Offense Ran with Emphasis
A week after the 49ers tallied six sacks, Chip Kelly's club managed just one sack and one QB hit in Atlanta. The Falcons' pass protection gave Matt Ryan a consistently clean pocket Sunday afternoon; on rushing plays, the blocking opened plenty of holes for Devonta Freeman as he recorded 139 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.
Head coach Dan Quinn said his message to the offense was to "run with emphasis" in Week 15. The line certainly did that – as did Atlanta's receivers, tight ends and fullback. Quinn noted C Alex Mack excelled "in terms of making the calls at the line of scrimmage" and praised WRs Justin Hardy and Aldrick Robinson for their work in the run game.
"It wasn't a lot of new runs, but it was us doing some of the things we do better and better and better," Quinn said. "And that's really the goal as you're moving forward. The combination blocks that we do at the line of scrimmage – tackle-tight ends, guard-center, center-guard – however that combination takes place, that's where we spend a lot of time.
Defense Played Sharp
The Falcons only missed four tackles in Week 15, according to Quinn, one of the lowest totals since he came to Atlanta. Quinn also believes his defenders did a good job relaying information to each other, an effort that began with rookie LB Deion Jones.
"The thing that I've been pleased with defensively over the last month has been our improved communication," Quinn said. "The alerts at the line of scrimmage, the talking that we have to do. So those are things I think we can continue to get better and better at. That's when the calls come to life.
"We forced another turnover, so that part I'm starting to see. I know for sure we've created them defensively. So as long as that communication comes, as long as the ball-hawking attitude comes, I felt for sure the energy was right defensively, running and hitting. That part looked on point, and the tackling was good yesterday."
Focus Turns to Division
Looking ahead, the remainder of Atlanta's regular season will be spent playing against NFC South foes. Next up are the Panthers who, despite their 5-8 record – they play Monday night in Washington – figure to be a tough opponent next Saturday when the Falcons, who have a one-game lead in the division, visit Bank of America Stadium.
"I think it's been great, in terms of how the league scheduled for us to finish with division games," Quinn said. "It's exactly what you want. So we know the importance of playing well in your division. It's going to be a battle in the games against Carolina and this rivalry. They've got a tough team, and we do, too. So we're expecting that kind of fight. To have a chance to battle in your division over the next two weeks – I think it's a great setup for us."