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  1. Top 5 Defense in 2018 FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It's not a goal scribbled across a locker room chalkboard or written on a note inside each defender's locker, but the Atlanta Falcons feel confident about achieving a particular mark in 2018: evolving into a top-5 defense. Last season, under first-year defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, the Falcons finished in the top 10 in both scoring defense (eighth at 19.7 points per game) and total defense (ninth at 318.4 yards per game) for the first time since 1998. Linebacker Deion Jones and strong safety Keanu Neal both played in the Pro Bowl,
  2. Atlanta Falcons' 2017 draft picks: Analysis for every selection Vaughn McClure breaks down the Atlanta Falcons' 2017 draft class. Round 1, No. 26 overall: Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA My take: The Falcons' primary focus going into the draft was finding an edge rusher to team with reigning NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr. The Falcons got quite a talent in McKinley, who referred to himself as "relentless" in regard to his ability to rush the passer. McKinley had 10 sacks for the Bruins during the 2016 season and ranked 10th in the nation with 1.6 tackles for loss per game. The addit
  3. 'Relentless' Takkarist McKinley eager to help Falcons forget Super Bowl Vaughn McClure FLOWERY BRACH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons first-round draft pick Takkarist McKinley doesn't bite his tongue, so the defensive end from UCLA was brutally honest when asked what he knew about his new defense. "I do know they had the Patriots up, 28-3, and they kind of just ran out of gas," McKinley said, referring to the Falcons' collapse in a 34-28 Super Bowl LI loss to New England. Maybe that wasn't exactly one of the first things Falcons fans wanted to hear McKinley utter, but at least he's f
  4. Falcons' Adrian Clayborn uses stem-cell treatment to recover Vaughn McClure FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn, who underwent knee surgery Nov. 29 but will play Saturday against Carolina, utilized stem-cell treatment to help return to the field faster than anticipated. Clayborn suffered a meniscus tear and a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He had the initial surgical procedure in New York to repair the meniscus damage. The surgery included platelet rich plasma injections -- also a form of stem-cell treatment -- which involve
  5. Falcons might be wise to rest Julio Jones (turf toe) a game or two Vaughn McClure FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn has stated all season how star receiver Julio Jones is a warrior through injuries, but Quinn might want to intervene to make sure his warrior is ready for the stretch run. Quinn revealed Monday how Jones is dealing with turf toe, which is a sprain of the ligaments surrounding the big toe. It affects the ability to plant and cut, which is a big part of Jones' explosive game. Medical experts will tell you the mildest case of turf toe involves
  6. Falcons' rookie Keanu Neal learns hard lesson in loss Vaughn McClure ATLANTA -- Keanu Neal didn't have his best game. There was no getting around it. The Atlanta Falcons strong safety and rookie first-round draft pick took a step back in Sunday's 29-28 loss to Kansas City, and he knows it. "There were opportunities that I had that I didn't make," Neal said. "I was lined up on the tight end a lot, Travis Kelce. He got me a few times. He got the best of me." Late in the game, when the Falcons needed a defensive stop, Neal gave up a key first-down reception to Kelce on sec
  7. Falcons TE Tamme (shoulder) likely out for remainder of season Vaughn McClure FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons are likely to lose tight end Jacob Tamme to season-ending shoulder surgery, while the outlook for Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant and running back Tevin Coleman appears optimistic as they recover from their respective injuries. Tamme is scheduled to get a second opinion Wednesday on the right shoulder he injured Oct. 30 against Green Bay. It's highly likely Tamme will then have surgery Thursday. "We're bummed for him,'' Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "I
  8. Falcons D-line coach Bryan Cox: Sack total gets media off our back Vaughn McClure FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox doesn’t get too caught up in statistics, but he admitted the 20 sacks recorded by the team through nine games -- one more sack than last season’s league-low total -- has brought about a significant change. "It’s nice because it stops the media from talking about it," Cox said with sarcasm. "But that ain’t never been my motivation. Our motivation, it’s always been about getting the quarterback off the spot." The Falcons have f
