.”
Manuel’s unit could receive a boost from the return of defensive end Takkarist McKinley. He missed the game against the Saints with a groin injury.
McKinley is tied with Poole for the team lead in sacks, with two.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that we’ve got to get more heat on the quarterback. Regardless of who’s out there or who’s down, you’ve got to step up,” McKinley said. “It’s early in the season, three games in, two games in, but it’s early in the season. We have time to make adjustments. But you know, we’ve got to improve as soon as possible.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn also was not pleased with the tackling.
“We ended up in the double digits for us,” Quinn said of the missed tackles. “If it gets to 10 or more, I know when it gets to 10 or more, that's an uncomfortable meeting and conversation, and unfortunately, that's what we had hit.”
Quinn would not use the theory that players miss tackles because they don’t tackle in practice anymore.
“No, it's not more difficult because the style of how we do it has been the same for a few years,” Quinn said. “So what we're really trying to coach better is the use of the helmet and where it's to the side … as far as tackling in open field, that part has remained the same.”
Cornerback Desmond Trufant believes the tackling will return.
“We all have to play to the level that we are expected to play at,” Trufant said. “The things that we didn’t do good are fundamental things. Things that we do every day. That’s easy to fix. We just have to get back to basics. Keep competing. Keep pushing each other in practice. Make sure that it translates over to the field and support each other.”
The players don’t want to use the rationale that they don’t tackle in practice, either.
“Just fundamentals,” Trufant said. “Tackling. Leverage. Lining up in the right spot. Communication. Just basic things that we do every day. That’s why it wasn’t pretty at all on that side of the ball.
“After watching it, those are easy fixes. We just have to keep pushing. It’s one game. It hurts, but it’s a long season. It’s a lot of football left, and we’re a good team.”
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has some solutions for the missed-tackle problem.
“You have to find a way to drill it,” Jarrett said. “We talk about it a lot here. The different type of tackles it takes to get somebody down and whatever angles you approach them. There are ways to go about it.
“There is no excuse. This is no excuse why we had so many missed (opportunities). But we’ll be the first to tell you that because we put in the work for it. It happens. It’s not a perfect game. Things like that happen so that we will be better for the games to come.”