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Early Bird Report: Falcons preparing to face one of NFL's top young corners

The top Falcons headlines from around the country 


The Falcons' receivers, particularly Calvin Ridley, have gotten off to a fast start to the 2020 season. Ridley has caught 21 passes for 349 yards – second in the NFL – and four touchdowns, which are tied for the most in the league through three weeks. Despite missing Atlanta's third game, Julio Jones has caught 11 passes for 181 yards. Russell Gage, who left the game against the Bears due to injury, has 17 catches for 186 yards and a touchdown.

Atlanta's next opponent, the Green Bay Packers, boast the league's highest-scoring offense through three weeks. The Packers average 40 points per game and have one of the game's most dynamic quarterbacks leading the way.

The Packers have several other top-tier players on their roster, though, including cornerback Jaire Alexander. Now in his third year, Alexander is playing like one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. He's allowed just 10 completions on 16 targets for 91 yards and a touchdown. When opposing quarterbacks target Alexander, they have a 72.7 passer rating. According to Pro Football Focus, Alexander is the second best cornerback in the league heading into Week 4.

"Mike Pettine has had the Green Bay Packers' coverage unit operate in a far more diverse scheme than it did in 2019," PFF's Anthony Treash writes. "They are one of five teams so far this year to not run at least 25% of their coverage snaps out of one specific coverage concept. Whether playing press-man or in a zone concept, Alexander has excelled in coverage for the Packers to the tune of top-10 coverage grades in both man and zone coverage. That combines to form an 88.6 coverage grade on the year."

When the Falcons face off against the Packers on Monday night, they won't just play one of the best offenses in the league. Their receivers, arguably the best unit on the roster when at full health, will match up with one of the best young corners in football. It will be a true contest of strengths.

Falcons remained aggressive in fourth quarter

Atlanta's offense, after putting up 26 points through three quarters, was shut down in the fourth quarter of its 30-26 loss to the Chicago Bears. While the Falcons did attempt a few runs on first down during the final quarter, they largely took to the air to attack matchup advantages they favored.

Ultimately, that didn't work out. Atlanta had three consecutive three-and-outs that gained just 6 yards as Chicago mounted its comeback. Facing questions as to why the Falcons didn't run the ball more to attempt to run down the clock, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter explained the team's reasoning.

"Because we were struggling in all areas, our focus was more on we need to try to flip the field here and score another time," Koetter said. "Not necessarily running out the clock because if you look at the time when you had the ball, there was still too much time and they had all their timeouts. We weren't really in our four-minute offense mode at that point."

The Falcons didn't feel they would be able to sustain drives and march down the field solely by running the ball into a defense that had begun devoting extra resources to stop the run. That very same look the Bears were showing led Atlanta to believe it could take advantage with some plays they had practiced in preparation for that look during the week. The execution wasn't there for the Falcons, however.

What we learned from Sunday's games

A second fourth-quarter loss is a tough pill for the Falcons to swallow. After entering the fourth quarter with a 26-10 lead, the Falcons couldn't control the ball, offensively, and their defense allowed three touchdowns to Bears quarterback Nick Foles.

In his recap for, Kevin Patra touched on the team's play in the fourth quarter, discussing the performances on both sides of the ball. He also detailed yet another good performance from receiver Calvin Ridley, who surpassed 100 receiving yards for the third time this season, and how Atlanta was unable to adjust once Chicago focused on limiting big plays.

"With Julio Jones out and Russell Gage hurt early in the tilt, the Falcons relied on Calvin Ridley, who is proving he can be a No. 1 target," Patra writes. "As with all things Atlanta, however, it fell apart late. Ridley compiled 110 yards on five catches early in the third quarter. He didn't have a catch the rest of the way despite 13 total targets. Credit the Bears back end adjusting, knowing Ryan's other receivers couldn't pick up the slack. Chicago took advantage of the Falcons missing linemen up front, battering Ryan often. Akiem Hicks generated a whopping five QB hits and 1.5 sacks. Khalil Mack was a monster off the edge, earning two QB hits, half a sack, and disrupted many more plays. The Bears gave up chunk plays early. Once they took those away, the Falcons offense was dead in the water. And Atlanta couldn't adjust."

Week 3 NFL takeaways

Patra wasn't the only writer critical of Atlanta's performance against Chicago. In his takeaways for ESPN, Vaughn McClure noted the similarities in the Falcons' two most recent contests and the decisions late in those games.

"There has to be some sort of major change made after the Falcons were outscored 20-0 in the fourth quarter to blow a 26-10 lead and fall to the Bears," McClure writes. "Coach Dan Quinn appears to be on the verge of being fired, although he avoided talking about his job status postgame. The Falcons threw the ball five times and ran it once during consecutive fourth-quarter possessions after holding a 26-16 lead. Coupled with a Week 2 loss at Dallas in which the Falcons blew a 39-24 fourth-quarter lead, the Falcons now are the first team to lose twice in one season while holding 15-plus-point leads, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. If Quinn isn't let go, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter certainly might be in trouble for his playcalling."

Week 3 grades's John Breech was very positive in his review of Chicago's afternoon in Atlanta, particularly the team's decision to bench quarterback Mitch Trubisky in favor of Nick Foles. For the Bears' comeback, he assigned the team an "A+" grade. Breech was on the completely opposite end of the spectrum for the Falcons, however, giving them an “F” in the loss.

"If you blow a lead of 15 points for a second straight week, you get an 'F,'" Breech writes. "Those are the rules here. A big reason this loss happened is because the Falcons offense absolutely disappeared in the fourth quarter. Matt Ryan didn't complete his first pass of the quarter until there was under two minutes left, and shortly after he did that, he threw a pick that sealed the win for Chicago. If we learned one thing about the Falcons in this game, it's that no lead is ever safe in Atlanta, no matter how big."

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