  9. Falcons rookie Deion Jones has no problem sharing reps Vaughn McClure Atlanta Falcons rookie starting middle linebacker Deion Jones didn't seem the least bit disturbed about having to share some reps with LaRoy Reynolds during Sunday's 24-15 loss at Philadelphia. Jones played 59 of 79 defensive snaps, while Reynolds subbed in and played 20 snaps. Both players say it was a predetermined rotation by the coaches. Jones, the team's second-round draft pick from LSU, didn't view it as any sort of demotion or indictment of his play. He played all 80 snaps the previous week in a win
  10. Falcons' Jalen Collins: I owe my teammates one Vaughn McClure FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The pressure Atlanta Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins feels going into his 2016 debut Sunday has nothing to do with being last year's second-round draft pick. It has everything to do with Collins wanting to make amends for the misstep that led to him being away from the team to begin the season. The second-year player from LSU was suspended for the first four games after violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Collins was then inactive the past two weeks as the coaches
  11. Falcons rookie Keanu Neal looking to be more than just a big hit Vaughn McClure FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Dan Quinn knew Keanu Neal would be a big hit, and the rookie strong safety has been steady and physical on defense since rebounding from preseason arthroscopic knee surgery. But now the Atlanta Falcons' coach wants to see another level of play from his first-round draft pick. So what does that entail? "Ball-hawking," Quinn said. "He’s such a physical guy, so now can you force some fumbles or can you get the ball off of guys because the man-to-man matchups and the tackling t
  12. Dwight Freeney could give Falcons additional boost with leadership Vaughn McClure Dwight Freeney has been there before. The seven-time Pro Bowler experienced the ultimate high of winning Super Bowl XLI while with the Indianapolis Colts. He also went through an extreme low as a part of the Colts' 2-14 implosion in 2011 without the injured Peyton Manning. Such experiences are part of the reason why the 36-year-old Freeney was such a valuable addition to a young Atlanta Falcons defense -- and to the team, period. With the Falcons off to a 4-1 start and riding a four-game winnin
  13. Falcons' Tevin Coleman brushes off sickle cell concerns to soar in Denver Vaughn McClure DENVER -- Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman didn't go into Sunday's game thinking about worst-case scenarios. His concerns over how being a carrier of the sickle cell trait could have a negative effect in Denver's altitude were well-documented, although such a disorder is more of an issue in extreme heat. Coleman didn't have any health issues in Sunday's 23-16 win over the Denver Broncos. In fact, he racked up 163 yards on 10 touches. He hauled in his first career touchdown rece
  14. Falcons set to face Cam Newton, angry Panthers team looking for revenge Vaughn McClure LOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Carolina Panthers felt pretty good about themselves riding into the Georgia Dome last year with a 14-0 record. Then the Atlanta Falcons ended their dreams of an undefeated season. Surely the Panthers, off to a 1-2 start, still have a bad taste in their mouths after that 20-13 loss to the Falcons in Week 16. And now they come to Atlanta fresh off a 22-10 home loss to a Minnesota Vikings team playing without Adrian Peterson. Can the 2-1 and NFC South-leading Falcons
  15. Falcons looking to fix 'embarrassing' pass rush Vaughn McClure FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – When Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn looks at the stat sheet and sees one sack for the team through two games, he shakes his head. "Nobody wants to see that, man. It's embarrassing," Clayborn said. "That's embarrassing, to be honest." Vic Beasley Jr. is the guy credited with the one sack, and it came only as a result of Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr running out of bounds with Beasley in pursuit. "It's hurtful," Beasley said of the team's sack production. "But we k
  16. Kyle Shanahan likes spreading the ball, giving Julio Jones more quality looks Vaughn McClure FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan emphasized Friday the benefits of having quarterback Matt Ryan spread the ball around despite the team having a dominant wide receiver in Julio Jones. In the 35-28 Week 2 victory over Oakland, Ryan completed passes to nine different receivers, and starting running back Devonta Freeman -- second on the team in receptions last season -- wasn’t one of them. "It’s been nice," Shanahan said. "Teams are going to hav
  17. Matt Ryan, Falcons looking to air it out Vaughn McClure Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan vowed to take more shots down the field this season. Thanks to Week 2, he’s on a good pace. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan trails only Oakland’s Derek Carr in completion percentage of passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield through two games. Ryan has hit on 4 of 6 of those passes for 185 yards. (Carr is 3-of-4 for 108 with one touchdown). Ryan was 3-of-3 on balls thrown 20-plus yards in the air during Sunday’s 35-28 victory over Carr and the Raiders. The Falcons
