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Early Bird Report: Falcons defense showing signs of improvement in back-to-back wins

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes Atlanta's plan to regroup after the bye week as well as signs of recovery from the Falcons' defense.


The Falcons entered their bye week on a two-game win streak, and they are looking to keep that momentum rolling in Week 9 against the Washington Redskins (4-2), as D. Orlando Ledbetter writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"The Falcons, who were hit hard by injuries, were still just two defensive stops away from being 5-2," Ledbetter writes. "They couldn't finish off the Saints in an overtime shootout and they let the Bengals' Andy Dalton drive in for a winning touchdown with seconds remaining. 

Also, they were throwing into the end zone for a potential victory against the Eagles. They got walloped by the Steelers."  

To read the rest of Ledbetter's piece, including four things that went right and wrong for Atlanta during the first half of the season, click here.

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

Associated Press: Falcons' D showing signs of recovery in 2 straight wins

It's taken a little bit of time, but the Falcons' defense has shown slights signs of improvement in recent weeks, according to the Associated Press' Charles Odum. As those who have been forced into bigger roles, including rookies like Foye Oluokun and Isaiah Oliver, gain confidence and experience, the defense has slowly begun to look more cohesive.

"Our ability to swarm to the ball felt different in this game," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of the win over the Giants. "I thought it was one of the better performances by the defensive line overall, run game and pass rush. If we can make sure we stay true to our style, I think that's a big thing."

To read the rest of Odum's piece on the defense, click here.

Pro Football Focus: Week 7 NFL Team of the Week

The Falcons earned a big win heading into their bye week and have now strung together back-to-back victories. Several players stepped up in Atlanta's win against the New York Giants, and the Falcons had four players make Pro Football Focus' NFL Team of the Week.

Wide receiver Julio Jones and center Alex Mack were the two offensive players selected, while cornerback Brian Poole was the lone Falcons defensive player on the list and kicker Giorgio Tavecchio was selected after a three-for-three debut with Atlanta.

"On the field for 45 snaps on defense, including 27 in coverage, Poole had a stat line that few will match this year," PFF's Gordon McGuinness writes of Poole, who received a 90 grade for his performance. "Targeted twice in coverage, he did allow a reception, but that reception went for a total of negative eight yards. He also didn't miss any tackles and registered a hurry from the seven snaps where he was a blitzer."

To see the rest of PFF's NFL Team of the Week, click here. Offensive player rankings Week 8

Although the Falcons' defense has been hit hard by injuries this season, they are coming off of one of their best performances of the year. The offense, meanwhile, has been rolling pretty much all season long.

Even when they aren't firing on all cylinders, Atlanta's offense always seems just one snap away from hitting a big play, and it's cleaned up its red-zone struggles from a year ago. The Falcons are currently ranked No. 6 in red-zone percentage, No. 8 in yards per game and No. 9 in points per game.

They haven't been perfect all throughout the 2018 season, but the Falcons certainly have plenty of talent on offense. If they can play with just a bit more consistency, this would be an offense nobody would want to have sneak into the postseason, which is exactly why's David Carr listed him among the five offenses he would least want to face in the playoffs.

"It's no question that Atlanta boasts the best receiving corps in the NFL with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley," Carr writes. "And Marvin Hall flexed his muscle on a 47-yard touchdown Monday night. With all four posing as potential deep threats, along with tight end Austin Hooper, Matt Ryan has to be licking his chops every time the Falcons line up in four- or five-wide receiver sets. Again, defenses have trouble defending all these weapons. Without Devonta Freeman, the Tevin Coleman-led run game has been just enough of a threat to open up the play-action pass for Ryan. Like the Rams and Chiefs, the Falcons have found success on play-action passes this season and continued to thrive Monday night against the Giants. According to Pro Football Focus, Ryan threw for more yards on play-action passes on fewer attempts than on all other pass plays in Week 7:

Play-action: 13-for-14 (92.9 percent), 195 passing yards, one TD, zero INTs, 142.6 passer rating.

Not play-action: 18-for-25 (72.0 percent), 190 passing yards, zero TDs, zero INTs, 93.8 passer rating.

This offense is clicking in Steve Sarkisian's second year as offensive coordinator, with Ryan playing at or above his 2016 MVP form."

To see the rest of the offenses on Carr's list, click here.

ESPN: Biggest injury questions for all 32 teams in Week 8

Mercifully, the Falcons have reached their bye week and they have the chance to get a bit more healthy after a string of major injuries have been the prominent storyline over the first half of the season. That's why ESPN's “biggest injury question” for the Falcons this week actually involved someone who the team might get back soon, not someone they have recently lost: Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones.

"It's getting closer to that window for Pro Bowl middle linebacker Deion Jones to return from injured reserve after foot surgery," ESPN's Vaughn McClure writes. "Coach Dan Quinn said Jones is on target to return against the Cowboys (Nov. 18), which would be a much-needed boost to the depleted defense. It will likely be just a matter of Jones feeling comfortable again and being in playing condition. He has stayed mentally in the game by attending meetings and walk-throughs."

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