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Falcons In season news

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On 8/20/2017 at 1:24 PM, blkbigdog35 said: names Atlanta Falcons rookie safety Damontae Kazee one of NFL’s “rising defensive players”


by James Rael@falcoholicjames Aug 17, 2017, 11:59pm EDT

The Falcoholic  


Atlanta Falcons rookie safety Damontae Kazee hasn’t played a single regular season game yet. Heck, he’s greener than grass. (Unless we’re talking about Dave’s grass, which is weed-ridden and brown.) But that hasn’t stopped Kazee from getting an incredible amount of hype, particularly given his status as a fifth round draft pick.’s Ike Taylor published an interesting list yesterday afternoon. It highlights five defensive players on the rise, at least from Taylor’s perspective. Three of the five players have NFL experience, while two are rookies. Kazee was one of the two rookies. T.J. Watt, the 30th overall pick in April’s draft, was the other. Here’s part of Taylor’s glowing review:

Kazee has balled out in training camp and preseason as a free safety for the Falcons. He's earned first-team reps and has made several impressive plays. Kazee has outstanding awareness and ball skills, which will make it hard for Dan Quinn to keep him off the field, even with a deep secondary. Expect big things from a guy who reminds me a lot of Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu -- both small, dominant free safeties.

Taylor is so bullish on Kazee that he goes on to suggest that the Pro Bowl could be in the 24 year old’s not-so-distant future. While I love seeing any Atlanta Falcons draft pick get hyped, this all seems a little premature. For now Kazee looks to have been a steal in the draft, and the Falcons are lucky he fell so far. He’s solid depth headed into the season, and I doubt Ricardo Allen doesn’t have his head on a swivel. That said, it’s going to take more than complimentary write ups by NFL analysts to help him unseat Allen.

Your thoughts?


© 2017 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

Thanks for keeping this updated.  I don't post much but it's great to have all this information in one thread.

blkbigdog35 likes this

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4 hours ago, falconsfan84 said:

Thanks for keeping this updated.  I don't post much but it's great to have all this information in one thread.

No problem brother just try to keep the lights on in here.

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Falcons' All-Pro receiver Julio Jones cracks the top 10 in national NFL jersey sales


2017-08-24 2:01 PM | Will McFadden  


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- This season, No. 11 might be the most visible at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

According to D1CK's Sporting Goods' official jersey ranking, Julio Jones is currently the 10-most purchased jersey at the retailer among NFL players over the last 30 days. The four-time Pro Bowl receiver has established himself as one of the league's best, and his popularity has spread far beyond Atlanta.


 > How to watch Falcons-Cardinals
 > Takk benefiting from work with Quinn

Although he has yet to play in a preseason game, Jones has climbed up the ****'s Sporting Goods' rankings this offseason. His jersey was the 17-most purchased in the league for the 2016 season. The Falcons' receiver is the highest-ranked player from the NFC South on the list, two spots ahead of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

 Also earning a spot on ****'s official jersey ranking for rookies is Falcons first-round pick Takkarist McKinley. The pass-rusher made his debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, and he's currently ninth among rookies in jersey sales. 

As a team, the Falcons have sold the 12-most jerseys over the last 30 days.

The numbers are a bit different on Per that site's rankings, Jones has the 13-most purchased jersey in the league and the third among wide receivers behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown.

Reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan also appears on's Top 25 jersey sales ranking, earning the 22


© 2017 Atlanta Falcons

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Julio Jones, Falcons stay true to 'brotherhood' depicted inside new stadium


Vaughn McClure | 10:38 AM ET


As the Atlanta Falcons took the Mercedes-Benz Stadium field for Friday's walk-through, they passed a mural outside the locker room featuring a jumbo-size image of Julio Jones and an inspirational message: "Our brotherhood is an unwavering kinship."

The design, which stands 10 feet tall and stretches 243 feet wide, was installed by the organization's creative team over five days. Falcons coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff approved the final wording of the message, with input from executives Rich McKay and Steve Cannon.

Jones' image was chosen because the emotion and focus in his face paired well with the tone of the copy. The All-Pro wide receiver appreciated representing the "brotherhood" in such a fashion.

"It's a great deal, for the organization to put me right there," Jones said. "But it's no one man. It's just going here and trying to represent the brotherhood like brotherhood means. It's playing in games, playing injured, going through things and holding everybody accountable. It's speaking to everybody and just being a great leader."

Free safety Ricardo Allen, another team leader, offered his perspective on the artwork.

"To see that, it just means that there's nothing that anybody or any team or anybody outside of this corporation or this family can do to bring us down," Allen said. "We don't care what people say about us. We don't care where people project us. We don't care about nothing else. The only thing that matters is our film and how we work here. How we put out, we would do anything to keep this brotherhood going."

Said pass rusher Vic Beasley Jr.: "To me, it means our kinship, our brotherhood never vacillates. It stays the same. It's consistent, on and off the field. We don't change our ways. We treat each other the same. And we push each other and we hold each other accountable."

Quinn, who has encouraged developing a brotherhood from the moment he took over the team, appreciates how his players and coaches have developed such a close bond over the last few years. Quinn couldn't have imagined anything more symbolic of that bond than the murals painted both inside and outside the new locker room in preparation for Saturday's grand opening of the $1.5 billion stadium for a Falcons-Cardinals exhibition game.

"We really have three pillars for what we really talk about on a pretty regular basis and it's the ball, then it's the battle, then the third piece is this: brotherhood," Quinn said. "And it's knowing that I can take it to a deeper place because I'm playing for something bigger than myself. We all are an extension of each other."

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Falcons' Julio Jones breaks a sweat, but offense struggles in stadium debut


Vaughn McClure | 10:33 PM ET


ATLANTA -- At least Julio Jones got a chance to see some live game action before the regular season.

The Atlanta Falcons' All-Pro wide receiver, who missed the first two exhibitions coming off March toe surgery, played a few series but had no catches in Saturday's 24-14 exhibition loss to the Arizona Cardinals at the grand opening of the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Jones was targeted once on a deep ball from Matt Ryan early in the second quarter. He just recently started practicing on a full-time basis after being held out in the offseason and being limited at the start of training camp. Jones and Ryan certainly aim to re-establish their rhythm, but they still have a couple weeks before it really counts. Preseason it about knocking off the rust.

Ryan, who engineered a pair of touchdown drives in the previous two exhibitions, wasn't quite as sharp Saturday. He completed 4-of-11 passes for 36 yards with a QB rating of 8.1. Ryan saw his first pass picked off by Tyrann Mathieu after a deflection and almost threw another pick targeting Taylor Gabriel on a deep ball.

