Cover 9@9: Can Freeney uplift defense down the stretch?

The Falcons face a desperate Cardinals team, so how must Atlanta approach week 12? The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter and Noah Coslov chat about the game plan for Sunday.

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 30: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers rushes past Dwight Freeney #93 of the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on October 30, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

ATLANTA, GA – OCTOBER 30: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers rushes past Dwight Freeney #93 of the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on October 30, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Good morning! The Cover 9@9 is a weekly blog of everything you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons, we published 9 items at 9 a.m. each Wednesday morning.

Falcons defensive end Dwight Freeney, 36, has recovered from his Grade 2 quadriceps tear and is ready to finish the season in grand style.

“I’m feeling good,” Freeney said. “My body has recovered. That time off was crucial for me. I had that grade two quad tear a week after the San Diego week, which pretty much limited me physically for the last three weeks.”

It had to be painful to play with the injury.

Here’s what sportinjuryclinic.net says about the injury: “…The athlete may feel a sudden sharp pain when running, jumping or kicking and be unable to play on. Pain will making walking difficult and swelling or mild bruising would be noticed. Pain would be felt when pressing in on the suspected location of the quad muscle tear. Straightening the knee against resistance is likely to cause pain and the injured athlete will be unable to fully bend the knee.”

Freeney helped to revived the Falcons’ pass rush early in the season with his hurries and sacks. When his health started to slip, Vic Beasley started to emerge as pass rusher and has 9.5 sacks.

Freeney hopes to get back going down the stretch now that he’s healthy.

“I’m feeling a lot better right now,” Freeney said. “That rest was absolutely crucial for me and hopefully, I can get back to playing the way I would like to play.”

Falcons played against the Eagles after not playing in the short week Thursday night game against Tampa Bay.

Freeney’s pass-rush production tailed off in recent weeks. He had just five quarterback pressures in his past three games after he had 18 in weeks 3-5, according to Pro Football Focus.

“It will be great to go out there and play ball the way I know that I can,” Freeney said. “Feeling the way that I know I can is absolutely crucial.”

September 11, 2016 ATLANTA: Falcons Vic Beasley Jr., who did not have a stat on the sheet from the game, lines up to rush in the second half against the Buccaneers in an NFL football game on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com

September 11, 2016 ATLANTA: Falcons Vic Beasley Jr., who did not have a stat on the sheet from the game, lines up to rush in the second half against the Buccaneers in an NFL football game on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com

Falcons defensive end Dwight Freeney has been impressed with the play of defensive end/outside linebacker Vic Beasley, who has 9.5 sacks.

“Vic has been great,”Freeney said. “Vic is balling. He listened and he’s taken in a lot of the stuff that I’ve been telling him since training camp and it has sunk in. Now, you can see it.

“He’s balling and he’s going to be a force to reckoned with if he keeps on doing what he has to do. He’s finding plays and plays are finding him. It’s great to see it and hopefully he can continue on with that success.”

Freeney played 11 games for the Cardinals last season and helped them reach the NFC championship game. The Falcons are set to face the Cardinals at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

He said don’t be fooled by their 4-5-1 record.

Here’s Freeney on the Cardinals:

ON LARRY FITZGERALD: “He’s definitely a talent and a special guy. He works really hard at his craft. It will be fun to see him out there again and I’ll definitely be saying what’s up to him before the game.”

ON ARIZONA: “Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way as it goes. I don’t see them as a 4-5-1 team. I see them as being a lot better than that. No one should put too much stock in their record. They have a lot of talent. Defensively, they are very solid. Offensively, they have had some injuries there so they have tried to heal up some guys along the offensive line. It’s going to be a tough challenge. Guys are going to have to come up with their A game.”

ON THE CARDINALS DEFENSE: “It’s going to be a challenge. Those guys are talented across the board. They are not out of it by any means. They can run five or six in a row, easily. I’ve seen them do it. They are going to come in here trying to get things going and moving in the right direction. It’s the same thing with us, though too.”
Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn works the field during practice before an NFL preseason football game against the Cleveland Browns, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn works the field during practice before an NFL preseason football game against the Cleveland Browns, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

4. Quinn on stretch run. Falcons coach Dan Quinn is hoping the team can finish the season out strong.
“Well I hope you’re playing your best football number one,” Quinn said. “If you’re really putting the work in through practice you’re going to keep getting better and if you get better down the stretch then that leads to better things. That’s honestly the goal. It gets so much more fun the more you go and it gets later and you keep improving and then you know as a whole team when you’re playing at your best at the end that’s the best.”

5. What can Trufant do? Falcons Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant returned to practice, but it’s unclear how much he can bring while playing with a shoulder/pectoral injury.

Quinn seems be counting on him helping to spark the defense.

