Vic Beasley solid for Falcons but lacking sacks

Vic Beasley hasn’t sacked the quarterback since Week 3, and sacks are what Falcons supporters want to see from the rookie the team selected No. 8 overall in draft to improve the league’s worst pass rush.

That’s not to say Beasley hasn’t affected the quarterback, though. In fact, he’s been among the most effective rookie pass rushers this season and had two of his better games pressuring the quarterback over the past three weeks.

That’s why Beasley has seen extra attention lately from opponents who recognize him as a pass-rushing threat. Overcoming that challenge is the next step for Beasley, who declared soon after the draft that he would get at least 10 sacks this season.

“They try to keep me neutralized,” Beasley said of opponents. “They try to play my main pass rush move, and that’s my speed. I’ve got great speed and they try to mirror that when they game plan.”

Beasley already has become a solid contributor for the Falcons. Pro Football Focus credits Beasley with 29 total pressures (sacks, hits and hurries) through 11 games, which ranks 18th among 4-3 defensive ends and first among rookies. Beasley also had a key interception against the 49ers.

The sacks aren’t coming, though. After Week 6 even Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Beasley needed to finish better once he gets to the quarterback, declaring that “close doesn’t really count” when it comes to sacks.

Beasley is the latest rookie pass rusher to find out how much more difficult it is for even the best collegiate pass rushers to get to the quarterback in the NFL.

“It’s a work in progress,” Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox said. “ The big thing I would like to see is consistency. Flashes are OK but I think anything you do in life, you want to have consistency. If can get him to do things consistently then I think we are going to have a special player.”

Beasley’s struggles to get sacks are nothing new. It’s rare for rookies to compile a lot of sacks, even those selected in the top 10 of the draft.

Only two of 15 edge rushers selected in the top 10 of the last 10 drafts had as many as 10 sacks (Von Miller and Aldon Smith) and just three others had as many as five. Even Texans pass rush terror J.J. Watt, the No. 11 overall pick in 2011, had 5.5 sacks as a rookie.

But Louis Riddick, a former Falcons safety who later became an NFL scout and personnel executive, said Beasley is underachieving.

“They need more pass rush out of him,” Riddick said on a recent episode of ESPN’s “NFL Insiders.” “It really has not manufactured the way they thought it would… . . This is a guy who has been caught off guard by how teams try to protect against speed rushers. He’s been chipped and hit a lot. He needs to work through that. They need more production out of him.”

Beasley was a two-time All-American at Clemson but questions about his NFL potential mostly centered on his size. The “Leo” position that Beasley plays in Quinn’s defense is smaller than a typical end. Beasley said he’s “totally fine” playing at his current weight of about 245 pounds, while Cox said it’s too soon to tell if Beasley might benefit from getting bigger.

The more pressing matter for Beasley is developing counter-moves to complement his speed rushes. NFL tackles have little trouble handling pass rushers who do nothing but try to sprint around them on the outside.

“We’ve been working on (counters) a long time,” Cox said. “But just like with most young rushers that have had success at the collegiate level, it’s an adjustment. Some struggle to make it; some never make it. Some need to get beat up a little bit and be like, ‘Oh, maybe I’m not as good as I thought’ and go back to the drawing board and try to master it.”