- By Alex Makrides
The Atlanta Falcons secondary shouldn’t hang their heads for the way they performed in the team’s 20-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium Sunday.
Safety Keanu Neal forced two fumbles, recovered one and was second the team with eight tackles. Cornerback Robert Alford defended three passes. Cornerback Desmond Trufant recovered a fumble and defended two passes. And as a whole, the Falcons only allowed Carolina quarterback Cam Newton to complete 13 of 24 passes for 137 yards.
“I think we did well,” Neal said after the loss. “There is always room for improvement, but we held over own.”
Neal was the shining star in the secondary. For a team that created just four takeaways in the previous seven games, Neal created half that number in the first 15 minutes on the game. He first ripped the football out of hands of Panthers’ running back Jonathan Stewart and fell on the loose ball. The turnover later led to a Falcons touchdown. On the Panthers’ ensuing drive, he punched the football out of Stewart’s hand to halt a threatening drive on the Falcons 23-yard line.
“We talk about getting the ball,” he said. “That’s one of the pillars of our program; that’s what we do. When we get the opportunities, we take advantage of it.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he was happy with how aggressive the secondary played.
The Panthers’ traded their big wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills last week in order to use more speed in the passing game. That didn’t faze the cover corners or safeties too much who stayed hip-to-hip on their one-on-one assignments.
The only time Carolina had success moving the ball in the air was when Atlanta dropped into zone coverage.
“We liked our matchups heading into the ball game,” Quinn said. “We’ll go back and look at a few, but they played aggressive. They played down on the line like we like. From a pass standpoint (we) definitely improved.”
The secondary received a good bit of help from the Falcons’ defensive line. Despite the vast struggles in the run game during the afternoon -- 201 yards on 38 carries for the Panthers -- Atlanta’s front four was in Newton’s face all day.
Whether it was Vic Beasley Jr., who played down on the defensive line more this game or defensive ends Adrian Clayborn or Brooks Reed, the Falcons continually forced Newton to throw off his backfoot or rush his throws.