The Falcons face a desperate Cardinals team, so how must Atlanta approach week 12? The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter and Noah Coslov chat about the game plan for Sunday.
Good morning! The Cover 9@9 is a weekly blog of everything you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons, we published 9 items at 9 a.m. each Wednesday morning.
1. Freeney is healthy. Falcons defensive end Dwight Freeney, 36, has recovered from his Grade 2 quadriceps tear and is ready to finish the season in grand style.
“I’m feeling good,” Freeney said. “My body has recovered. That time off was crucial for me. I had that grade two quad tear a week after the San Diego week, which pretty much limited me physically for the last three weeks.”
It had to be painful to play with the injury.
Here’s what sportinjuryclinic.net says about the injury: “…The athlete may feel a sudden sharp pain when running, jumping or kicking and be unable to play on. Pain will making walking difficult and swelling or mild bruising would be noticed. Pain would be felt when pressing in on the suspected location of the quad muscle tear. Straightening the knee against resistance is likely to cause pain and the injured athlete will be unable to fully bend the knee.”
Freeney helped to revived the Falcons’ pass rush early in the season with his hurries and sacks. When his health started to slip, Vic Beasley started to emerge as pass rusher and has 9.5 sacks.
“I’m feeling a lot better right now,” Freeney said. “That rest was absolutely crucial for me and hopefully, I can get back to playing the way I would like to play.”
Falcons played against the Eagles after not playing in the short week Thursday night game against Tampa Bay.
Freeney’s pass-rush production tailed off in recent weeks. He had just five quarterback pressures in his past three games after he had 18 in weeks 3-5, according to Pro Football Focus.
“It will be great to go out there and play ball the way I know that I can,” Freeney said. “Feeling the way that I know I can is absolutely crucial."
2. Freeney on Beasley: Falcons defensive end Dwight Freeney has been impressed with the play of defensive end/outside linebacker Vic Beasley, who has 9.5 sacks.
“Vic has been great,”Freeney said. “Vic is balling. He listened and he’s taken in a lot of the stuff that I’ve been telling him since training camp and it has sunk in. Now, you can see it.
“He’s balling and he’s going to be a force to reckoned with if he keeps on doing what he has to do. He’s finding plays and plays are finding him. It’s great to see it and hopefully he can continue on with that success.”
3. Freeney on the Cardinals. Falcons defensive end Dwight Freeney has the best scouting report on the Arizona Cardinals.
Freeney played 11 games for the Cardinals last season and helped them reach the NFC championship game. The Falcons are set to face the Cardinals at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
He said don’t be fooled by their 4-5-1 record.
Here’s Freeney on the Cardinals:
ON LARRY FITZGERALD: “He’s definitely a talent and a special guy. He works really hard at his craft. It will be fun to see him out there again and I’ll definitely be saying what’s up to him before the game.”
ON ARIZONA: “Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way as it goes. I don’t see them as a 4-5-1 team. I see them as being a lot better than that. No one should put too much stock in their record. They have a lot of talent. Defensively, they are very solid. Offensively, they have had some injuries there so they have tried to heal up some guys along the offensive line. It’s going to be a tough challenge. Guys are going to have to come up with their A game.”
4. Quinn on stretch run. Falcons coach Dan Quinn is hoping the team can finish the season out strong.
“Well I hope you're playing your best football number one," Quinn said. "If you’re really putting the work in through practice you’re going to keep getting better and if you get better down the stretch then that leads to better things. That’s honestly the goal. It gets so much more fun the more you go and it gets later and you keep improving and then you know as a whole team when you’re playing at your best at the end that’s the best.”
5. What can Trufant do? Falcons Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant returned to practice, but it's unclear how much he can bring while playing with a shoulder/pectoral injury.
Quinn seems be counting on him helping to spark the defense.
“Well number one it’s the speed," Quinn said about what Trufant will bring to the defense. "We match him up at a number of different spots. You’ve seen him play left side, right side, and we’ve played him in the slot. We’ve got a lot of confidence to put him in a number of different spots. It’s the way he competes that sets him apart. As a competitor, he’s ready for any challenge we throw upon him so it was great to have him back out here.”
6. Peterson vs. Jones II. The Cardinals’ defense is led by linebacker Kevin Minter and three-time All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson, who made the mistake of calling out Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones before their last meeting in 2014.
In the days before the game Peterson said he’d gotten the best of Jones when they faced each other in college (Peterson at LSU vs. Jones at Alabama) and also in their one previous NFL matchup. Jones countered that his teams beat Peterson three out of four times.
Jones’ response: 10 catches (on 12 targets) for a then career-high 189 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons’ 29-18 victory. Unofficially, eight of those for 165 yards came with Peterson in coverage.
Cardinals WR John Brown vs. Falcons CB Robert Alford: The Cardinals will lean on their run game, but they really want to hit the speedy Brown on some deep passes. Brown has 30 catches for 380 yards and one touchdowns. Alford must maintain his coverage, don’t grab the receiver and make a play for the ball while in deep coverage. Alford has been called for six defensive pass interference calls this season.
Cardinals LB/SS Deone Bucannon vs. Falcons RB Devonta Freeman: Bucannon is one the hybrid safety/linebackers that teams are using to combat all of the passing formations. Bucannon has 57 tackles, two pass breakups and one fumble recovery. Freeman must find the hard-hitting Bucannon if he gets through the line of scrimmage and to the second level. Because of Bucannon’s sure tackling, the Cardinals do not let out a lot of explosive running plays.
Cardinals LBs Chandler Jones and Markus Golden vs. Falcons pass blocking: Jones leads the Cardinals with eight sacks and Golden, a second-round pick in 2015, has six sacks. They pace a defense that has 31 sacks. Left tackle Jake Matthews will likely see Jones the most. Right tackle Ryan Schraeder will have Golden. Both have been strong in pass protection, but may get some help periodically from tight end Levine Toilolo and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who started the week on Monday working on picking up linebackers with running backs coach Bobby Turner.
Punter Matt Wile, who played at Michigan, was signed to the 53-man roster by the Falcons on Tuesday.
After the 2015 draft, Wile was signed by the Panthers as an undrafted free agent. He was in camp with the Cowboys in 2015.
Punter Matt Bosher suffered a hamstring injury against the Eagles and couldn’t finish the game. Kicker Matt Bryant took over and punted twice and had a 33.5 average.
Bosher was at practice on Monday.
(The team calls it an ‘unofficial’ depth chart. But if they are releasing it, for our purposes that makes it pretty official.)
GAME 10: Eagles 24, Falcons 15
GAME SEVEN: Chargers 33, Falcons 30 in OT
GAME SIX: Seahawks 26, Falcons 24
GAME FIVE: Falcons 23, Broncos 16
GAME FOUR: Falcons 48, Panthers 33
GAME THREE: Falcons 45, Saints 32
GAME TWO: Falcons 35, Raiders 28
GAME ONE: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24