In the week leading up to Sunday's tilt at the Georgia Dome, the Falcons studied a certain formation the Cardinals like to use deep in the red zone: quarterback under center, single back set, a tight end and two receivers bunched to the left, one receiver split wide to the right.
Robert Alford told AtlantaFalcons.com that Carson Palmer usually hands the ball off when it shows this look. Sometimes, however, he tosses a fade pass to the outside.
That's what the veteran signal-caller did on a vital two-point conversion try in the fourth quarter. Suffice it to say, the Falcons were well-prepared.
"We already knew what was coming," Alford said.
"I was ready for it," Jalen Collins said.
Without hesitation, Palmer took the snap, dropped back and fired the ball to Michael Floyd, the WR split wide. Tasked with covering Floyd, Collins jumped up and swatted the pigskin out of harm's way – and by doing so, maintained a 12-point lead for Atlanta with 4:44 left in regulation.
Just two inches shorter than Floyd, Collins used his impressive height, leaping ability and arm length to make the play. The Falcons raved about his size and aggressiveness after drafting him, and their staff saw those qualities come to life vs. the Cardinals.
"We did, and the physicality part – I saw it first hand at Tampa on the hit on the two-point try on that one where it was down on the goal line," head coach Dan Quinn said. "I felt that part of his intensity come to life over the last few weeks. We are going to keep continuing to challenge him, but I felt that part of his game really improving."
In addition to thwarting Arizona's two-point try, Collins came up big when he broke up a 4th-and-7 pass one defensive possession earlier. Atlanta then authored a 10-play, 60-yard scoring drive, one capped by Taylor Gabriel's second touchdown of the contest.
"It was big for us, man," Collins said of his fourth down stop. "Our offense has been doing great, and we had to challenge ourselves to step up as a defense. And we did that – trying to get off the field when the opportunity presents itself. And we did that today.
"I felt like I tried to exemplify our standard to the best of my abilities. And I feel like we did a great job as a defensive backfield just controlling the airways and limiting the plays they get."
In total, Palmer targeted Collins 11 times and completed five of those attempts for 69 yards, according to Pro Football Focus – good for a 66.1 QB rating. Overall it was an encouraging performance from the 6-foot-1 corner, who will likely be a significant contributor on D moving forward.
If Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant opts to undergo season-ending surgery, which is a route he might take in the next few days, Collins could become a starter for the rest of 2016. He is still young, but his recent work is evidence he can handle such a task.
Since Week 9, when Trufant got injured, Collins has played 122 snaps in coverage, per PFF. During those reps, he's surrendered 11 catches on 18 targets for 130 yards and zero touchdowns. He's only missed one tackle in that span.
Trufant cannot be fully replaced, of course, but if Collins builds on his recent success, the secondary figures to be in good shape heading into December.
"Jalen Collins would be the one that would step in at that spot (if Trufant goes under the knife), much like he did today and last week," Quinn said in his post-game presser. "We'll have much more news about that as the week goes on. I was really pleased with the way Jalen competed today. If we have to go down that road with Tru, we'll certainly miss him. But Jalen would be our guy that would step into that role."