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'It's why you continue to work': Falcons defense finds recipe for success in Week 13 win over New York Jets

Bud Dupree said the Falcons have to give credit where credit is due, and a lot of that credit -- he says -- goes to defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen. 

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Falcons defense has not given up a touchdown since the third quarter of their Week 10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Three weeks, two games and nine quarters have passed since then, and on Sunday afternoon, the Falcons capped off a 13-8 win over the New York Jets by keeping their second opponent in just as many weeks out of the end zone.

Nine scoreless quarters is the longest streak a Falcons defense has had since 2019 when the unit went 10 quarters without scoring between Weeks 8 and 11. Their current streak of nine quarters is tied with Baltimore for the longest streak this season.

Make no mistake about it: Sunday's win was an offensive slog for both teams. Because of the weather conditions (90% chance of rain from the start of the game until the end), the Falcons knew points and offensive success would be hard to come by. While that may not be what an offense wanted to hear, that spelled good things for this Falcons defense, which is a unit that has found a recipe for success coming out of their Week 11 bye.

Prior to the bye week, the Falcons gave up a combined 84 points and nine touchdowns to the Titans, Vikings and Cardinals. All three teams scored 25 points or more in each game. The Falcons had yet to see a team score more than 25 points on them in their first seven games of the season. Since coming back from the bye week, this Falcons defense has reverted back to the prowess of the first third of the season.

In their last two games the Falcons defense has not given up a touchdown. The Saints and Jets were a combined 0-for-6 in the red zone when facing Atlanta (with five of those six appearances coming from the Saints). After giving up that touchdown in the third quarter of their Arizona loss, this defense has played 25 consecutive drives without giving up a touchdown. According to Sunday's broadcast, that is the longest active streak in the NFL. Of those 25 opponent possessions, nine have ended in a field goal opportunity and six have ended with a turnover (or turnover on downs).

It goes without saying that keeping an opponent out of the end zone is a recipe for success. It gives your team a chance to win, head coach Arthur Smith said. But what has gone into this shift for this defense? It's rare to have an NFL offense be kept out of the end zone. It's even less common for it to happen two weeks in a row. (And for those curious, New Orleans averaged 20.8 points per game while New York averaged 14.8 points per game entering Week 13. Those numbers are nothing to balk at, but in both cases, if either team comes close to their average, they have a chance to win).

When asked about this dynamic play from the defense, those who make up the unit said there are some things the Falcons have changed up schematically that have worked for them.

"There were certain plays that we were giving up that we started calling a certain way," Calais Campbell said. "... It's us trying to figure out what we can do to combat what people are trying to do against us."

As a defensive lineman, Campbell said one obvious change that has made a difference in his eyes is the Falcons deciding to keep more linemen on the field in passing down situations. It's a slight change that has affected sacks totals in the last two weeks (five), quarterback hits (nine) and tackles for a loss (13).

For linebacker Bud Dupree, who finished Sunday's game with two sacks, seven tackles and one forced fumble, he said you have to give credit where credit is due when it comes to the play of the defense over two weeks time. You have to give credit to the top.

"Shoutout to Ryan Nielsen, man," Dupree said of his defensive coordinator. "He's putting us in situations to be able to play ball. He's made adjustments as the season has gone on. ... It's the calls. It's him bringing the juice to us."

Dupree said Nielsen's enthusiasm and passion for the game "matches the play" of the unit over the last two weeks. In that change, too, has been a mental shift.

Even though the Falcons lost their last three games prior to the bye week, they still had a first-place NFC South standing in sight. That gave them something to fight for despite a record that -- at the time -- was 4-6.

Now 6-6, the Falcons defense has played a major role in getting the team back to .500.

"We want to go to the playoffs. We want to win the division," Campbell said. "So, we're fighting with everything we have. There is a mentality that comes with that."

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the New York Jets during Week 13.

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