Again, it's preseason.

QB depth chart: Ryan played three series before giving way to Matt Schaub. Schaub turned the ball over on his first play on a sack-fumble, with tight end Josh Perkins yielding the sack to Markus Golden. Schaub finished the first half and Matt Simms started the second half and finished the game. Simms connected with Josh Magee on a screen, and Magee did the rest for a 57-yard touchdown. Undrafted rookie Alek Torgersen did not play.

When it was starters vs. starters, the Falcons looked ...: Not themselves, offensively. The Falcons, who averaged 33.8 points per game last season, didn't score with the first-team offense Saturday and managed just 70 total yards. Mohamed Sanu had drop, and Ryan didn't connect on three deep ball attempts to Jones, Gabriel, and Sanu. ... Defensively, the Falcons started exactly the way coach Dan Quinn wanted by getting a turnover. Keanu Neal forced a fumble that was recovered by rookie linebacker Duke Riley

One reason to be concerned: Well, there's no reason to be too concerned about the offense because Ryan and crew should be just fine for the regular season. Defensively, the pair of touchdown receptions given up to Cardinals receiver John Brown is a worry because of the cornerback depth behind starters Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. C.J. Goodwin gave up one of the scores and Jarnor Jones the other.

That guy could start: Defensive lineman Jack Crawford showed up in a big way. The former Dallas Cowboys player made a few plays in the backfield, including a sack and forcing a fumble late in the second quarter that was recovered by teammate Takkarist McKinley. Crawford has the versatility to play inside and out and hasn't been able to show his full ability this preseason while dealing with a groin strain.

Rookie watch: We talked about McKinley's fumble recovery. The rookie first-round draft pick continued to show his tremendous speed off the edge. His relentless pressure led to Crawford's sack on a third-down play. Maybe equally impressive was how McKinley showed great pursuit on a play down the field, cleaning up a tackle after three of his teammates missed the runner. McKinley, who had a nice speed rush midway through the third quarter, has special qualities and relentless energy.

Freeman update: Running back Devonta Freeman missed Saturday's game while still in the later stages of the concussion protocol. Quinn said Freeman is unlikely to play in the final exhibition against Jacksonville on Thursday, although he could return to practice this coming week. Freeman was on the field helping the other running backs warm up Saturday. He did so with a heavy heart, after announcing on Instagram that his grandmother passed away following a bout with breast cancer.

On guard: Wes Schweitzer started at right guard ahead of Ben Garland for the second consecutive game, although Quinn said not to read too much into the situation. Quinn said the starter won't be named until after Thursday's final preseason game. Schweitzer and Garland actually worked a lot together Saturday with Schweitzer at right guard and Garland at center behind Alex Mack.

Injury update: Rookie running back Brian Hill had to be helped off the field in the third quarter with an ankle injury. Hill, the fifth-round pick, is in a battle with Terron Ward for the third running back spot behind Freeman and Tevin Coleman. ... Linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, who started the game at weakside linebacker, left the game early with a shoulder injury. ... Reserve offensive tackle Kevin Graf had to be helped off the field in the third quarter with an ankle injury. ... Reserve center Cornelius Edison left the field with an undisclosed injury.

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Falcons' Quinn bracing for massive round of roster cuts


AP‎5‎:‎49‎ ‎PM Aug. 29, 2017



FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Cut-down day is no fun for Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn.

This year, the cuts will be especially brutal. Instead of spreading the decisions over two deadlines as in previous years, NFL coaches and general managers must cut rosters from 90 to 53 players by Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.

Quinn said Tuesday he and his staff poured over "all our tapes" on Monday night, studying each Atlanta player whose job is on the line.

Some decisions could hinge on Thursday night's final preseason game against Jacksonville. Some starters may not play as the focus will be on backups competing for roster spots. The Falcons also will keep 11 on their practice squad, including an international player exemption for tight end Alex Gray, from London.

"We're just trying to be thorough and trying to make sure we make the best decisions we can," Quinn said. He said cutting players is "not one of the favorite parts" of his job.

The Falcons' cuts could come on Friday.

Quinn listed the secondary, linebacker, defensive end, offensive guard and wide receiver as among the areas where roster spots are on the line.

The Falcons also must make a decision on cornerback Jalen Collins , who is suspended for the first 10 games of the season. It is his second suspension for a violation of the league's policy on performance enhancers.

Ben Garland and Wes Schweitzer are competing for the starting job at right guard. There are other less-publicized battles for backup jobs.

"This is tough because there are some guys who are really battling for it," Quinn said. "We are fortunate we have a few positions with guys that are really in that spot."

Injuries can impact decisions. Offensive tackle Austin Pasztor, who has a pectoral injury, won't play against Jacksonville. Quinn also said he hopes Pasztor will be cleared for team activities next week, a possible indicator Pasztor will make the team as a backup over Kevin Graf, who is out with an ankle injury.

Rookie running back Brian Hill, a fifth-round pick from Wyoming, won't play against the Jaguars after leaving last week's loss to Arizona with an ankle injury. The injury could be devastating to Hill's hopes of beating out Terron Ward as the team's third running back behind Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

Quinn likes Hill's work on special teams , so it's possible the team could keep four running backs.

Freeman was cleared from his concussion protocol after participating only in individual drills on Monday. He wore a black non-contact jersey on Tuesday but otherwise had no limitations.

Freeman, who spent two weeks in the concussion protocol, will not play against Jacksonville. Barring a setback, he should be ready for the team's first regular-season game at Chicago on Sept. 10.

Quarterback Matt Ryan said having Freeman back in practice gave the team a boost.

"Anytime you get him back on the field and back to work, it's a good thing," Ryan said. "I think he's done a good job all through training camp. He had some time to sit out but he looks pretty good coming back. I'm sure he'll be ready to go once we roll around to week one."

NOTES: The team waived WR Bra'Lon Cherry and signed DL A.J. Jefferson, a rookie from Mississippi State who was waived by the Los Angeles Rams on Aug. 23. ... Ryan is friends with Lions QB Matthew Stafford, who agreed to a $135 million extension on Monday. Quinn joked that Stafford's deal should be good news for Ryan when the two spend time together in the offseason. "I would say Matt Ryan would have less greens fees to pay, less vacation dinners to buy," Quinn said. Greens fees should not be an issue for Ryan, whose six-year, $103.75 million contract signed in 2013 runs through 2018. He could be in line for an extension after this season.


