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Falcons have a chip on their shoulder, and it’s paying off a bit — finally - The Athletic


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by Tori McElhaney for The Athletic

 

Ricardo Allen didn’t know it was Grady Jarrett who applied the pressure on Denver quarterback Drew Lock in the fourth quarter of the Falcons’ 34-27 win over the Broncos on Sunday. All afternoon long, Allen felt as though he was making good reads on Lock and could sense he was getting closer and closer to the ball.

“I always try to tell myself, ‘Every play, let’s see how close you can get,'” Allen said.

So in the fourth quarter, when he saw Lock under pressure and releasing the ball early, Allen knew he had a shot. When he saw Denver receiver Jerry Jeudy hadn’t turned his head or completed his route, all Allen had to do was catch the ball.

The interception ended up being a huge moment in a game that nearly came down to the wire.

Allen was asked about Jarrett’s impact on the play, as Jarrett was the one who forced Lock to throw the ball earlier than the quarterback probably wanted.

“That was Grady that got that?” Allen asked. “I appreciate that. I owe him a steak dinner or something. Whatever dinner he wants, I’ll take him out.”

Allen added, “Fifth-round love. The fifth-rounders are doing something.”

Jarrett (2015) and Allen (2014) were late-round draft picks who have come to mean a lot to the Falcons. Consider some of the players who made the biggest impact in Sunday’s game. Many of them have spent their careers overlooked.

When I sat down Monday and began compiling notes for this story, there was a theme. I kept writing “Don’t miss” followed by the name of a player. I wrote it down several times. First, when Olamide Zaccheaus passed 100 receiving yards in the first half. Second, when Brandon Powell caught his first touchdown pass. Again, when Allen picked off Lock. And finally, when I saw Foye Oluokun’s and Christian Blake’s stat lines at the end of the game.

More fun, however, than just pointing to their performances Sunday night is recalling how they got here.

Take the emergence of Jarrett. The defensive tackle out of Clemson never had the measurables, but that hasn’t taken away from his ability to get the job done. In recent years, he has become someone the Falcons can’t afford to lose, someone the Falcons could build a team around if a new coach and general manager come in and decide to scrap much of the roster. You don’t want to scrap Jarrett.

“When you ask his coach at Clemson, Dabo Swinney, he would just rave about him,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. “He told us multiple times, ‘If you were to start an NFL franchise, that would be my first pick right there.’ (Jarrett) has absolutely validated that every day he’s been here.”

It has become more obvious that Jarrett is a nuisance to offensive coordinators everywhere. Almost every week, coaches of teams prepping for the Falcons say the same thing: You have to know where No. 97 is at all times.

“He is a guy you really can tell offenses are always aware of, whether that is sliding the protection to him or getting help to the guys that he’s on,” Ulbrich said. “He is definitely a game-wrecker in an offense’s mind.”

Ulbrich had high praise for Oluokun last week, too. Ulbrich spoke at length about Oluokun’s past as a safety at Yale before he was drafted late by the Falcons in 2018 and made the transition to linebacker.

The coordinator said Oluokun had the athleticism and traits to be a good linebacker in the NFL, but he didn’t have the experience or the instinct to play the position when he first started. That’s not the case anymore, and that was evident again Sunday night when Oloukun led the team with 10 tackles, one sack for a loss of 11 yards and four quarterback hurries.

“It’s just been really fun to watch him progress and become the player that he is starting to become,” Ulbrich said. “I really hope that the league starts to take notice of him because I think he is very deserving of the credit of being one of the better linebackers in this league now.”

We also can’t discuss Sunday’s game without noting the impact of Atlanta’s backup receivers, a group that is near and dear to interim coach Raheem Morris’ heart since he was the wide receivers coach last year.

He spoke about the recruiting process around the league and how the draft doesn’t fill every spot, how the “second wave of players” is pretty important. Morris thought back to how they lost out on Powell in 2018 when the Falcons drafted Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage. They obviously got Powell back, but Morris remembers that recruiting battle well, calling it “heated.”

“(Powell) was all mad at me because we didn’t come get him,” Morris said, laughing.

Morris spoke highly of the Falcons front office for its evaluations of players like this. He specifically called out people like national scouts Ruston Webster and Phil Emery, director of pro personnel Shepley Heard, director of player personnel Steve Sabo and area scout Tokunbo Abanikanda. But Morris led with former general manager Thomas Dimitroff because of how long he was with the organization.

There’s a lot that can be said — and already has been said — about the job Dimitroff did with this team. He missed the mark a few times, the most recent example coming Monday when the Falcons waived Takk McKinley, who was drafted in the first round in 2017.

But it’s OK to give some credit to Dimitroff here (although I know many Falcons fans don’t want to). When you look at some of the players the Falcons could build around, such as Jarrett or Oluokun, it was Dimitroff who brought them here. He did have a role in bringing in guys who play with a chip on their shoulders, and players like that are dangerous.

Morris said he and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin used to joke around that you want to bring in guys “who have nothing” — players who have something to prove. Jarrett has talked about that before, and so has Oluokun. When Dan Quinn was let go, Allen spoke at length about the former coach giving him the chance to play safety. Given the chance, I bet all those backup receivers would say they play with chips on their shoulders playing behind one of the best receiver duos in the league with Julio Jones and Ridley.

It’s these players with something to prove who made the difference in the Falcons’ second consecutive win.

“I definitely like those guys who have a chip on their shoulder,” Morris said.

 

 

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31 minutes ago, FalconsIn2012 said:

I always find it funny what Dabo told us about Grady vs what he told us about Vic.  Said Vic would be solid but Grady would change a franchise.  Maybe we should take these coaches words to heart a bit more

Paul Johnson from GT said the same thing. Before every Clemson game, he could not stop raving about how good Jarrett was and how we could not block him. He said similar things about Donald and Clayborn as well. I can't remember Paul's exact quote about Vic but it was definitely not an endorsement.

As a side note, Paul and Dabo are good friends and this is probably why Clemson ran up the score on GT this year.

 

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5 hours ago, Goober Pyle said:

“When you ask his coach at Clemson, Dabo Swinney, he would just rave about him,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. “He told us multiple times, ‘If you were to start an NFL franchise, that would be my first pick right there.’ (Jarrett) has absolutely validated that every day he’s been here.”

Come over here and join him, Dabo!

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1 hour ago, FalconsIn2012 said:

 Maybe we should take these coaches words to heart a bit more

I can hear ol Jimmy Mora Jr trying to pump up interest for the Falcons on McKinley... "Cmon Rich, sell TD on Takk, you know I would never lead my buddies at the Falcons wrong"

Be careful who you listen to.

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1 hour ago, FalconsIn2012 said:

I always find it funny what Dabo told us about Grady vs what he told us about Vic.  Said Vic would be solid but Grady would change a franchise.  Maybe we should take these coaches words to heart a bit more

Kinda like what TD said the coach at FSU told him about Jameis and Freeman... He said everyone wants Jameis , but Freeman was the leader of that offense and who he would take. 

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