“Well number one it’s the speed,” Quinn said about what Trufant will bring to the defense. “We match him up at a number of different spots. You’ve seen him play left side, right side, and we’ve played him in the slot. We’ve got a lot of confidence to put him in a number of different spots. It’s the way he competes that sets him apart. As a competitor, he’s ready for any challenge we throw upon him so it was great to have him back out here.”

6. Peterson vs. Jones II.  The Cardinals’ defense is led by linebacker Kevin Minter and three-time All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson, who made the mistake of calling out Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones before their last meeting in 2014.

In the days before the game Peterson said he’d gotten the best of Jones when they faced each other in college (Peterson at LSU vs. Jones at Alabama) and also in their one previous NFL matchup. Jones countered that his teams beat Peterson three out of four times.

October 23, 2016 Atlanta: Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones hauls in a long reception from Matt Ryan between Chargers defenders Adrian Phillips (left) and Dwight Lowery during the second quarter in an NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com

October 23, 2016 Atlanta: Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones hauls in a long reception from Matt Ryan between Chargers defenders Adrian Phillips (left) and Dwight Lowery during the second quarter in an NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com

Jones’ response: 10 catches (on 12 targets) for a then career-high 189 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons’ 29-18 victory. Unofficially, eight of those for 165 yards came with Peterson in coverage.

7. 3 Key matchups. Here are three key matchup for Sunday’s game:

Cardinals WR John Brown vs. Falcons CB Robert Alford: The Cardinals will lean on their run game, but they really want to hit the speedy Brown on some deep passes. Brown has 30 catches for 380 yards and one touchdowns. Alford must maintain his coverage, don’t grab the receiver and make a play for the ball while in deep coverage. Alford has been called for six defensive pass interference calls this season.

Cardinals LB/SS Deone Bucannon vs. Falcons RB Devonta Freeman: Bucannon is one the hybrid safety/linebackers that teams are using to combat all of the passing formations. Bucannon has 57 tackles, two pass breakups and one fumble recovery. Freeman must find the hard-hitting Bucannon if he gets through the line of scrimmage and to the second level. Because of Bucannon’s sure tackling, the Cardinals do not let out a lot of explosive running plays.

Cardinals LBs Chandler Jones and Markus Golden vs. Falcons pass blocking: Jones leads the Cardinals with eight sacks and Golden, a second-round pick in 2015, has six sacks. They pace a defense that has 31 sacks. Left tackle Jake Matthews will likely see Jones the most. Right tackle Ryan Schraeder will have Golden. Both have been strong in pass protection, but may get some help periodically from tight end Levine Toilolo and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who started the week on Monday working on picking up linebackers with running backs coach Bobby Turner.

8. TALE OF THE TAPE: Here’s how the Falcons and the Cardinals stack up statistically.
2016 Regular Season Statistics Rankings
Falcons                                                           Cardinals
32.0 (1)         Points/Game                            22.6 (18)
416.6 (3)       Total Offense                           372.8 (9)
107.6 (14)     Net Rushing Yards/Game   111.7 (13)
309.0 (2)      Net Passing Yards/Game    261.1 (11)
29:07 (24)    Possession Average                31:59 (3)
28.3 (29)       Opponent Points/Game        19.0 (10)
385.9 (28)     Opponent Total Offense       287.4 (1)
102.9 (16)       Opp. Rushing Yards/Game    97.2 (10)
283.0 (31)     Opp. Passing Yards/Game    190.2 (1)
+3 (8t)           Turnover Differential                -1 (19)
 9. Official Depth Chart.  The Falcons (6-4) released their official depth chart for the Cardinals (4-5-1)  game on Tuesday.

Punter Matt Wile, who played at Michigan, was signed to the 53-man roster by the Falcons on Tuesday.

After the 2015 draft, Wile was signed by the Panthers as an undrafted free agent. He was in camp with the Cowboys in 2015.

Punter Matt Bosher suffered a hamstring injury against the Eagles and couldn’t finish the game. Kicker Matt Bryant took over and punted twice and had a 33.5 average.

Bosher was at practice on Monday.

(The team calls it an ‘unofficial’ depth chart. But if they are releasing it, for our purposes that makes it pretty official.)