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Underrated traits that make NFL's top 15 players special

6. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Sneaky quality: Ball skills

The first thing we always point to with Jones? Matchup ability. And I get it. He has a freakish combination of size and speed. This dude is rare. But we also need to discuss Jones' ball skills at the point of attack. This allows him to catch the ball outside of his frame, at a high point in the red zone, and showcase the body control to adjust to back-shoulder throws.

Plus, Jones will wait on the ball to gain an edge on a defensive back. Instead of extending his arms and looking back for the rock -- which allows defenders to read the eyes and hands of the wide receiver to "play the pocket" -- Jones calmly glides down the field and extends his arms at the last second to haul in the pass from Matt Ryan. That's a vet move, one perfected by Randy Moss during my time in the league. And it puts defensive backs in a tough spot to locate and play the ball.

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Falcons Finalize 53-Man Roster For 2017 | September 2, 2017 6:16 PM


To trim the roster to 53 players, the Atlanta Falcons waived 13 players, waived/injured three, reached an injury settlement with tight end Darion Griswold, placed safety Quincy Mauger on injured reserve, and placed cornerback Jalen Collins on the reserve/suspended list. Ra’Shede Hageman has been placed on the Commissioner Exempt List.

Here were the players Atlanta moved from its roster:


Marcelis Branch, S

Daniel Brunskill, OT

Deante Burton, WR

Reggie Davis, WR

Cornelius Edison, OL

Marvin Hall, WR

J’Terius Jones, DE

Chris Odum, DE

Josh Perkins, TE

Jhurell Pressley, RB

Taniela Tupou, DL

Joe Vellano, DT


Martin Ifedi, DE

Josh Keyes, LB

Matt Simms, QB

Injury Settlement

Darion Griswold, TE

Injured Reserve

Quincy Mauger, S

Reserve/Commissioner Exempt

Ra’Shede Hageman, DT


Jalen Collins, CB

Practice Squad Exemption

Alex Gray, TE

Here’s the 53-man roster to start the 2017 season:
•QB (2): Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
•RB (4): Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward, Brian Hill
•WR (6): Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Andre Roberts, Nick Williams
•TE (3): Austin Hooper, Levine Toilolo, Eric Saubert
•FB (1): Derrick Coleman
•OL (9): Jake Matthews, Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, Ryan Schraeder, Ben Garland, Austin Pasztor, Ty Sambrailo, Sean Harlow, Wes Schweitzer
•DL (8): Brooks Reed, Adrian Clayborn, Takk McKinley, Derrick Shelby, Courtney Upshaw, Dontari Poe, Grady Jarrett, Jack Crawford
•LB (7): Vic Beasley, Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Duke Riley
•LaRoy Reynolds, Jermaine Grace, Kemal Ishmael
•DB (10): Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Brian Poole, C.J. Goodwin, Sharrod Neasman, Damontae Kazee, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Deji Olatoye
•ST (3): Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris


©2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Falcons hoping 2017 can erase sting of Super Bowl collapse




FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons have made every effort to cover the scars from their unprecedented Super Bowl collapse.

That hasn't been easy. There have been social media jabs from NFC South rivals about the 28-3 blown second-half lead in the 34-28 overtime loss to the Patriots that denied the Falcons their first championship.

Coach Dan Quinn issued a forward-focus mandate in training camp, and his players fell in line by resisting invitations to review the Super Bowl. Observers will be watching closely for any signs of a hangover.

The Falcons have ample reasons to remain upbeat about their immediate future. A young defense should continue to improve after more offseason additions. Most playmakers, including 2016 MVP Matt Ryan, return from an offense that led the league in scoring last season.

Running back Devonta Freeman should be ready after recovering from a preseason concussion. Wide receiver Julio Jones looked explosive in practice in his return from offseason foot surgery. Most importantly, there is quality depth with running back Tevin Coleman and receivers Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel, while tight end Austin Hooper could be ready for a bigger role.

The Falcons finished 0-4 in the preseason, but the always upbeat Quinn said, "We're excited. We're disappointed with the results at the end of some of the preseason games, but we're very excited for our team."

The blown lead in the Super Bowl brought monumental pain to Falcons fans. There is no room for sympathy in football rivalries.

On March 28 — 3-28, get it? — the Carolina Panthers celebrated "Falcons Day" by posting a Twitter photo of their players wearing jersey numbers 3 (Derek Anderson) and 28 (Jonathan Stewart) standing together. The Panthers later deleted the tweet.

Similarly, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers deleted from their Twitter account a similar jab at the Falcons using their 28-3 jerseys. Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter, a former Falcons offensive coordinator, apologized to Falcons fans.

Finally, a New Orleans T-shirt company launched a fundraising campaign to mount a 28-3 billboard near the Falcons' new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

From the Falcons' camp, however, there have been few references to the crushing loss.

Ryan said the loss left him in his "dark place" for a short time. Center Alex Mack said "it took a while" for him to recover. But Mack laughed at a follow-up question asking if he had trouble sleeping after the game.

Here are some other things to watch this season:

RAISE THE ROOF: The Falcons broke in the new $1.5 billion stadium with two preseason games, and the facility also has staged two college games — all with the retractable roof closed . There are ongoing issues with the complicated roof, with its eight "petals" designed to open in a manner somewhat like a camera lens. The roof has been opened, but it is not yet ready for automated operation and will remain closed indefinitely for events.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Dome, which stands dark and empty beside the new facility, is scheduled to be demolished in November.

COLLINS' SUSPENSION: Cornerback Jalen Collins apparently will have an opportunity to return after a 10-game suspension . The suspension follows Collins' second violation of the league's policy on performance enhancers. When the suspension was announced, Quinn said there was a "broken" trust with Collins, who also was suspended for the first four games in 2016.

COACHING TURNOVER: There were several changes on Quinn's coaching staff , including new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkasian. Marquand Manuel was promoted to defensive coordinator. Quinn dismissed last season's defensive coordinator Richard Smith and lost offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, now San Francisco's coach.

DRAFTING FOR DEFENSE: Atlanta's top two picks in the last three NFL drafts have been defensive players. That includes first-rounders Vic Beasley in 2015, Keanu Neal in 2016 and Takkarist McKinley this year. The defense-first focus is paying off, as Beasley led the NFL with 15 1-2 sacks last year. The Falcons held four of their last six regular-season opponents under 20 points last season, and led Aaron Rodgers and the Packers 31-0 in the NFC championship game before winning 44-21.

TOUGH DIVISION: The difficulty of play in the NFC South may help to keep the Falcons focused on winning their division before they worry about a return to the Super Bowl. "That's where the mindset has to be to get where you want to go," Quinn said. "It starts with your division."

