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Early Bird Report: Desmond Trufant ready for tough matchup with Mike Evans; playoff hopes for last-place teams

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes Desmond Trufant discussing Mike Evans as well as last-place teams with the best playoff hopes.

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The Falcons have gone up against some difficult receiving corps in recent weeks, and Sunday will be no different when the Buccaneers come to town. Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans has long been considered among the top receivers in the game, and the Falcons are familiar with what he can do.

Desmond Trufant, in particular, knows Evans well. The two often match up against one another when these teams play, and he discussed how important it will be to be locked in on Sunday with ESPN’s Vaughn McClure.

"It's always a battle with him," Trufant told McClure. "I think he's won some; I've won some. Honestly, that's what I can say. Every year, I know he's going to bring it. Every time I play against him, I can't half-step at all because I know he's with it."

This season, Evans has 29 catches for 426 yards and three touchdowns. In his career against the Falcons, Evans has caught 46 passes for 692 yards and six touchdowns.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

NFL.com: Steelers, Lions among last-place teams with best playoff hopes

At 1-4, the Falcons are currently in last place in the NFC South. There is still a good deal of games left to play, however, and the Falcons have time to pull themselves out of the hole they are currently in. But the margin for error is slim moving forward.

NFL.com’s Gil Brandt ranked the last-place teams he believes still have the best playoff hopes. The list is headed by the Steelers and the Lions, but the Falcons are not far down at No. 4.

“The 2018 Falcons remind me a lot of the Dan Marino Dolphins of the 1980s: loaded with offensive firepower but hamstrung by a real lack of defense,” Brandt writes. “Of course, Atlanta can't be blamed for the injuries to Keanu Neal, Deion Jones and Ricardo Allen. Jones should be back this year, which will be a plus, but I think the Falcons are too far in the hole in the NFC South, where they already carry a home loss to the division-leading New Orleans Saints, to make a viable push for the division. Head coach Dan Quinn went through a similar situation last season, when Atlanta started 4-4 but then went 6-2 and won a playoff game. I think this defense will come around and prove able to support the offense, and I see the Falcons scrapping for a wild-card berth.”

To read the rest of Brandt’s piece, click here.

AJC: Damontae Kazee starting to slide into free-safety mode

After a strong preseason, there were questions about how the Falcons could find ways to get second-year safety Damontae Kazee on the field. Due to injuries, Atlanta hasn’t had to find ways to get him involved. Instead, they’ve relied on him heavily to play the centerfield free-safety role in the defense.

Now with a few starts under his belt, Kazee is getting a good feel for the role he’s assumed, which D. Orlando Ledbetter covered in a piece for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Kazee is doing a good job when you take in all of the considerations and the factors that you had him at nickel and he’s going back to play free safety and the combination of he’s playing it full-time,” Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said. “You are going to see his growing pains, and you’re going to see his talent.”

ESPN: 11 midseason trade ideas and why they make sense

Given the injuries that have plagued the Falcons from the jump this year, there has been constant speculation about whether or not Atlanta would or should bring in a well-known player to fill into one of those spots. Dan Quinn has repeatedly emphasized his belief that the Falcons can find answers with the guys they have in the locker room, but ESPN’s Bill Barnwell threw out a midseason trade suggestion for Atlanta in a recent piece.

Barnwell offers up the scenario that the Falcons trade a 2019 sixth-round draft pick to the Oakland Raiders in return for safety Karl Joseph.

“Joseph looked like a game-changing playmaker before struggling to find his way in Oakland, and at 25, he still should have time to develop,” Barnwell writes. “Any team acquiring him would get to see how he performs over the next few months before deciding whether they want to pick up his fifth-year option. The Falcons have a desperate need at safety after losing Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen to season-ending injuries, and while Joseph is not going to be the plug-and-play solution Earl Thomas would have been, his athleticism would make the former 14th overall pick a high-upside solution in the second half of the season for a flailing Falcons defense.”

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