FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- During his Monday press conference, Falcons coach Dan Quinn named three areas in which he believes his team needs to improve: On third down, in the red zone and with their turnover margin. Now, it's up to him and the rest of the Falcons coaching staff to help the team achieve that goal, as they face a daunting second half of the season.
Today's Early Bird Report includes Pro Football Focus grades from the Falcons' loss as well as some notable Cowboys players whose status remains up in the air for Sunday.
FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
Pro Football Focus: Top Falcons performances against the Panthers
Although the Falcons did not emerge with the victory against the Panthers, there were several impressive individual efforts. Pro Football Focus releases their grades for the top five players from each game, and their list for the Falcons includes several defenders. Here are the five Falcons who earned the highest grades from PFF for Sunday's game.
- S Keanu Neal – 91.7
- DL Adrian Clayborn – 87.5
- DL Grady Jarrett – 83.4
- RB Devonta Freeman – 81.8
- CB Robert Alford – 80.9
Neal's performance, which included two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, was so impressive that PFF named him among their defensive standouts from Week 9.
"Atlanta Falcons safety Keanu Neal was back to the high level of play we saw from him as a rookie in yesterday's loss, impressing against the run when lined up in the box," PFF's Gordon McGuinness wrote. "As well as not missing any tackles against the run, he produced a run stop percentage mark of 8.6 percent, with three tackles resulting in a defensive stop from 35 snaps against the run while line up eight yards from the line of scrimmage."
Fox Sports: Troy Aikman: 'The Atlanta Falcons are not the same team we saw last year'
Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were the Fox broadcast team assigned to the Falcons' division opener against the Panthers. Following the loss, Aikman commented on what he saw from the reigning NFC Champions, saying the Falcons don't look like the same team he watched last season.
"The Atlanta Falcons are not the team that we saw last year represent the NFC in the Super Bowl," Aikman said. "The come into divisional play against certainly a worthy opponent and outstanding defense, but [they had] opportunities on the offensive side of the ball and yet they were unable to make them. Matt Ryan was under pressure throughout this game, and it's difficult when you start trying to compare this team with a record-setting season a year ago. They've got some work to do and they need to get to it real quick, because this season is slowly starting to get away from them having now lost four of their last five ball games."
NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: Dallas Cowboys
ESPN.com: OT Tyron Smith uncertain vs. Falcons with groin injury
Starting left tackle Tyron Smith, one of the top players at his position in the NFL, left the Cowboys' win against the Chiefs due to a groin injury. According to ESPN’s Todd Archer, Smith's status against the Falcons remains up in the air.
"We'll see how he feels when he comes in [Tuesday] and how to proceed during the week," Garrett said on Monday, per Archer.
Garrett also reportedly announced that defensive tackle Brian Price will undergo surgery on his knee Tuesday and will be placed on injured reserve.
*Fort Worth Star-Telegram: *Elliott's injunction appeal hearing set Thursday in federal court
The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has scheduled a hearing on Thursday afternoon to rule on Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott's appeal of Southern District Judge Katherine Failla's denial of his request for a preliminary injunction on his six-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, according to Clarence Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram*. *
If the three-judge panel grants Elliott, one of the league's top running backs, a preliminary injunction or does not offer a ruling by Sunday he will be able to suit up against the Falcons. If the panel upholds Failla's denial of a preliminary injunction, Elliott's six-game suspension will begin immediately.
BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH
*Tampa Bay Times: *Bucs shut down Jameis Winston for two weeks after MRI on shoulder
Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has struggled to play through an AC joint sprain in recent weeks, but he was pulled from the team's loss to the Saints and, according to the Tampa Bay Times’ Rick Stroud, will miss the next couple of weeks following an MRI.
"As I told you guys last night, Jameis did have an MRI today and as a result of that MRI he's going to be out the next couple weeks," Koetter said on Monday, per Stroud.
If Winston is forced to miss more than two weeks, he would then not be available for the Buccaneers' first matchup with the Falcons on Nov. 26.
ESPN.com: Mike Evans suspended one game for drilling Marshon Lattimore
The NFL has suspended Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans for the Buccaneers' upcoming game against the New York Jets after his vicious hit to Saints rookie defensive back Marshon Lattimore. The hit occurred after Lattimore, who was poked in the back of the helmet by Winston, turned around a shoved Tampa Bay's quarterback, who had already exited the contest due to injury.
Many questioned why Evans was not immediately ejected from the game after the blind-side hit to Lattimore, but it appears he will now miss a full game for his actions. According to ESPN's Jenna Laine, however, Evans will appeal the suspension.
MORE FROM ATLANTAFALCONS.COM