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Atlanta Falcons vs. Chicago Bears Odds, Analysis and NFL Betting Pick

Bleacher Report | September 8, 2017


The Atlanta Falcons may be the defending NFC champions. but the bumbling Chicago Bears actually hold the upper hand in the recent series between the teams, winning 10 of the last 13 meetings outright, going 8-2 against the spread over the last 10. Atlanta opens this season as a favorite on the road against Chicago on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.

NFL point spread: The Falcons opened as six-point favorites; the total was 51 early in the week, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark. Line updates and matchup report.

NFL betting pick, via OddsShark computer: 24.4-22.5 Bears (NFL picks on every game)

Why the Falcons can cover the spread

Atlanta finished 11-5 last year to win the NFC South. The Falcons then put up 36 points on Seattle and 44 on Green Bay to win the NFC championship for the first time in 20 years. And they led New England in the Super Bowl 28-3 late into the third quarter. But Atlanta fell victim to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history and lost 34-28 in overtime.

Heading into this season the Falcons are +170 favorites to win the NFC South again. They're also the third choice at +600 (bet $100 to win $600) to win the NFC again and the fifth choice on the Super Bowl board at +1200.

Atlanta ranked second in the league on offense last year at 416 yards per game, and fifth in rushing at 121 yards per game. Defensively the Falcons ranked 25th overall, allowing 371 yards per game, but that figure is probably a bit misleading, considering Atlanta played with the lead so often.

Why the Bears can cover the spread

Chicago finished just 3-13 last year but had chances for better. The Bears lost six games by one score or less, and two more in which they led in the second half. Over the offseason Chicago finally dumped quarterback Jay Cutler, then signed Mike Glennon and drafted Mitchell Trubisky to replace him.

The Bears are priced at +2000 to win the NFC North this season, +7500 to win the NFC and +15000 to win the Super Bowl. Glennon is only 5-13 as an NFL starter, but he owns a career 30/15 touchdowns/interceptions ratio.

Chicago ranked 15th in offense last year at 357 yards per game and 15th in defense, allowing 347 yards per game. Rankings like that are much more indicative of a .500 team, rather than one that loses 13 games. Chicago won the most recent meeting with Atlanta 27-13 back in 2014.

Smart pick

Atlanta owns a clear advantage on offense, with Matt Ryan and the passing game, but Chicago can run the ball a bit can play some defense. Also, teams that make the Super Bowl one season are almost always overrated on the Vegas lines the following season. This might look like a mismatch on paper, but the smart money here bets the Bears.

NFL betting trends

The Falcons are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games against the Bears.

The total has gone under in eight of the Falcons' last nine games against the Bears.

The Bears are 5-2 ATS in their last seven games in the early afternoon.

All NFL odds and betting trends courtesy of Bleacher Report's official odds partner, OddsShark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line-movement updates and the OddsShark YouTube page for picks and analysis, or download the free odds tracker app.

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Falcons TE Austin Hooper: 'Cool' to be a breakout fantasy pick in second season


Vaughn McClure | 9:07 AM ET


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It's been a little while, but Austin Hooper used to play fantasy football.

The Atlanta Falcons tight end remembered spending one season during his time at Stanford setting fantasy lineups prior to Sunday games.

"Oh, man, that was a rough year in the draft," Hooper said with laugh. "Man, that was a long time ago. I don't even remember. All I remember is I had Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin. That's all I remember. And that was my last year playing fantasy football."

These days, fantasy football diehards seem to have their eye on Hooper, particularly after ESPN experts Matthew Berry, Mike Clay and Field Yates raved about Hooper's fantasy potential for the 2017 season.

Most anticipate a signficant jump for Hooper between Year 1 and Year 2 in the NFL.


"Yeah, it's cool," Hooper said of the fantasy attention. "It is what is it. It's fun. It's cool to get that recognition. But at the same time, it's all contingent upon what you do in real life. I just take care of what I need to take care of."

The Falcons certainly have high hopes for Hooper as they head into Sunday's season opener against the Chicago Bears. Last season as a rookie third-round pick, he had 19 receptions for 271 yards and three touchdowns on just 27 targets. His growth was stunted a bit by an MCL sprain, but Hooper recovered nicely and was a significant contributor to the Falcons' Super Bowl run.

In fact, Hooper led all Falcons with six Super Bowl targets, catching three passes for 32 yards and scoring a 19-yard touchdown in a 34-28 overtime loss to New England. Then this offseason, the California native spent time with MVP Matt Ryan in Southern California developing even more chemistry.

"He got back to work with a purpose, and that's cool to see from a young guy; to kind of have the drive and kind of have the mindset to do it the right way," Ryan said of Hooper. "He looked great for us during training camp. I think he's going to do really good things for us this year."

Ryan, who played with future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez in the past, once again has a dangerous pass-catching tight end threat.


"It's huge," Ryan said. "That position, I've been fortunate throughout my career to have played with some pretty ones. Austin is certainly in that category. I think he can be a guy that can make some plays and create some matchup problems. ... We've got a lot of talented guys at the skill positions."

Hooper will be someone to watch Sunday as the Falcons try to pick up where they left off offensively last season under then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan with new coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Julio Jones is back healthy, so expect a Bears team without cornerback Prince Amukamara (ankle) to give Jones added defensive attention. When such happens, players such as Hooper, Mohamed Sanu, and Taylor Gabriel need to win their one-on-one matchups.

Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (6-foot-6, 251), athletically, might be the best player suited to match up with Hooper, but Floyd's strength lies in his pass-rush skills, so getting him out in coverage likely would work to the Falcons' advantage. Quintin Demps, a 5-foot-11, 216 pound veteran strong safety, might be the guy who draws the 6-foot-4, 254-pound Hooper.

"I feel like there's a lot of great matchups across the board," Hooper said of facing the Bears. "They play a lot of zone, but they play a lot of match coverage, too, so basically man. There's opportunities to win across the field at all positions. It's our job to put ourselves in position to be successful."

Teammates know Hooper, who has worked extensively on improving his route running, will put himself in the best position to make plays.

"I don't know anything about fantasy, but I know Hoop is going to ball," Sanu said. "That's what he does. He makes plays and catches the ball. I don't know how he does it, but he gets open."

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Great tough win today. Some fans in TATF are ridiculous with their comments but these men are paid to play just like our birds. I think DQ cleans some things up but I have alot of faith in this team.

