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Early Bird Report: Isaiah Oliver settling into new role for Falcons

The top Falcons headlines from around the country 

After a tough start to the season while manning one of the Falcons' two outside corner positions, Isaiah Oliver has found a role at nickel corner for Atlanta.

"He's proven to be a very good tackler," defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said Thursday. "He's got the ability to support the box. Play almost safety-like roles at times. He's got the length, the size, willingness and tackling ability, all of that."

A former second-round pick for the Falcons, Oliver has been allowed to move inside after the return of Darqueze Dennard from injured reserve. Oliver's length, intelligence and physicality make him an ideal player close to the line of scrimmage, and he's begun to make more plays of late. So far this season, Oliver has 49 tackles, a career-high three tackles for a loss, one sack and five pass defenses.

Oliver is D. Orlando Ledbetter's X-factor for the Falcons ahead of Sunday's rematch against the New Orleans Saints. Ledbetter goes into more depth about Oliver's play and the Falcons' potential plans for him in the future in a piece for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Activism bringing Matt Ryan, Ricardo Allen together

As members of the Falcons' social justice committee, Matt Ryan and Ricardo Allen have made efforts to help better the Atlanta community and tackle some of the bigger problems surrounding race and other social issues. While their paths to the NFL were very different – Ryan the No. 3 overall pick in 2008 and Allen a fifth-round pick who initially was placed on the practice squad – they've both developed into captains on the field and leaders off of it.

Throughout the years, Ryan and Allen's relationship has developed. That growth has also included conversations about race and some of the issues that Allen has experienced first-hand – issues that have now compelled Ryan to get involved. In an in-depth piece for The New York Times, Ken Belson detailed the growth of the relationship between the two Falcons captains and how they’ve sought to make an impact.

"During their seven years together, Allen and Ryan have obsessed over the minutiae of their sport," Belson writes. "Before every game, Ryan stops at Allen's locker for a pregame pep talk. After practice, they chat about parenthood in the hot or cold tub. In the off-season, the pair organizes workouts in Florida for veteran players. Only occasionally did they discuss tougher topics like race relations and police brutality.

"In the past three years, though, Allen and other Black teammates began speaking out publicly against police brutality. Few white teammates joined them, including Ryan, who said he didn't have the vocabulary to speak up and said his support 'was always in the background.'

"That changed for Ryan this summer when the Falcons held virtual meetings about Floyd's killing. Hearing players, including Allen, describe instances of being racially profiled by police, Ryan recognized he could no longer sit idly by."

Falcons preparing a master plan for Taysom Hill

One of the key differences between the Falcons' first meeting with the Saints just two weeks ago and their upcoming rematch is that Atlanta has a much better notion of the quarterback it will be facing. Taysom Hill's first game as a starter came against the Falcons in Week 11, and he looked much sharper than many expected.

The Falcons remain steadfast that they will be prepared for any possible situation, but it helps having at least two games to study with Hill as the main quarterback for the Saints. As D. Orlando Ledbetter writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta will have a plan in place for Hill.

"This time going into it preparing, Taysom has played two games now and played really well," Raheem Morris said Wednesday. "He's 2-0 as a starter. He's done a good job going out there and executing their offense. Like I told you, when they beat us, they were able to dictate terms. He was able to do the same thing this weekend versus the Broncos, so we have to go out and change the narrative and do the things that are good for us. As a coaching staff, we're put together a game plan yesterday. Feel good about it moving forward and let's go practice."

NFL's best origin story belongs to Younghoe Koo

Younghoe Koo is on a tear in 2020. He is coming off of a game in which he made five field goals, including one from 54 yards out, and all four of his extra-point opportunities. Koo is currently the leader among all kickers in field goals made, total points and field goal percentage, and he looks to be the kicker of the future for Atlanta.

Koo's journey to the Falcons as the successor of team's all-time leading scorer, Matt Bryant, is quite the story, which Nick Toney detailed for Koo is one of just four Korean-American players in NFL history, and his long road to the league began back in Seoul.

"There's a lot to unpack here," Toney writes. "In summary: Koo went from Korea to Georgia, then shot a viral kicking video that got him to California and back to Georgia in time to lead all pro kickers in made field goals (29), total points (109), and field goal percentage (96.7%) in 2020.

"An even quicker summary goes like this: There might be equally improbable NFL journeys out there, but there aren't any better than Younghoe Koo's."

Falcons defense putting it all together

While the offense has largely defined the Falcons during the Matt Ryan Era, it's the defense that has begun to win games of late. Often maligned through the years, Atlanta's defense is now receiving praise and attention. ESPN writer Paul Gutierrez wrote about how well the Falcons’ defense played on Sunday against the Raiders, a major factor in the team's decisive victory.

"I feel like everybody has taken notice," defensive lineman Jacob Tuioti-Mariner said after the game. "The defense has taken a step forward these past couple weeks. It is a good feeling. We all trust each other with our jobs. It is just a good feeling to be out there and flying around with each other."

We're now seeing the Falcons we expected

Part of the reason Sunday's game was so noteworthy for the Falcons is because there were those who expected it to be a much more common occurrence in 2020. That there have now been two such games under Raheem Morris is a good sign for the team's interim head coach, and it showed the potential that Atlanta still has. In one of his few positive columns of the season, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Mark Bradley praised the Falcons for their play Sunday.

"The Falcons stopped themselves from having a realistic chance to do anything of significance this season," Bradley writes. "They showed Sunday what can happen if they keep the pressure on an opponent and step aside as that opponent falls to pieces. They made a decent Raiders team look downright indecent. Even as the lead was mounting and we were starting to make jokes about how even the Falcons mightn't be able to blow this game, they kept building on it. They built until Jon Gruden took pity on his addled quarterback and pulled Carr with 10 minutes remaining."

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