Early Bird Report: Grady Jarrett a constant for Falcons defense

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Through tough start, Grady Jarrett remains consistent

The Atlanta Falcons haven't had the season they wanted or expected, but Grady Jarrett continues to perform at an incredibly high level. According to ESPN's Seth Walder, Jarrett has the highest pass rush win rate of any defensive tackle in the league, a testament of just how difficult it is to slow him down.

Despite just 2.5 sacks through the first eight games this season, Jarrett does have 12 quarterback hits, which puts him only behind Aaron Donald among all NFL defensive tackles. While Atlanta has had a lot of rotation on its defensive line due to injuries and COVID-19, Jarrett has remained the constant.

"He makes plays in the run game; he makes plays in the pass game," Interim coach Raheem Morris said. "He makes everything else go. He allows your run-and-hit players to absolutely play around him because he's causing so much disruption for the quarterback, for the run game, for the pass game, just all over the place. When you get him in the right spots, in the right moments, with the right people, he can absolutely be a game-wrecker. That's what he's been for us."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jason Butt provided more context for Jarrett's season thus far and how he's remained a bright spot for a defense that has struggled at times.

Falcons want more voters

Tuesday marks election day across the country, and the Atlanta Falcons have been doing their part in the previous months to encourage Georgia citizens to make their voices heard. Those efforts include encouraging local high schoolers to sign up to be poll workers at voting locations.

News of the Falcons reaching out to high schools in the community reached Ken Belson of The New York Times, who put the initiative in the context of Georgia potentially being a battleground state for the 2020 election. But for many within the Atlanta community, social issues stretch beyond pure politics and impact their every day lives. Falcons safety Ricardo Allen shared an eye-opening story while on a Zoom call with players on the Booker T. Washington High School football team.

"On one such call, Allen, who is Black, recounted being pulled over by the police and being afraid that he was being racially profiled for driving an expensive car," Belson writes. "If the students want to change policing methods, Allen said, they should get involved in their communities. King Walker, a linebacker at Washington High School, said he was surprised that Falcons players were confronted by the same issues he faced. Walker said his mother often reminds him to drive carefully to avoid being stopped by police and not to wear a hoodie when he jogs in his neighborhood not far from the Falcons' home stadium."

Falcons defense changed the narrative in late win

When Blidi Wreh-Wilson stepped in front of Teddy Bridgewater's pass to secure the second win of Atlanta's season, it marked a reversal – at least for one game. Closing in the fourth quarter has been a problem for the Falcons in 2020, and Raheem Morris has looking for players to step up in those big moments to make that one final play.

On Thursday night, Wreh-Wilson delivered on that challenge. Morris hopes to see more players fit into that role moving forward, which should only help the Falcons earn more wins down the stretch. As ESPN's David Newton writes, that might not be enough to make Atlanta a late-year playoff contender, but they should be a tougher out.

"The Falcons, 2-6, won't jump off the page in terms of suddenly becoming a playoff contender," Newton writes. "But they are showing that with an improvement on defense and ability to finish games that they could be a tough out for anybody on their schedule the second half of the season."

Falcons mid-term report card

With eight games in the books, the Falcons have reached the mid-point of their 2020 season. It hasn't been the start they had hoped for, especially given the way things ended in 2019. Major changes have already been made, and it remains to be seen what the future holds for the organization. But there's time to see what is to come, D. Orlando Ledbetter took a look back at what has come to pass with a report card at the halfway point of the fall.

"Run defense: The Falcons are in the top 10 in run defense, giving up just 99.25 yards per game," Ledbetter writes. "However, it may be that teams don't have to run because they are having so much success against the meek pass defense. After Carolina's Mike Davis ran for 89 yards in the first meeting, the Falcons held him to 66 in the second meeting. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett's penetration has been key. Linebackers Foye Oluokun (54 tackles) and Deion Jones (51) have been stout. Strong safety Keanu Neal (51 tackles) is rounding back into form. GRADE: B"

Ledbetter looked at each of the primary units for the team, assigning grades for each of them.

Late interception helps Falcons win

The Atlanta Falcons earned their second win of the season on Thursday night, defeating the Carolina Panthers 25-17. It is the second win in the three games since interim head coach Raheem Morris took over, and the Falcons, who are currently 2-6, hope it won't be the last.

"We've been in every game we've played this year," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said after the game. "We've had some crazy losses to be frank. I really believe that we have the caliber of team to go be in every game that we're going to play in for the rest of this season. Why can't we win them all? That's the mindset that I have."

The Falcons will look to continue their winning ways next week against the Denver Broncos to build momentum heading into their bye. Following the bye, things get much tougher, however. Atlanta's opponents have a combined record of 29-16, and the Falcons will play both the Saints and the Buccaneers twice in their final seven games.

ESPN's Michael DiRocco wrote more about the Falcons hoping to get things rolling after Thursday night's victory.

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