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No collapse: Falcons survive Bears' comeback bid


Kevin Patra Around the NFL writer  


Atlanta Falcons linebacker Brooks Reed sacked Mike Glennon on fourth-and-goal to seal a 23-17 win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. It wasn't pretty, but the win washes away some of the bad taste from the epic Super Bowl collapse. Here is what you need to know:

1. The Falcons looked little like the high-flying, multifaceted, deep-strike offense we saw in 2016. In the first tilt with Steve Sarkisian calling plays, the Falcons offense settled for short passes, struggled to run the ball (2.65 yards per carry from Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman), and rarely got into a flow. Outside of a bust in the Bears secondary that led to an 88-yard touchdown from Matt Ryan to tight end Austin Hooper, the quarterback rarely stretched the field. The operation looked more like the pre-Kyle Shanahan days. Ryan made enough plays (21-of-30 passing for 321 yards, TD) to get the win. After not playing most of the preseason without a full complement of weapons together, we'll see if the trend continues as the offense gels.

2. Hello, Tarik Cohen! The Bears' shifty running back was a marvel to watch. On a field with Julio Jones, Freeman, and Coleman, it speaks volumes that Cohen was the most exciting player Sunday. The slippery rookie rarely went down on first contact and provided headaches to the Falcons second level. Cohen earned 66 yards on five rushes, including a breathtaking 46-yarder in which he looked corralled in the backfield before springing free. The jitterbug added eight receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown grab. Looking like a Darren Sproles facsimile, Cohen should eat into Jordan Howard's production this season.

3. The Bears predictably hid quarterback Mike Glennon early in the contest. At one point, the Bears went 19 plays without a completed pass. On their first touchdown drive, Chicago ran seven official plays, all runs (the only pass ended as a defensive holding). Glennon wasn't the disaster we saw in the preseason, but his lack of pocket mobility played a factor (four sacks), and he didn't stretch the field until late in the contest. Glennon looked the part of a competent backup. He made plays to keep the Bears in the game, didn't have back breaking turnovers, and got the Bears in the correct plays. Lacking playmakers on the outside, Glennon spread the ball around to eight pass catchers, finishing with 65 completion percentage, 213 yards, 5.3 yards per attempt and one touchdown.

Yes, the game ended on his sack, but Glennon also hit Josh Bellamy and Jordan Howard in the hands for possible touchdowns on preceding plays. Sunday's performance will give Glennon a longer leash to keep the starting gig ahead of rookie Mitchell Trubisky.

4. The Falcons got beat in the trenches for much of the game. The Bears front seven shut down the run and got after Ryan with regularity, surprising to see from a heretofore solid offensive line. Dan Quinn's defense repeatedly gave up the edges on runs, overran several plays, and had way too many missed tackles. The Falcons defense is young and fast, but has strides to go to reach its potential this season.

5. With a chance to blow another 10-point lead, Atlanta did just enough to get the win. (The meme community would have had a field day if the Falcons blew another big lead.) Quinn will surely use that as a talking point to move on from the Super Bowl LI collapse.

6. Kevin White is injured again. The Bears injury prone receiver exited Sunday's opener after suffering a broken collarbone, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports. White's 2017 campaign is over and will be placed on injured reserve. NFL Network's Stacey Dales adds White left the facility following the game with his shoulder wrapped, arm in a sling, while holding his wrist with this non-injured hand.

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Schweitzer struggles in debut with high-scoring Falcons


AP‎6‎:‎35‎ ‎PM Sep. 13, 2017



FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Wes Schweitzer was in no mood to talk Wednesday.

That was obvious as soon as he got to his locker. The Atlanta Falcons offensive guard rummaged through his belongings, barely acknowledging a pair of reporters standing behind him. When he finally turned around, he answered a handful of questions with a terse stream of clichés, making it perfectly clear he'd rather be doing just about anything but this.

"I'm just excited for another opportunity to compete," he said. "Umm, another game. I've gotta get ready to play."

Schweitzer's sour mood was hardly a surprise.

His first game as the starting right guard for the NFL's most potent offense didn't go so well. It was easy to point a finger at Schweitzer — a sixth-round pick who didn't get on the field at all last season — as one of the primary causes for Atlanta's lackluster showing in a 23-17 victory over the Chicago Bears . Of course, it was much more complex than that.

"There's definitely some things that went well," coach Dan Quinn said, turning on his diplomatic skills, "and some things that didn't."

When things go well, an offensive guard can cruise through his football life with hardly any attention.

But when someone on the opposite side of the line — in this case, Chicago's Akiem Hicks — has a couple of sacks, then everyone wants to know what went wrong. Schweitzer is certainly feeling the heat heading into Sunday night's game against a much more challenging opponent, the Green Bay Packers, in a rematch of last year's NFC championship game.

Mike Daniels and Nick Perry combined for three sacks in a defensive masterpiece in Week 1. The Packers limited Seattle to three field goals in a 17-9 victory that showed just how much Green Bay has improved since being blown out 44-24 by the Falcons nearly eight months ago with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

Quinn said he'll be looking for Schweitzer — and the entire line, for that matter — to clean up some of the mistakes that slowed the offense against the Bears . The coach pointed out that if a lineman handles 50 plays flawlessly but messes up a couple of assignments, everyone talks about those two plays.

"That's the nature of the position," Quinn said. "It's not just him on that one. Actually, that's been a big topic for our team. Can our execution, our consistency, really get better?"

Last season, the Falcons led the NFL in scoring with a franchise-record 540 points, an average of 33.75 per game and 71 more points than the next team on the list. With veteran Chris Chester at right guard, Atlanta was held to fewer than 24 points in only two games — a 23-16 victory at Denver and a 24-15 loss at Philadelphia.

When Chester retired after the season, the Falcons decided to fill the position from within. They had Ben Garland, who backed up on both the offensive and defensive lines during the run to the Super Bowl. They also had Schweitzer, who made the team as a rookie but was inactive throughout the regular season and playoffs.

The two battled throughout training camp and the preseason before Schweitzer was announced as the starter six days before the opener. A graduate of San Jose State with a degree in chemistry, there was no question about his ability to handle the mental aspects of the role. What remains to be seen is whether he's physically up to the challenge.

Ryan Schraeder, who lines up alongside Schweitzer at right tackle, is confident that he'll develop into a dependable lineman as he gains more experience.

"It takes time," Schraeder said. "He's got a lot to learn. But the cool thing is that he's on top of everything. He's doing everything he can to get better and learn. It's just a matter of playing more football."

It is difficult to tell what sort of jump Schweitzer looking to make in his second game.

This is all he had when asked about it.

"It's going to be a good matchup," he said dryly. "I'm excited for the game."

More than anything, he hopes no one notices him Sunday night.