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 16 Justin Hardy, 14 Eric Weems
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 76 Tom Compton
LG  67 Andy Levitre, 63 Ben Garland
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland
RG 65 Chris Chester, 71 Wes Schweitzer
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 76 Tom Compton
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 82 Joshua Perkins
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 19 Aldrick Robinson
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 33 Stevan Ridley
FB 42 Patrick DiMarco
DEFENSE
DE 50 Brooks Reed, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 93 Dwight Freeney
DT 95 Jonathan Babineaux, 98 Cliff Matthews
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 91 Courtney Upshaw
DE 94 Tyson Jackson, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman
LB 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 41 Philip Wheeler
LB 45 Deion Jones, 55 Paul Worrilow, 53 LaRoy Reynolds
LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell
CB 23 Robert Alford, 32 Jalen Collins, 29 C.J. Goodwin
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Robenson Therezie, 20 Sharrod Neasman
S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael
SPECIALISTS
K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 5 Matt Bosher, 6 Matt Wile
P 5 Matt Bosher, 6 Matt Wile
KR 14 Eric Weems, 16 Justin Hardy
PR 14 Eric Weems, 16 Justin Hardy
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher, 6 Matt Wile

GAME 10: Eagles 24, Falcons 15

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ loss to the Eagles

Ryan, offense slowed down to a crawl

Perkins stalls key drive with costly penalty

Defense gets blown of the line of scrimmage

Keanu Neal can expect fine but Falcons’ biggest issue is injuries (Trufant and Tamme)

Falcons go into bye week wrong way — beat up by Eagles

What Dan Quinn had to say after the loss to the Eagles

What Matt Ryan had to say after the loss to the Eagles

What the Falcons had to say after the loss to the Eagles

PHOTOS: Falcons fall to the Eagles

GAME NINE: Falcons 43, Buccaneers 28

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ rout of the Bucs

GAME EIGHT: Falcons 33, Packers 32
 

GAME SEVEN: Chargers 33, Falcons 30 in OT

5 things we learned from the Falcons loss to the Chargers

Dan Quinn’s gamble with house-money backfires

6 penalties ‘unacceptable’ for Falcons offensive line

Philip Rivers confounds Falcons with short passes: ‘He picked us apart’

Matt Ryan’s late-game interception leads to overtime loss

PHOTOS: Chargers rally to beat Falcons

GAME SIX: Seahawks 26, Falcons 24

5 things we learned from the Falcons loss to the Seahawks

MARK BRADLEY: The Falcons didn’t win, but they made one guy believe (me)

MARK BRADLEY: The Falcons got jobbed but did themselves proud

Matt Ryan’s turnovers were costly

What Dan Quinn had to say after the 26-24 loss to Seattle

Seattle slows down Falcons’ running backs Freeman, Coleman

Ryan Schraeder, offensive line rebounds in second half

Julio Jones: ‘It was just a missed call’

What the Falcons had to say after the 26-24 loss to Seattle

What Matt Ryan had to say after the 26-24 loss to Seattle

Richard Sherman non-commital on pass interference non-call

PHOTOS: Falcons at Seahawks in Seattle

GAME FIVE: Falcons 23, Broncos 16

5 things we learned from the Falcons upset of Super Bowl champs

MARK BRADLEY: The Falcons rock a rookie in the Rockies

What Dan Quinn have to say after the win over Denver

Coleman amassed 163 yards to power the offense

Vic Beasley has breakout game with 3.5 sacks

Kemal Ishmael moved to linebacker, led team in tackles

What the Falcons had to say after the win over the Broncos

Photos: Falcons battle the Broncos

GAME FOUR: Falcons 48, Panthers 33

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ 48-33 win over the Panthers

Tweetcap: Falcons 48, Panthers 33

Old pro Freeney shows new trick with Falcons

Falcons’ rookie Neal holds on vs. Olsen

What Julio Jones had to say after the 48-33 win over the Panthers

What Dan Quinn had to say after the 48-33 win over the Panthers

What Matt Ryan had to say after the 48-33 win over the Panthers

Alford battled; Collins to return

Early view in NFC South isn’t what most expected; Falcons on top

GAME THREE: Falcons 45, Saints 32

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ 45-32 win over the Saints

Falcons, Saints protest with unity circle before game

REPORT CARD: Falcons earned high marks for drubbing Saints

What Dan Quinn had to say after the 45-32 win over the Saints

What Matt Ryan had to say after the 45-32 win over the Saints

What the Falcons had to say after the 45-32 win over the Saints

Keanu Neal makes strong debut for Falcons

Falcons’ Deion Jones runs for glory, not survival, in return home

AJC POWER RANKINGS: Falcons best in NFC South?

GAME TWO: Falcons 35, Raiders 28

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ win over the Raiders

Trufant’s heads-up play saves the day

Tight ends help to power offense

Weatherspoon plays strong in first start since 2013

Matthews, Schraeder held Mack sack-less

JEFF SCHULTZ: Falcons put on offensive show and win

What Matt Ryan had to say after beating the Raiders

What Dan Quinn had to say after the win over the Raiders

GAME ONE: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ loss to the Bucs

No sacks for new-look Falcons pass rush

Julio Jones not worried about his ankle injury

Falcons have a case of the “no-huddle” blues

REPORT CARD: Falcons can’t ‘gift’ opponents 17 points

FILM REVIEW: Beasley missing in action

AJC’S NFL POWER RANKINGS: Where are the Falcons?

Hageman charged is domestic violence case

 

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