FLOWERY BRANCH – Today's Early Bird Report includes thoughts on why the Falcons might finally have a great defense in 2018 as well as some analysis from Atlanta's preseason loss.
Since Dan Quinn's arrival in 2015, the Falcons' defense has been trending upwards. Last season, Atlanta's defense finished ranked inside the top 10 in both yards and points per game allowed for the first time in nearly two decades.
Entering the 2018 season, there's reason for optimism given the level of returning talent the Falcons have on defense as well as the addition of some intriguing pieces. Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution believes the Falcons might finally have built a great defense.
After watching the Falcons' preseason loss to the Jets, Cunningham writes that he came away thinking about Damontae Kazee's 11-tackle performance and that his all-out style during the game was emblematic of what we've seen from the Falcons' defenders under Quinn.
"Quinn's players almost always empty it," Cunningham writes. "That's how Kazee wrecked the Jets. Watching him do it reminded me why I believe the Falcons finally can have a great defense in Quinn's fourth season."
To read more of what Cunningham had to say about the Falcons' defense, click here.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
Pro Football Focus: Analyzing the Falcons-Jets preseason game
After each week of NFL action, the analysts at Pro Football Focus provide their evaluations of the game as well as the top performers and other insights. Following the Falcons' preseason loss to the Jets, PFF did just that.
"The Falcons' lack of explosiveness resulted in a stagnant offense throughout the night," PFF writes. "Despite skill players failing to create much after the catch, Atlanta remained content in constantly throwing underneath the markers. This was evident in the first half, as the Falcons completed all of their passes but had only one first down."
ESPN: Biggest takeaways from Week 1 of preseason
Following the first full weekend of preseason football, ESPN published takeaways from each game. ESPN's Falcons beat writer Vaughn McClure contributed to the piece, and his biggest takeaway from the game falls in line with what a lot of people were talking about on Friday night: Damontae Kazee.
"Since the offense was nothing to talk about, with Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman sitting out and rookie Calvin Ridley losing 2 yards on just one catch, let's talk defense. Second-year DB Damontae Kazee, a backup at nickelback and free safety, had 10 tackles in the first half. He was all over the field making plays despite being flagged once for lowering the helmet," McClure writes. "Kazee's performance showed the kind of depth and position versatility the Falcons have established throughout the roster."
Pro Football Focus: NFL quarterback rankings for 2018
The NFL quarterback hierarchy is one of the most popular debates among football fans, and it's one that doesn't have a clear-cut answer. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is a player who is often at a number of different spots in a given ranking, depending on who is creating it, but he's proven himself to be one of the top quarterbacks in the league.
In their quarterback rankings entering the 2018 season, Pro Football Focus showed just how highly they think of the 2016 league MVP. Ryan is ranked third on PFF's ranking, behind only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
"Last season was not as bad as the stats would indicate while 2016 may not have been as good as the MVP stats showed, but Ryan is a consistent, top-tier quarterback," PFF's Steve Palazzolo writes. "He ranked third last year with an 88.3 grade and second in 2016 with a 92.2 grade, and the story of last year was his ranking first at avoiding turnover-worthy plays while finishing 14th in interception percentage (poor interception luck)."