NOTES: Rookie RB Brian Hill returned to practice Wednesday after missing the season opener with an ankle injury. The fifth-round pick from Wyoming went down in the second preseason game against Pittsburgh and hasn't played since. Hill was officially listed as limited, along with C Alex Mack (back), S Kemal Ishmael (hamstring), LB Duke Riley (knee) and TE Eric Saubert (hamstring). Quinn said all five players should be available for Week 2. newberry

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Packers' healthy, confident CBs prep for Falcons rematch




GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers are so confident in their new-and-improved cornerback group that they released the player who shadowed Atlanta Falcons star receiver Julio Jones in last season's NFC championship game.

LaDarius Gunter, who drew the unenviable assignment of covering Jones in January, was let go this week. He dropped down the depth chart after Green Bay brought back veteran Davon House in free agency and used its first draft pick in April on Kevin King. Returning players Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, who were slowed by groin injuries last season, are healthy.

The Packers relied on House, Randall and Rollins to help limit Russell Wilson to 14-of-27 passing for 158 yards in a 17-9 victory over the Seattle Seahawks fueled by defense . The challenge will be much bigger on Sunday night when the Packers return to Atlanta for a rematch against the Falcons.

Atlanta, with reigning MVP quarterback Matt Ryan and Jones leading the way, have one of the NFL's top offenses. In the championship game, Ryan threw for 392 yards and four touchdowns. Jones caught a 5-yard touchdown pass just before halftime and then ran through the Packers' secondary for a 73-yard touchdown to start the third quarter. That made it 31-0 en route to a 44-21 victory.

"We're just going to do what we have to do to slow him down and just try to slow down the Atlanta offense," Randall said. "They've got more than just Julio. They have a ton of great guys."

Randall, the team's first-round pick in 2015, is looking forward to the matchup after enduring a miserable second season. He missed five games — including the Week 8 matchup at Atlanta — following midseason groin surgery. Randall returned for the stretch run but wasn't close to full speed.

"It's a different game for me," Randall said. "That I can move around the way I want to, that I can tackle the way I want to, press the way I want to, that's just a big, big difference in my game."

Rollins, a 2015 second-round pick, played through a groin injury before having surgery in the offseason. Those injuries, plus veteran starter Sam Shields' season-ending concussion in the 2016 opener, left the secondary in shambles for the biggest game of the season.

"It's a new year. It's definitely a different mindset heading into this game," Rollins said.

That improvement led to the release of Gunter, who started 18 games including all three playoff games. An undrafted free agent who made the Packers as a rookie in 2015, Gunter played only two defensive snaps against Seattle.

He was claimed off waivers by Carolina on Wednesday.

"You talk about a young man, LaDarius, just the way he came in here, took full advantage of his opportunity and did everything right," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

NOTES: The Packers released veteran DT Ricky Jean Francois on Wednesday. They activated WR Geronimo Allison from the suspended list and promoted undrafted rookie OL Adam Pankey from the practice squad. Pankey would provide critical depth at offensive tackle. Starting RT Bryan Bulaga has missed three weeks with an ankle injury and was absent Wednesday because of illness. Starting LT David Bakhtiari (hamstring) was limited on Wednesday, while top backup Jason Spriggs (hamstring) will miss at least a couple weeks after getting hurt against Seattle. ... The release of Jean Francois, who was one of the Packers' offseason free-agent additions, signals that Quinton Dial is ready to contribute to the defensive line. Last week, the Packers signed Dial, who started the past two seasons for San Francisco, but he was inactive against Seattle. Third-round pick Montravius Adams, who missed most of training camp with a foot injury, returned to practice last week and will do more individual drills this week, McCarthy said.

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Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons | Published:16 September 2017


Start-time: Monday 18 September, 01:30 BST
 TV: Live on Sky Sports Action & Main Event



For the Falcons...

 The defending NFC Champs open up their brand new stadium with a prime time rematch of their conference championship game with the Packers.

 On that day, Falcons QB Matt Ryan went 29/38 for 392 yards and four touchdowns. It was part of a hot streak that should've led to a Super Bowl victory until they choked it away.

 They won in Chicago on opening day thanks to a defensive stand in the dying seconds. They should have lost however and certainly did not show what would've been expected. Ryan threw for over 321 yards but only found key WR target Julio Jones four times. They need to connect more on Sunday night.

 The running game did next to nothing with Freeman and Coleman splitting 20 carries for 53 yards. That isn't getting it done and puts too much pressure of the QB.

 Coming back home though, all the reports coming out are that the new stadium is a fast track. This should help both the running game and Julio Jones out in space.


For the Packers...

 The Packers had one of the most impressive results of Week 1 as they shutdown the Seattle Seahawks, giving up just three field goals in a 17-9 victory.

 Going up against such a stout defense, Rodgers threw one TD pass along with an early pick. He put up 311 yards of offense through the air, which is pretty good going considering he was doing with with zero running game.

 What I said earlier about the Falcons on the ground can be repeated to an even starker degree about the Packers. Converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery is not going to get in done so teams will be able to key in on the passing game.

 One of the most exciting things about Sunday's win as the return of Randall Cobb as a key man. He took in nine catches for 85 yards. If he can continue to get in space and make big plays then that should leave Jordy Nelson more open as the number one receiver.


The Picks...

 When it comes to the picks, I am using that fact it is the first NFL game in Atlanta's new stadium as the final straw towards me backing the Falcons with a three-point handicap on the spread at 2.02 on the Exchange.

 I have never trusted Matty Ice but that atmosphere should be spectacular and that will make it difficult for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

 The over/under line has been set at 55.5 on the Exchange and initially I thought that was too high. Yet if we are expecting an offensive shootout (that I think most of us are) then that equates to 14 points a quarter. I'll lean over.

 On the side markets, you can get Randall Cobb at 11/2 to score the first Packers touchdown in the 1st Team Touchdown Scorer market on the Sportsbook. That seems tempting.


© Betfair 2007–2017

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The Falcons are the NFL’s lightest team yet again


by Dave Choate Sep 15, 2017, 6:00am EDT

The Falcoholic  


But they’re fast and physical, though.

If we’re learned one thing over the years, it’s that the the best teams are not necessarily the beefiest teams. This isn’t the 1980s or early 1990s, when huge linemen, plodding power backs, and 350 pound defensive tackles could rule the day. This is a light, agile league, and as we learned from the Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai additions, adding weight to try to improve a run defense doesn’t always work.

So the Falcons are, as you’d expect from the headline, not all that heavy. Is that a liability? No.

Per NFL Trade Rumors, the Falcons once again rank as the lightest team in the entire NFL by weight, with just over 239 pounds on average. They’re also one of the older teams, a stat skewed a bit by the presence of players like Matt Bryant, and also not the topic we want to talk about today. Instead, I want to remind people why this isn’t a bad thing, especially compared to a year like say 2013, where the Falcons were a light team without the requisite speed and physicality to make up for that.

