FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes the Falcons falling in the weekly power rankings as well as some high praise for Deion Jones from a Hall of Fame linebacker.
Week 11 power rankings:
"Mentioned in the Game Picks column that this matchup felt like a trap game for the Falcons. Most coaches don't seem to subscribe to the "trap game" theory, or (probably) the conspiracy theory that Neil Armstrong's moon landing was actually shot on a soundstage. Your friendly writer is here to tell you that at least one of those theories is based on truth. Atlanta simply couldn't stop Baker Mayfield or Nick Chubb in Cleveland, acting as an equal-opportunity benefactor when it came to giving away free yards. Mayfield went 17 of 20. Chubb gained over 170 on 20 ... carries. Dear Deion Jones, please come back. Soon."
"That was a crippling loss to the Browns. They can't afford another loss the rest of the way - and even then it will be tough to make the postseason."
"51.9. That's the percentage of third-down conversions for Falcons' opponents, second worst in the league behind the Bengals (56.2). You're not going to have much success if you can't get off the field. The Falcons hope part of that issue will be solved with the expected return of Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones from foot surgery, considering Jones is one of the best coverage linebackers in the game."
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
ESPN: Even Brian Urlacher is eager for Deion Jones to return
The Falcons brought Deion Jones off of injured reserve Tuesday, and while it remains to be seen when the Pro Bowl linebacker will actually suit up for a game, there are plenty of people eagerly awaiting his return, including a Hall of Famer at Jones' position.
Former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher is a big fan of Jones, and he explained why that is in a conversation with ESPN's Vaughn McClure.
"He's already a star, dude," Urlacher said. "He's the fastest middle linebacker in the NFL. He can cover anybody. He's great in the run game. He's so athletic. He's one of the guys I really love watching play."
Jones is a heat-seeking missile in the middle of the Falcons' defense, and his ability to defend the pass makes him an extremely valuable player in today's NFL. Whenever he does return for game action, the Falcons will be better for it.
To read the rest of McClure's piece, click here.
ESPN: Despite no sacks vs. Browns, Falcons itching to rev up pass rush
Atlanta signed Bruce Irvin last week in an attempt to bolster its pass rush, but that didn't happen in the Falcons' 28-16 loss to the Browns. The Falcons did not manage to sack Baker Mayfield once in the game, and the Browns' success running the ball limited Atlanta's chances to pin its ears back.
"I don't think we had enough opportunities, honestly," Irvin told ESPN's Vaughn McClure. "They did a good job of switching it up. When we had our base personnel out there, and they were passing. And when we put our nickel group out there, they were running. They did a good job of mixing it up and keeping us off-balance."
The Falcons have 17 sacks this season, which is tied for the fourth-fewest in the NFL. In order for Atlanta to get more opportunities to rush the quarterback, coach Dan Quinn believes the defense needs to be more effective on early downs.
"When we didn't play the run quite as well as we'd like, there weren't longer third-downs that force a team into becoming thrown in those scenarios," Quinn said. "… So to not play as well on first and second down, I think that caused -- you'd like to have a negative play that goes to second-and-10 or 12, and we have some real pass rushing opportunities. So in that game, I thought that was probably the fewest rushing ops that maybe our nickel team would normally have. So I think it tied back into the first and second down."
To read McClure's story on the Falcons looking to ramp up their pass rush, click here.
AJC: Quinn wants more speed and energy after disappointing loss
Dan Quinn didn't mince words when it came to his team's performance against the Browns, saying he felt the Falcons "took a step back" in the loss. On Monday, he talked about moving forward and what he needs to see from his team. Among the most important things he looking for are greater speed and energy from his from his defense, which D. Orlando Ledbetter covered in his report for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"I thought competitiveness-wise, toughness, that part was there," Quinn said his team's effort. "You really saw, even on the long run, guys like Brooks Reed and Grady Jarrett straining to go get it. Where I was probably more disappointed was the energy and the speed that we normally play with, that part of our style, we've got to capture that every time that we go."
AJC: Why the 4-5 Falcons are only half a team
There's no doubt injuries have impacted what many believed coming into the season could be one of the NFL's top defenses. After showing strides during the Falcons' three-game win streak, the defense turned in one of its worst performances in the loss to the Browns. According to The AJC's Mark Bradley, that's further proof that the Falcons are only half a team.
"What was revealed Sunday wasn't really a revelation, given that we've seen it all season, but never had it been presented in such screaming neon letters: The Falcons are half a team," Bradley writes. "When that half manages but 16 points, they have no chance. "
To read the rest of Bradley's column, click here.
ESPN: No finger pointing: Falcons have issues to fix on both sides
The Falcons played far below their standard during Sunday's 28-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns, but at 4-5 with only seven games remaining there's no time to sit around pointing fingers. Besides, all parties deserve to shoulder at least a little bit of the blame.
Atlanta's defense struggled to defend the run and allowed rookie quarterback to have an excellent day throwing the ball. The Falcons' offense, meanwhile, struggled against the Cover 2 scheme that the Browns rolled out on defense, which ESPN's Vaughn McClure noted in his post-game piece.
"Browns coach Gregg Williams typically plays an aggressive man-to-man scheme, but Williams made it clear he wanted to "stay on top" of Jones," McClure writes. "The whole premise behind the Cover 2 defense is to rush four, drop seven into coverage, and take away vertical routes, forcing the ball underneath. Running four verticals is a Cover 2 beater.
"The Falcons simply didn't find the way to consistently combat the zone defense, and not have great success in the run game (71 yards on 19 carries) didn't help the cause. Plus the Falcons are likely to see more "Tampa 2" next week with Rod Marinelli, the defensive coordinator in Dallas, using that zone defense as his staple over the years."
To read the rest of McClure's article, click here.