  18. Falcons defensive reinforcenments Keanu Neal, O'Brien Schofield could return soon Vaughn McClure FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons are on pace to add at least two fresh defensive pieces, including their first-round draft pick. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said rookie safety Keanu Neal, who hasn't played this season after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in the preseason, is expected to return to practice Thursday on a limited basis. Also, free agent outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield, considered one of the team's strong voices last season, told ESPN.com he expe
  19. Falcons' Matt Ryan will enter Week 3 with high marks Vaughn McClure OAKLAND -- Things certainly worked in Matt Ryan's favor in the Atlanta Falcons’ 35-28 win against the Oakland Raiders Sunday, and Ryan now sits in a rather good spot among NFL quarterbacks. Make that the top spot. As of Monday morning, Ryan is the league’s highest-rated quarterback with a passer rating of 121.4, right above Minnesota’s Sam Bradford (121.2), San Diego’s Philip Rivers (120.3), New England Jimmy Garoppollo (117.2), and Arizona’s Carson Palmer (113.5). Ryan has more passing attempts than any of
  20. Falcons still not tackling their primary issues in loss to Buccaneers Vaughn McClure ATLANTA -- In one corner of the Atlanta Falcons' locker room, star receiver Julio Jones tried to explain why an offense intent on improving red-zone efficiency ended up 1 of 4 during Sunday's 31-24 season-opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "We just have to play better ball," Jones said. "We got down there and a couple penalties hurt us. It got us out of position to run certain things we run in the red zone. ... We shot ourselves in the foot. That's it." On the other side of the locker
  21. Josh Norman: Desmond Trufant a top CB; better than Patrick Peterson Vaughn McClure Desmond Trufant probably doesn't get the respect he deserves when it comes to discussions about the NFL's top cornerbacks. At least one of the league's best corners recognizes how talented the Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowler truly is. Josh Norman, who left the Falcons' NFC South rival, Carolina, to join the Washington Redskins, didn't hesitate to mention Trufant among the elite. "Oh man, Trufant is a great cornerback," Norman told ESPN.com. "He's a young guy coming up. I think he will be one o
  22. Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow not reserved about playing different role Vaughn McClure FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- True to his character as a team player, Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Paul Worrilow didn't get too caught up in talk of starting or not starting this season. Worrilow, the team's leading tackler the last three seasons, understood he'd be in a competition from the moment the team drafted speedy Deion Jones. And Worrilow knew Jones would get the majority of the reps throughout the preseason. Now that the Sept. 11 opener against Tampa Bay is around the corner, Wo
  23. Falcons looking to get pass rush right with Dwight Freeney, Adrian Clayborn Vaughn McClure Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn was one of the first to say the addition of veteran pass-rusher Dwight Freeney should make the defense much better. At the same time, Clayborn knew Freeney was signed to rush from the right edge. For Clayborn, the right edge suits him the best, in part, because he was born with Erb's palsy, a condition that caused nerve damage to his right shoulder and arm. Lining up on the right side allows him to extend his left arm and hand to get around the
  24. Veteran Dwight Freeney ready to help Falcons turn corner Vaughn McClure FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Dwight Freeney, the 36-year-old pass-rusher who just signed a one-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons, arrived in Atlanta on Thursday and brought a sense of humor with him. "I love the game and I love to play," Freeney said. "I'm one of those guys you're going to have to pull me off the field. ... So if it's 18 snaps, then it's 18 snaps. If it's 30 snaps, it's 30 snaps. If it's 45, 50, they're going to have to get me an IV, but I'll still go out there and then still play." The Falco
  25. Falcons owner Arthur Blank anticipates better year for Matt Ryan Vaughn McClure Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank voiced confidence in Matt Ryan as Ryan enters his ninth season as the team’s quarterback. Ryan has yet to make the Super Bowl and has a 1-4 all-time postseason record. Last season, Ryan and the Falcons started 5-0 before finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Although he surpassed 4,000 passing yards for the fifth straight season, Ryan also had 21 turnovers, including 16 interceptions. Four of those interceptions occurred in the red
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