The Falcons are one of the faster teams in the league, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, where Vic Beasley, Takkarist McKinley, Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Duke Riley, and others are capable of closing the gap with alarming quickness. Those guys are, by and large, strong enough to make up for any lack of size, and the speed they bring to the table is game-changing. There’s a reason we talk about this defense as an ascendant one, a reason Dan Quinn refers to them as fast and physical, and even a reason he asked Dontari Poe to slim down. The Falcons are built to be lighter on defense, and on offense, their linemen have to be light on their feet.


© 2017 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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Will Sarkisian get Julio Jones the ball more vs. Packers?

  • 0ap1000000236552.jpg
  • By Kevin Patra
  • Around the NFL writer
  • Published: Sept. 17, 2017 at 08:34 a.m.
  • Updated: Sept. 17, 2017 at 08:39 a.m.


The first game with Steve Sarkisian running the offense in Atlanta lacked explosive plays and didn't mirror the Kyle Shanahan production we saw in 2016.

The Falcons scored just 23 points in Week 1, after averaging 33.8 points per game last year. The key players at each position struggled to match their high-flying production. Matt Ryan had one touchdown pass (on a busted coverage by the Chicago Bears) after having multiple TD tosses in 12 of 16 games last season. Devonta Freeman earned just 39 scrimmage yards after gaining 40-plus scrimmage yards in 15 of 16 games. Julio Jones had just five targets and did not see any passes his way in three red-zone trips.

Overreacting about a Week 1 performance against a solid Chicago defensive front is counterproductive, especially when the Falcons scored points of five of eight possessions. It's notable, however, to analyze how Sarkisian's offense varied from Shanahan's operation. Most notably, the 2017 version hasn't yet offered the bevy of presnap movement we saw last season.

Speaking on NFL Network's NFL GameDay Morning on Sunday, analyst Michael Robinson noted that moving around Julio Jones will open things up for the offense.

"They better figure out how to get Julio Jones the ball more than five times, more than five targets for 66 yards," Robinson said. "Last year he had more than five targets in 12 of 14 games he played in. This guy, when he lines up, he dictates coverage. Therefore, you can to run your offense around where he is. They didn't move him around much [last week]. He played predominately X [receiver], he didn't go in any motion, he didn't play Z, he didn't play slot. He didn't do any of the things that he did last year with Kyle Shanahan. If they want to get back to the 2016 form, they better start moving Julio Jones around."

NFL Network analyst Steve Smith Sr. added that the Falcons need to push the ball to their All-Pro receiver.


"What is interesting about all that: He caught the first pass on the third play of the game. And I think the next pass he caught was eight minutes later," Smith said. "I don't get it. I don't understand. They obviously are still working out the kinks and [Sarkisian] is trying to figure it out. But he better figure it out really quick because this is Week 2 and Week 3 is right around the corner."

Sarkisian noted this week he plans to get Jones the ball as the offense continues to find itself.

"Yeah, sure there were a few shots I thought that might have been a better call here or there," Sarkisian said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "But all in all, credit to Julio, five targets, four catches for 60 yards [actually 66 yards] and some big plays for us and [he came] right back out and practiced like crazy. I think that just shows his professionalism. He knows the ball is going to come his way. I'd be foolish not to try to get him the ball."

The Falcons' offense looked like it was finding it's chemistry after playing sparingly in the preseason.

Sunday night, Sarkisian and Co. face a Green Bay Packers defense that Jones torched, going for 180 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game. The Packers' remade secondary looked better last week, but faces a different beast in Jones in Week 2.

If Jones goes off once again, Falcons fans can relax, knowing their offense is fine (while Packers fans will freak out that their secondary still is a question). If Jones struggles, expect the questions about Sarkisian to ramp up their intensity.

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Chiefs take over top spot in AP Pro32 poll; Falcons are 2nd



FOX Sports  


NEW YORK (AP) Of the eight teams off to 2-0 starts this season, perhaps the most impressive has been the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs went into Foxborough and handled the New England Patriots in the NFL’s regular-season opener and followed that up with a win over the Philadelphia Eagles in their home opener.

Because of that start, Kansas City grabbed the top spot in the latest AP Pro32 poll , which was released on Tuesday, receiving eight of 12 first-place votes for 378 points in balloting by media members who regularly cover the NFL.

”Alex Smith has never looked better, Justin Houston is healthy again and creating havoc with the pass rush, and the Chiefs have made a clear statement with wins over the Patriots and Eagles that they are to be taken very seriously,” Newsday’s Bob Glauber said.

The AFC West, which has three of the 2-0 teams, also has three teams in the top six of the AP Pro32.

The Atlanta Falcons moved up three spots to No. 2, and received one first-place vote, after routing the Green Bay Packers in their NFC championship game rematch on Sunday night.

”No signs of Super (Bowl) hangover,” said Fox Sports’ John Czarnecki.

The Oakland Raiders also received a first-place vote and jumped three places to No. 3. The Raiders are just ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who received the remaining two first-place votes for 343 points.

”Pittsburgh’s defense has improved markedly after a few pedestrian seasons – as the Bears are about to discover,” said Ira Kaufman of SB Nation Radio.

New England, which earned its first win with a 36-20 rout of the New Orleans Saints, slipped a spot to No. 5, but is only a point out of fourth.

”Still not at championship level, but quickly working their way back after Week 1 blowout,” The Sporting News’ Alex Marvez said of the defending champs.

The Denver Broncos jumped up eight spots to No. 6 after pounding the Dallas Cowboys 42-17.

”The Broncos’ defense was excellent as per usual in a dominant win against Dallas, but the story so far this season in Denver is how explosive the offense has been,” said Jenny Vrentas of The Monday Morning Quarterback. ”QB Trevor Siemian, in his second year as a starter, currently leads the NFL in touchdown passes.”

The Packers, who led the poll last week, dropped to No. 7 after their 34-23 loss to Atlanta. But they will get a chance to rebound when winless Cincinnati comes to Lambeau Field on Sunday.

The Baltimore Ravens, 2-0 in the AFC North along with the Steelers, moved four spots to No. 8. The Ravens open Sunday’s schedule when they take their dominating defense to London to face the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Detroit Lions, one of three NFC teams at 2-0 after topping the New York Giants on Monday night, jumped four spots to No. 9. The Lions host the Falcons in one of the marquee matchups on Sunday.

The Cowboys plummeted seven spots to round out the top 10.

