The Atlanta Falcons had their best defensive performance of the season during their 43-6 over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. Atlanta didn't allow a single touchdown as Las Vegas managed just a field goal in each half of play.
Atlanta had a season high five turnovers and five sacks against the Raiders, but there were many more impactful defensive plays from a Falcons group that is really beginning to come together. Interim head coach Raheem Morris and his staff have been emphasizing the need to win on early downs in order to have success on third down against opposing offenses, and the Falcons put on an early-down clinic against the Raiders.
One of the top offenses in the league this season, the Raiders managed just 243 total yards against the Falcons and converted three of their 12 third-down attempts on Sunday. So, how exactly did Atlanta manage that? Let's take a look – in the order in which they occurred – at the 10 best defensive plays the Falcons made against the Raiders.
Keanu Neal tackle
- Time: First quarter, 12:20 remaining
This is the type of play the Kean Neal made during the first couple of seasons of his career before injuries set in. What looks to be an easy first down for the Raiders is shut down by a rocket-like Neal, who closes in the blink of an eye to set up a fourth-down play.
Deion Jones tackle
- Time: First quarter, 11:36 remaining
The play after the Falcons' first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft stopped Hunter Renfrow short of the first down, Atlanta's second-round pick in that same draft slammed the door shut on Josh Jacobs on fourth down. Morris wants the Falcons to impose their will on their opponents, and this did just that at an early point of the game.
Foye Oluokun strip sack
- Time: First quarter, 8:20 remaining
Atlanta's star defensive players made their presence felt early in Sunday's game. After Neal and Jones made big tackles on the Raiders' opening drive, breakout linebacker Foye Oluokun jarred the ball loose from Derek Carr on a blitz off the edge, the first of the five turnovers forced by Atlanta on Sunday.
Keanu Neal tackle for a loss
- Time: First quarter, 5:24 remaining
On a third-and-9, Neal expertly reads a tight end screen to the Raiders' leading receiver, Darren Waller. As he did on the first play mentioned in this piece, Neal closes in a flash and stops Waller behind the line of scrimmage. It's yet another example of the "run-and-hit" mentality that Morris wants from his defenders.
Darqueze Dennard pass breakup
- Time: First quarter, 1:06 remaining
Coming off of the Falcons' lone turnover of the afternoon, the Raiders sought to take a deep shot. Lined up against Darqueze Dennard, Waller went deep downfield towards the end zone and even managed to get a couple of steps on the Falcons' corner. Dennard caught up with Waller, however, and knocked the ball away, preventing what could have been an easy touchdown.
A.J. Terrell pass breakup
- Time: Second quarter, 9:54 remaining
After getting beaten earlier in the game, rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell had a makeup opportunity against fellow rookie Henry Ruggs. This time, he got the better of the Raiders' speedster, knocking the ball away and preventing another explosive downfield play.
Jacob Tuioti-Mariner strip sack
- Time: Second quarter, 1:11 remaining
A former practice squad member, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner had his best game as an Atlanta Falcon on Sunday. He recovered two fumbles and recorded the first sack of his career, a strip sack near end of the first half that allowed the Falcons to add to their lead heading into halftime.
Deion Jones pick-six
- Time: Third quarter, 11:49 remaining
The biggest play of Sunday's game, Jones nabbed the fifth pick-six of his NFL career. Known for his knack of making big plays, Jones single-handedly swung the game in Atlanta's favor by returning his interception 67 yards for a touchdown early in the second half.
Ricardo Allen pass breakup
- Time: Third quarter, 8:21 remaining
On the Raiders' next drive following Jones's pick-six, they marched into scoring range and very nearly came away with what would have been their only touchdown of the game. Roaming the goal line, Ricardo Allen drilled Renfrow and jarred the ball loose just as he was about to score. It was a prime example of the defense staying locked in all throughout a game they were winning.
- Time: Fourth quarter, 12:25 remaining
The icing on the cake of Sunday's win, Carr's own offensive lineman knocked the ball loose from his hand just as he was about to let loose a deep pass. Steven Means pushed the lineman back into Carr as he was stepping up into the pocket and the Falcons recovered the ball deep in Raiders territory. The pass rush was on full display against Las Vegas, helping Atlanta win this game easily.