Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It's our weekly blog of everything you need to know about the undefeated Atlanta Falcons (3-0), the defending NFC Champions, who will host the Buffalo Bills (2-1) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
1. PROTEST CENTRAL: Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he doesn’t believe the team will continue its pregame protest of locked arms in response to recent comments from President Donald Trump when it hosts the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. However, he would not disclose if a couple individual players will again kneel during the national anthem in a more demonstrative protest.
“I think this week was a different one,” Quinn said Monday of varied NFL-wide reactions. “I think there was really some definite reaction. You saw that around the league.”
The reaction was to President Donald Trump calling players who knelt during the national anthem “sons of bitches” and his urge of owners to fire them. Those comments sparked a league-wide protest with players choosing to kneel increasing from six to more than 150 before the Monday night game, according to a count by the Associated Press.
I would anticipate maybe this one was stronger this week than it’s ever been because the comments affected people on such a different level,” Quinn said. “We haven’t talked about it further as a team, but my initial response would be it would settle back down after this first week. I think people wanted to come out loud and clear saying this isn’t cool.”
The Falcons mostly stood as a team and locked arms along with owner Arthur Blank during Sunday’s win at Detroit. Off to the right side, offensive linemen Jake Matthews and Alex Mack and fullback Derrick Coleman stood alone.
Defensive tackles Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe joined the line and knelt in protest of Trump’s comments. NFL players, most notably Colin Kaepernick last year, began kneeling during the national anthem to protest issues of racial injustice and police brutality. Quinn would not say whether Jarrett and Poe would continue to kneel.
“I’m not going to go into the guys’ personal timelines and my conversations with them,” Quinn said. “It’s their story to tell, and those are topics that we keep near and dear to our brotherhood, and that’s something that I won’t discuss publicly.”
Under Quinn, the Falcons have referred to team solidarity as ‘the brotherhood.’ Those sentiments were echoed on Sunday as several players noted the diversity of the team and the strength from which they drawn from it.
“We have people from rural parts of the country, people from inner cities, we have all kinds of different races,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “We’ve got guys from out of the country in London, yet we all come together for a common goal, we all get along really well.
“We’re different, but we certainly make it work, and that’s why it’s cool to be a part of it because you see the way it could be, how things could be. And certainly I disagree and I think, I don’t want to speak for other people, but I disagree with some of the comments that were made a couple of days ago (by the president).”
The Falcons did not reveal their protest before the game against the Lions. However, Blank issued a statement on Saturday night and the team confirmed Sunday morning that they would be on the field during the national anthem. Some teams chose to remain in the locker room.
“We didn’t have a discussion, per se, what everyone was going to do,” Quinn said. “I think a lot of guys were really struggling with the comments that were made and some of them were still dealing with that and wrestling with it as it goes.
“Everyone will react to those topics differently, and I think that’s one of the coolest parts that we do have about our brotherhood. We are from different backgrounds and we do have this inclusion of support for one another.”
The Falcons discussed as a team how they wanted to make their feelings known in a public forum.
“We’re able to listen to other points of view on certain topics, so we were still wrestling with that as we went through,” Quinn said. “What we discussed and what we brought back up is we wish the world was more like our locker room, and I think that’s really a true statement.
“To say that we come from all these different backgrounds, we’re city guys, country guys, white guys, black guys, all the backgrounds, but in this group the support that you can have for one another, I think it shows fantastic example of what it can be like. That’s what I want people to focus on, what it can be like. Now, that we’ve got some awareness of some really important topics, let’s focus on how we can do it better.”
After playing the Bills, the Falcons have a bye week. The next game is at the New England Patriots in a rematch of Super Bowl LI.
Quinn will try to get the team back on its normal routine this week when they report for practice on Wednesday. They had a ‘Victory Monday’ followed by an off day Tuesday.
“There will be some topics that they can discuss amongst themselves, but as far as the football goes, no change in our process,” Quinn said. “We’re going after it as hard as we can. We know the challenge that’ll be this weekend. Our process for football will remain the same.”