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Falcons rookie McKinley to test power rush against Lions



FOX Sports  


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Takk McKinley’s self-imposed, two-week break from social media ended this week with a two-word announcement on his Twitter account:

”Takk back .”

The rookie defensive end flexed his muscles while wearing his Atlanta Falcons jersey in a photo attached to Monday’s tweet.

That show of strength was fitting, because McKinley’s power game has impressed coach Dan Quinn just in time for the first-round pick from UCLA to make his first start Sunday at Detroit.

McKinley will fill in for Vic Beasley, the 2016 NFL sacks leader who strained his right hamstring in Sunday night’s win over Green Bay. Beasley could miss more than one game, possibly providing an extended audition for McKinley.

”I’m excited,” McKinley said Wednesday. ”It sucks it had to happen from a teammate going down. But it’s next man up. I’ve just got to take advantage of my opportunities.”

McKinley has two tackles as a backup in his first two NFL games. Now he’ll be expected to help replace the pass rush provided by Beasley.

Quinn said the rookie has the ability to reach quarterbacks with his speed or power moves that have been a pleasant surprise.

”I knew he had speed,” Quinn said. ”I knew he was a tough competitor. What I probably couldn’t tell as well off the UCLA tape but you see now is the power he can generate as a rusher.”

McKinley’s eyes grew wide when told of Quinn’s comment.

”He said that about me?” McKinley asked. ”… For him to say that, that’s a huge compliment.”

McKinley said coaches ”preach speed” with quick first steps. There were fewer opportunities in college for him to demonstrate the power side of his game, but he said it was hidden in his ”dark side.”

”Takk has a little dark side to him and once that bull rush comes out, that’s what that is,” he said. ”I’ve always had the bull. I’m still learning how to rush.”

He said he was eager to test his strength ”going against grown men” in the NFL.

”If I can power them, I can power anybody,” he said. ”… I want to see if I can bull rush these grown men back.”

McKinley (6-4, 230) was the No. 26 overall pick in the draft . He knew he’d have to compete for playing time behind such veterans as Beasley, Brooks Reed, Courtney Upshaw, Adrian Clayborn and Derrick Shelby.

Upshaw also missed Wednesday’s practice with an ankle sprain.

If Upshaw also misses Sunday’s game, it will be an early test for the depth on the defensive line, especially against Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford , who can extend plays by avoiding sacks.

”He does a great job as far as keeping plays alive, moving around in the pocket and being athletic and making big throws downfield,” said defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. ”He’s a great leader for them. It presents another challenge.”

McKinley said he took the break from social media because he was ”just tired of watching dog videos on YouTube and puppy videos and stuff like that.” He said he returned ”to see what was up.”

NOTES: Beasley, Upshaw and RT Ryan Schraeder (concussion) did not practice. Ty Sambrailo, acquired from Denver on Sept. 1 for a 2018 fifth-round draft pick, would start if Schraeder is held out. Quinn said Sambrailo impressed by ”getting up to speed” for the regular season in less than two weeks. Sambrailo played after Schraeder was hurt in the first quarter last week against Green Bay. … The Falcons re-signed DL Taniela Tupou to the practice squad. He replaces RB Jhurell Pressley, who was waived.

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Improved Lions' defense takes on Falcons  


The Detroit Lions rely heavily on the powerful right arm of Matthew Stafford. That's why they awarded him the richest contract in NFL history near the end of training camp.

Stafford has done his part in the team's first two games, but he's getting a surprising assist from the defense.

Stafford has thrown six touchdown passes, tying him for the league lead with Denver's Trevor Siemian. Detroit's defense has been just as productive in victories over Arizona and the New York Giants.

The Lions will face an even sterner test Sunday when they host the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, who are also off to a 2-0 start.

Detroit snuck into the playoffs as a wild card last season without a lot of big plays from its defense. It had 26 sacks, tied for second-to-last in the league. The Lions forced only nine fumbles and made 10 interceptions, ranking in the bottom third in both categories.

Opponents have only scored 33 points against the Lions this year and one of the touchdowns was an interception return. The Lions have already collected six sacks, forced three fumbles and picked off four passes.

The Lions sacked Giants quarterback Eli Manning five times in a 24-10 Monday night victory, three by defensive end Ziggy Ansah.

"We've had some production there just in terms of collapsing the pocket and getting ourselves near and around the quarterback," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "(Monday) was one of those unusual days where you get five, but I do think that our guys are coming along. They've stepped up to the challenge for two weeks, but there's a third one looming, and a very good one at that.

"The minute you start talking about what you think you've gotten done in this league, you end up getting your ears kicked in."

Detroit's rushing offense, which finished last in the NFL a year ago, also showed some signs of life. The Lions gained 138 yards on the ground and averaged 4.3 yards per carry against the Giants. Lead back Ameer Abdullah picked up 86 yards on 17 carries.

"I think overall we performed better. Not quite where we want to be yet, but we're better," Caldwell said. "Ameer is getting back into his old form. He ran hard and guys were patient with the running game, so our offensive line did a nice job there creating some holes for us. But we still got a ways to go in that area."

The offense still revolves around Stafford, and Atlanta coach Dan Quinn notes that Stafford is adept at avoiding the rush.

"We'll have our work cut out for us, but you better be able to finish your rushes because he's not going to just stay where you want him to be," Quinn said. "He'll be in different spots, move, and be active.

"The last part of their offense that they don't talk about a lot is they have a very good screen game. It's something that they use actively. They've got runners that can catch it and wideouts that are good catch-and-run guys like Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr."

The Falcons have already defeated two NFC North opponents, squeaking past Chicago 23-17 in their opener and topping Green Bay 34-23 on Sunday night.

Quarterback Matt Ryan has completed 69 percent of his passes and thrown two touchdowns. Lead back Devonta Freeman has scored three times while averaging 3.9 yards per carry, and the receiving duo of Julie Jones and Mohamed Sanu has combined for 20 catches and 306 yards.

Atlanta has kept opposing defenses off balance by varying its looks.

"I think it's the personnel groups that also present some challenges because now there can be two backs in there," Quinn said. "We've shown four wide receiver sets and big packages. When you defend us, there are a lot of groups you have to go through. Then you add in the motions, shifts, and playing fast.

"It's a challenge, and we're really fortunate that Matt Ryan is able to get it on the ball with whatever comes his way."

The Falcons have shown a strong pass rush with seven sacks, but will go without top edge rusher Vic Beasley Jr. He has been declared out with a hamstring injury. Defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw (ankle) will also sit out.

Lions linebacker and first-round pick Jarrad Davis is going through the league's concussion protocol and is questionable to play.

Updated September 20, 2017

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