Falcons defense getting help from unlikely faces

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The Falcons were touchdown underdogs against their most-hated division rivals last Sunday but left the Big Easy with a victory, which matches their win total from last year. For much of the afternoon, Atlanta looked to be in control of the game; granted, the Saints were incredibly sloppy and did themselves no favors by dropping potential third- and fourth-down conversions.

The Falcons’ offense couldn’t move the ball on the ground against one of the best units in the league, but they were able to move the chains through the air. Obviously, the offense did their jobs and eventually won the game on a last-minute drive and field goal, but the defense did just enough to get out of New Orleans victorious.

The Falcons pass rush is so ineffective that the secondary has to cover opposing receivers for what seems like an eternity, and the run defense is among the bottom units in the league. There are deficiencies at every level, but again, they made enough plays to help their team get their first divisional win under Arthur Smith. The usual suspects were fantastic — i.e., Grady Jarrett, A.J. Terrell, etc. — but the defense got help from some unlikely faces.

James Vaughters was elevated off the practice squad for the Miami and Carolina games, but Terry Fontenot signed him to the 53-man active roster ahead of the Saints game, for which he was rewarded. Even though he only had a few notable plays, Vaughters had a game-changing strip-sack on Trevor Siemian that led to a touchdown and extended Atlanta’s lead. Without Dante Fowler, the Falcons need all the help they can get along the defensive front, and Vaughters was just that. He was the team’s highest-graded player in Sunday’s game (85.4), according to PFF; not only that, but Vaughters also had the highest pass-rushing grade for all edge rushers in Week 9 (91.4).

For this defense to be even remotely competitive, it’ll need unconventional players like Vaughters to step up. It wasn’t just him, though; Anthony Rush made quite the impact as well. The Saints came into the afternoon as one of the most run-heavy offenses in football, and after watching the Panthers matchup the previous week, it was no secret what Sean Payton was going to try to do; Rush made it challenging to do just that.

Standing 6’5″ and at least 350 pounds, he is a mountain of a man and made several plays against the Saints. He regularly stonewalled the New Orleans offensive line, helping limit their effectiveness on the ground. He also pushed the pocket a handful of times and is being rewarded. Rush will undoubtedly be a part of the defensive front rotation going forward because Tyeler Davison just hasn’t impacted opposing offenses as he has in the past.

Davison saw his lowest snap count of the season (22) and had a costly penalty on a fourth down that led to a field goal. The staff clearly likes what they see from Rush because they also moved on from former third-round pick Deadrin Senat, who the Falcons waived off of Injured Reserve. Rush and Vaughters had great individual performances, but the Falcons will need more contributions from other unlikely sources to continue winning football games.

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