FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons got beat by a tight end in their Week 4 loss to the Detroit Lions when Sam LaPorta caught the deep 45-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter that pushed his team into a lead it would never relinquish.
If the Falcons aren't careful, that could happen again Sunday (9:30 a.m., WSB TV) in their Week 5 game with the Jacksonville Jaguars and tight end Evan Engram.
"Address the things that happened last week that allowed that to get open? Yes, address those things in our defense," Falcons linebacker Kaden Elliss said. "But I think really you got to give (Engram) the recognition he deserves just because (of) the player he is."
LaPorta is just a rookie. Engram is a seventh-year veteran.
Compared to the rest of the NFL, the 6-foot-3 and 240-pound Engram ranks within the top three for his position group in multiple statistical categories: first in yards after catch, second in receptions and third in receiving yards.
|Yards After Catch||Evan Engram (JAX): 126||David Njoku (CLE): 77||Sam LaPorta (DET)/George Kittle (SFO): 76|
|Receptions||TJ Hockenson (MIN): 23||Evan Engram (JAX)/Sam LaPorta (DET): 18||Zach Ertz (ARI): 14|
|Receiving Yards||Sam LaPorta (DET): 186||TJ Hockenson (MIN): 179||Evan Engram (JAX): 173|
Notice LaPorta also ranks in all the same areas as Engram.
LaPorta caught eight of his 11 targets for 84 yards and the touchdown against the Falcons in Week 3. It was the best a tight end has performed against Atlanta so far this season.
Week 1 vs. CAR | ATL win
— Hayden Hurst, 5 receptions/7 targets for 41 yards and a touchdown (long 14)
— Giovanni Ricci, 1/1 for 2 yards (long 2)
Week 2 vs. GRB | ATL win
— Luke Musgrave, 2/3 for 25 yards (long 17)
— Josiah Deguara, 2/2 for 5 yards (long 4)
Week 3 @ DET | ATL loss
— LaPorta was the only tight end to record stats.
Besides LaPorta's marks, Engram has topped all of the other individual numbers through three games himself.
Week 1 @ IND | DET win ... 5/5 for 49 yards (long 26)
Week 2 vs. KAN | DET loss ... 6/8 for 57 yards (long 17)
Week 3 vs. HOU | DET loss ... 7/8 for 67 yards (long 28)
Engram hasn't scored a 2023 touchdown yet, but neither had LaPorta before he faced the Falcons.
Since he joined the league in 2017, Engram has had at least one receiving touchdown per year. His single-season high is set at six from his debut. His overall total of 20 ranks ninth among active tight ends since then.
"He catches the ball like a receiver, he runs like a receiver, but then he's big like a tight end," Elliss said. "He's one of those hybrids that has obviously done really well these last couple of years.
"At the end of the day, (the defensive key is) always having a man on him, knowing where he's at. We got to have a little more formation recognition of where is he at and how do they like to get him the ball in this situation, in this formation. That's something worth a study when we look at this week. Because they're going to get him the ball. And when he has the ball in his hands, he's a threat."
Sunday will mark the third time Engram has played against Atlanta. His previous two showdowns came when he was with the New York Giants.
— Oct. 22, 2018 | ATL win: 2/4 for 16 yards (long 13)
— Sept. 26, 2023 | ATL win: 2/6 for 21 yards (long 9)
Engram only recently joined the Jaguars in 2022 after five years with the Giants. Last season, though, saw career highs in receptions (73), catch percentage (74.5%) and receiving yards (766).
So, while the Falcons have been able to limit Engram's damage in the past, his production has been different with the Jaguars. Perhaps more successful, depending on the viewpoint.
The fact remains, Atlanta needs to stop Engram's success in order to have a chance at its own.
"I've been against (Travis) Kelce and been against (Zach) Ertz – guys like that, who I think Engram has more athletic ability but they had just as much skill," Falcons assistant head coach/defense Jerry Gray said. "They put fear in you if you leave these guys open. You can't give them too much space. Because if they catch a checkdown, they can take it 10 or 15 yards. That's the thing we have to be thinking about when Engram is in the game. You can't just cover other guys and leave him by himself. Because this guy is just as good as anybody else on the football field."