Pride shines through as Falcons upset Saints

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I talked coming into Sunday’s game against the rival Saints about pride. It was the only thing the Falcons had left to play for. Sure, this has been the most disappointing and downright mind-boggling season in recent memory, and playoff hopes were dashed before Week 8 arrived, but if Atlanta couldn’t get up for a game with the most-hated team in their division – a much deeper problem would have existed. These are types of matchups football players live for, and the Falcons reminded us, they still have a love for the game, even if it went missing for a while.

Dan Quinn gives up the defensive playcalling

Dan Quinn finally let go of the defensive playcalling duties over the bye week, allowing Jeff Ulbrich to take over the Falcons struggling unit, and WOW, was there ever a difference. All of a sudden, this unit had life, energy, and…. a pass rush? Atlanta sacked Drew Brees a whopping six times, nearly doubling their season total, and pressured him a dozen times more. The never-ending blown coverages suddenly stopped overnight, while the rush defense never allowed Kamara to get anything going. This was a unit with an identity – one that has been missing all season. It’s obvious Quinn’s playcalling was part of the problem all along, and while this win was a positive in a gloomy year, it should not do any favors for Quinn’s future with the team.

Rookie standouts

When the Falcons drafted two offensive linemen in the first round, New Orleans’ star defensive end Cameron Jordan took to Twitter to call them “fresh meat.” Sunday was his first opportunity to go up against one of them, and the rookie, Kaleb McGary, completely shut him down all afternoon, holding him to just two tackles. Jordan was a non-factor, which rarely happens in any game, especially when he’s up against a rookie. It hasn’t been a perfect year for McGary, but he earned his starting spot in year one, and yesterday, he proved he has a chance to be a stalwart at right tackle for years to come.

McGary wasn’t the only rookie that balled out, either. Kendall Sheffield has become a starter at cornerback with Desmond Trufant out. And whenever Trufant is healthy enough to return, which could be next week, I expect Sheffield to remain a starter. According to PFF, he was the highest-rated player on the defense, allowing just five catches for 28 yards on 53 coverage snaps – none of which went for a first down or a touchdown.

Sheffield gives a Falcons secondary that has struggled mightily all season a glimmer of hope going into 2020, especially when they are fully healthy.

Welcome to the show, Brian Hill

Brian Hill was a preseason standout but did not initially make the 53-man roster to begin the season. Atlanta only rolled with two backs – Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith – but a 1-5 start usually calls for some change, and that cracked the door open for Hill, who was finally active for a Week 7 contest versus the Rams – the same week Ito Smith went down with a season-ending injury. That swung the door wide open for Hill, who made the most of his opportunities as the featured back in Atlanta’s offense yesterday.

Dirk Koetter stuck with the running game, which he deserves a lot of credit for. The Saints defense has been as stout as any against the run, and the Falcons have been one of the worst rushing teams all season. Hill out carried Devonta Freeman, who left the game with a foot sprain, 20 to 10, tallying 61 yards on the ground, while also adding the game-sealing touchdown catch. Expect to see a lot more of him going forward, and I think it puts the future of Devonta Freeman into even more question.

Grady Jarrett is a man amongst boys

As bad as this Falcons’ season has been, one glaring positive has been Grady Jarrett. There were a lot of questions about whether or not Atlanta should extend him this offseason, and they waited until the last hour to get it done, but thank God they did because he would have made a helluva lot more money on the open market after this season, and there’s no way the Falcons could have afforded him. Jarrett was responsible for 2.5 of the Falcons six sacks and recorded a ridiculous five QB hits. He now has 47 combined tackles (8 off his career-high), 5.5 sacks (0.5 off his career-high), 13 QB hits (3 off his career-high), and eight tackles for loss. If Jarrett doesn’t make the Pro-Bowl this season, it is highway robbery.

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