PHILADELPHIA – Much of the reaction from the Falcons' 18-12 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night is going to revolve around the offense, but that shouldn't overshadow a strong performance from Atlanta's defense.
The Falcons are looking to continue their ascent and establish themselves as one of the premier defenses in the league, and they are off to a good start. Atlanta held the Eagles to just 232 yards of offense, its least amount of yards allowed since Week 3 in 2014, and they allowed only 18 points to a team that averaged 28.6 points per game last season.
It's a new year, which means last year's numbers don't matter too much, but it's hard to not see a trend for a Falcons' defensive unit that allowed no more than 23 points in its final eight games last year, including the playoffs.
Atlanta's defensive line had a strong showing in its first game without defensive tackle Dontari Poe or defensive end Adrian Clayborn. The Falcons' defensive line combined for 15 tackles on the night, led by Grady Jarrett's five tackles, and they sacked Nick Foles twice, in addition to getting pressure on him throughout the night.
"We certainly had our moments," Quinn said. "On third down we know we have some spots we need to clean up. They're a very competitive group. They're making strides, and I'm very excited about where this defense can go."
There are still some areas where the Falcons can seek to improve, though. Atlanta allowed the Eagles to convert 50 percent of their third-down opportunities, including a third-and-8 on their final offensive possession where Vic Beasley missed a tackle that would have stopped Darren Sproles short of the first down and likely forced a punt.
By-and-large, it was a strong start to the season for the defense, especially considering Keanu Neal left the game in the third quarter and did not return and various other key players like Deion Jones, Desmond Trufant and Vic Beasley were also taken off the field at times throughout the game.
One of the biggest reasons for excitement for Falcons fans may just be the player who came in to replace Neal, second-year safety Damontae Kazee. The former college ballhawk had a knack for making plays in the preseason, and he came away with one of the biggest plays of the night.
Following an interception by Matt Ryan in the red zone, the Eagles began their march back down the field to build upon their 10-6 lead. Early in the drive, however, Kazee knocked the ball loose from rookie tight end Dallas Goedert, allowing linebacker Deion Jones to pluck the ball out of the air for an interception deep in Eagles territory.
Two plays later running back Tevin Coleman broke free for the Falcons' first touchdown of the game to give Atlanta 12-10 lead in the fourth quarter.
"That's been kind of par for the course him in terms of making some plays and leading into some things," Quinn said. "He's been a factor on teams, and he was a factor on defense again today. He's made an exceptional jump going into his second year."