Reign­ing NFC cham­pi­ons los­ing turnover bat­tle, still win­ning

Woonsocket Call - - Sports - By PAUL NEW­BERRY As­so­ci­ated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Matt Ryan's turnovers have drawn much of the at­ten­tion in At­lanta.

Yet there are two sides to this is­sue for the Fal­cons.

Not only has the NFL's reign­ing MVP been sloppy with the ball the last two games, throw­ing five in­ter­cep­tions and los­ing a fum­ble, the de­fense has failed to pro­duce the num­ber of take­aways ex­pected from a speedy, ag­gres­sive unit.

The Fal­cons (3-1) have come up with just one pick and one fum­ble a quar­ter of the way through the sea­son, re­sult­ing in one of the NFL's worst turnover mar­gins.

While ev­ery­one in­sists it's not a ma­jor con­cern given the team's record, the stat must be es­pe­cially galling to coach Dan Quinn. Af­ter all, he's a de­fen­sive spe­cial­ist who harps con­stantly on the im­por­tance of snatch­ing the ball away from the other team.

"I hope­ful we're like a good shooter who is 1 out of 8 but we're about to get hot," Quinn said Thurs­day, break­ing into a smile.

Since he ar­rived three years ago, the Fal­cons have used the bulk of their draft picks to as­sem­ble a de­fense that can at­tack the ball ev­ery chance it gets. They've cer­tainly got some big hit­ters, most no­tably line­backer De'Von­dre Camp­bell and safeties Keanu Neal and Da­mon­tae Kazee, but they haven't de­liv­ered enough of the blows — es­pe­cially on the quar­ter­back — that lead to turnovers.

Tack­ling has also been a ma­jor fo­cus for At­lanta, which hosts the Mi­ami Dol­phins (2-2) on Sun­day com­ing off a bye week.

"The bet­ter at tack­ling you are — not just think­ing about the ball — but get­ting your tackle right, so then the sec­ond and third guy can take shots at the ball," Quinn said. "We're not con­cerned, be­cause we do em­pha­size it. We love the speed, love the en­ergy. We just think as we get more reps at it, we're go­ing to get our shots."

The sec­ondary also needs to step it up. Cor­ner­back Des­mond Tr­u­fant has the only in­ter­cep­tions so far, pick­ing off Green Bay's Aaron Rogers in a Week 2 vic­tory that was clearly At­lanta's most impressive per­for­mance of the sea­son.

The Fal­cons have missed on some other chances. In their last out­ing against Buf­falo, Tr­u­fant had a change to pick off a pass but couldn't hang on, a po­ten­tially cru­cial play that could've changed the en­tire com­plex­ion of the game. As it was, the Bills pulled off a 23-17 up­set, tak­ing ad­van­tage of two in­ter­cep­tions and a fum­ble by Ryan that was re­turned for a touch­down.

"We didn't cap­i­tal­ize when we had our hands on the foot­ball," Quinn said. "That's a play (Tr­u­fant) would like to have back. Well, you don't get 'em back. You nail 'em when your opps come."

The Fal­cons have cer­tainly de­voted plenty of draft picks to­ward build­ing the type of ball­hawk­ing group that Quinn had in his pre­vi­ous job as Seat­tle's de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.

Each of the last three years, At­lanta has taken a de­fen­sive player in the first round — de­fen­sive end Vic Beasley Jr. in 2015, Neal in 2016 and line­backer Takkarist McKin­ley this year. Camp­bell, Kazee, line­backer Deion Jones, de­fen­sive tackle Grady Jar­rett and line­backer Duke Ri­ley have also been drafted dur­ing the Quinn era, quickly de­vel­op­ing into key con­trib­u­tors.

"You've just got to be aware of the ball at all times," McKin­ley said. "If we've got a chance to get a sack and we're chas­ing the quar­ter­back down from the back, we've got to at­tack his arm and get the ball out."

The rookie is con­fi­dent that things will soon turn around.

Per­haps this is the week, fac­ing the of­fen­sively chal­lenged Dol­phins.

"Turnovers come in bunches," McKin­ley said. "It's just a mat­ter of time."

Quinn shares that op­ti­mism.

"I think we're about to get hot on some of those," the coach said, "be­cause of the way we play."

Notes: WR Julio Jones re­mained lim­ited at Thurs­day's prac­tice be­cause of a hip in­jury but in­sisted there's no chance he won't play against the Dol­phins. "Lim­ited means, re­ally, noth­ing," he said. "I'll be ready to go."

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