2. RUN DEFENSE TO GET TESTED: Buffalo, with running back LeSean McCoy, fullback Mike Tolbert and quarterback Tyrod Taylor, averages 111.3 yards rushing per game. They also have former Falcons fullback Pat DiMarco, who's being used as a lead blocker.
The Falcons are giving up 85 rushing yards per game, which ranks ninth in the league.
The defense held the Lions to 71 rushing yards last week.
3. FIELD GOAL MAGIC: Falcons kicker Matt Bryant is currently first in the league with eight made field goals.
4. FREEMAN TRAIN: Running back Devonta Freeman surpassed the 100-yard mark for the first time this season against Detroit. He also scored his fourth rushing touchdown of the season – 27th career. The Falcons are 16-2 when Freeman rushes for a touchdown. He finished the game with 21 carries for 106 yards.
Running back Tevin Coleman had a combined 89 total yards. He and Freeman combined for 227 total yards against the Lions. That is the seventh time the duo has reached 200 yards or more combined yards and the team is now 7-0 when the two running backs reach that mark.
5. TURBO SWITCHING LANES: Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel had his first touchdown catch of the season against the Lions. The 40-yard touchdown catch was Gabriel’s sixth career touchdown of 30 yards or more and his seventh touchdown reception of 25 yards or more.
6. JONES UPDATE: Wide receiver Julio Jones was hit in the back on the team’s last offensive play against Detroit. When he went to the sidelines, he wouldn’t immediately let the doctors check on him. Later in the locker room, he told columnist Jeff Schultz that he could have return in the game. Coach Dan Quinn said Jones will be limited in practice, but is expected to play against the Bills.
7. MRS. ANGIE BLANK HELPING MADD: Five years ago, the CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving spoke at the NFL owners meeting about their partnership with the league, including how some teams were working with local MADD volunteers on programs. The Atlanta Falcons weren’t one of those teams, a fact that didn’t sit particularly well with owner Arthur Blank or his future wife. “I talked to Arthur that day at lunch about getting the Falcons involved,” recalled Angela Blank, who married the Falcons owner and Home Depot co-founder in 2016, after a two-year engagement. His response: If she was interested, “You can take that on.”
8. RODDY ON RAMPAGE: Roddy White can’t take it any more. He first had a “beef” with FOX Sports’ Colin Cowherd for his ridiculous comparison of Matt Ryan to Andy Dalton. Add Donovan McNabb to White’s list
9. DEPTH CHART: With Vic Beasley out with a hamstring strain/tear, Falcons rookie Takkarist McKinley played 48 of the 70 defensive snaps (69 percent) and finished with two tackles, one sack, two tackles for a loss, a quarterback hit and a batted pass in the 30-26 win over the Detroit Lions. “I expected him to get in and play really hard,” Quinn said. “You know, we’ve put him on the right side, he’s played on the left side, so as you go in, especially through your rookie year, you’ve got to kind of have some on-the-job training.”
Also, starting free safety Ricardo Allen suffered a concussion on the big hit he laid on Detroit wide receiver T.J. Jones in the fourth quarter. He's the league's concussion protocol program. Quinn said that rookie Damontae Kazee is ready to start if needed. Like Allen, Kazee played cornerback in college and has been converted to the free safety spot.
Here’s the depth chart:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 19 Andre Roberts
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 64 Sean Harlow
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland
RG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 63 Ben Garland
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 68 Austin Pasztor
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 85 Eric Saubert
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 15 Nick Williams
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 25 Brian Hill
FB 40 Derrick Coleman
DE 50 Brooks Reed, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takk McKinley
DT 92 Dontari Poe, 95 Jack Crawford
DT 97 Grady Jarrett
DE 91 Courtney Upshaw, 90 Derrick Shelby
SLB 44 Vic Beasley Jr.
MLB 45 Deion Jones, 56 Jermaine Grace
WLB 59 De'Vondre Campbell, 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 52 Jordan Tripp
CB 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole, 30 Deji Olatoye
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 20 Sharrod Neasman, 27 Damontae Kazee
S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael
K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy
PR 19 Andre Roberts, 18 Taylor Gabriel
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher