September 30, 2018 Atlanta: Atlanta Falcons safety Damontae Kazee stiff arms Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Alex Erickson while intercepting quarterback Andy Dalton during the third quarter in a NFL football game on Sunday, Sept 30, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Falcons looking for more fumbles

Defense has forced just one in seven games

And they didn’t recover that one. 

Good thing Demontae Kazee’s around.

The second-year safety has three of the Falcons’ six interceptions, forced another, and has the only forced fumble on the team.

The Falcons didn’t recover that one. When he poked the ball away from Steelers running back James Connor a couple of weeks ago, it went out of bounds. 

And so it was fumble Friday, sort of, at Falcons headquarters, where coach Dan Quinn ruffled the Birds’ feathers on this critical issue with one of the NFL’s most fumble-prone teams coming to town for a date Monday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Giants (1-5) have lost five fumbles this season, tied for seventh most, and the Falcons (2-4) want some more of that. 

“Although in the regular world it’s a Friday, for us it’s a Thursday for that the focus on us is the ball,” Quinn said. “As we sit right now, we’re at plus-4 in turnover margin (tied for fourth-best) and as the season grows you want that number to climb higher and higher toward double digits ... 

“For us to be able to increase the turnover margin we’ve got to be able to create more takeaways, and the forced fumbles in specific. A lot of those will come from hits on the quarterback.”

That’s true. Of the 19 NFL players who have lost two or more fumbles, 14 are quarterbacks, including the Giants’ Eli Manning. He’s lost a pair. Wide receivers Kaelin Clay and Odell Beckham and fullback Shane Smith have lost one each. New York is minus-4 in turnover margin.

The only fumble recovered this season by the Falcons wasn’t forced, and it wasn’t picked up by the defense. Kemal Ishmael scooped up a punt that was muffed by the Eagles.

And that’s it.

Six of the seven fumbles by Falcons opponents, in fact, were not forced fumbles.

It’s so hard to remember the Falcons forcing fumbles that Kazee forgot – at first – the play at Pittsburgh.

“The second (defender) in tries to punch the ball; simple as that,” he said of the strategy of stripping. “Honestly, I do not know. I just tried to make a tackle and he spun off, but I spun off, too, and poked it out. I was the second one there.” 

Linebacker Duke Riley was first to Connor on that play.

Quinn said the Falcons teach the first defender always to go for the tackle, or perhaps to stand up a ballcarrier, and the second to go for the ball. 

There are, he said, a couple of exceptions: 

When a solo defender has leverage on a ballcarrier and is about to force him out of bounds, take a poke at the ball in the process.

Or, if a receiver has his back to a defender while pulling in a pass, try to dislodge the ball as the receiver spins toward the defender before he can completely secure it.

Kazee forced an interception when he dislodged the ball from Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert so that Deion Jones could intercept, yet he said that he will not take chances outside of the special circumstances and sometimes not even then.

“Yeah, at the sideline, I’ll take my shot, but other than that, I play free safety and I’ll try to get him down,” said Kazee, who has an interception in three consecutive games and came close to another against the Bucs when Brian Poole intercepted in the end zone. “I’m the last line of defense.”

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