FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – With three key injuries on the second level of the defense, the Falcons will need to rely on all facets of their defense moving forward, including the pass rush.
The Falcons were missing defensive ends Takkarist McKinley and Derrick Shelby in their loss to the Saints, but coach Dan Quinn expressed optimism he would get some of his injured players back this weekend and said he believed McKinley is the closest to returning. The second-year pass-rusher's return would provide a boost to a defensive line the Falcons may lean on.
"I think we're not where we're going to be in that department yet," Quinn said of the pass rush. "I think when we get Takk back and him and Vic [Beasley] together, I think that's a good combination that we like. Yesterday, I certainly wasn't happy with the amount of good rushes we had, not counting screens or that type of deal."
McKinley is currently tied with Brian Poole as the Falcons' sack leader with two sacks in as many games. Beasley is the only other player who has recorded a sack this season, which occurred against Drew Brees on Sunday.
Given the changes at the linebacker and safety positions the Falcons have had, they will need to generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The past two games have presented a challenge in that area, given Cam Newton's size and mobility and the short amount of time Brees has the ball in his hands, but that won't be the case in the coming weeks.
Atlanta's defensive scheme is built, in part, on generating a pass-rush, and that's become even more crucial.
"It's really the balance of our defense," Quinn said. "The way the three-deep system that we play, obviously putting pressure on the quarterback is a big part of that. When you play zone defense, if you're not going to get the quarterback to move, it's going to get harder."