FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Against the NFL's top scoring offense, the Falcons' defense put on yet another impressive display in a shutdown performance.
Atlanta held Los Angeles to just 13 points and allowed the Rams to convert only 36 percent of their third-down opportunities. The Rams did gain 361 yards, but many of those yards proved to be fruitless against a defense that came up with well-timed pass defenses, sure tackles and set the tone early on.
Earlier in the week, Falcons coach Dan Quinn explained that he believed tackling would be a major factor in the outcome of the game. He was pleased with how his defense performed in that aspect against the Rams.
"I thought it was an example of trusting our training," Quinn said on Sunday. "[Defensive coordinator] Marquand [Manuel] and [passing game coordinator] Jerome [Henderson] and the guys had really stressed tackling this week, knowing that their yards after the catch had been significant."
The increased emphasis in tackling seemed to pay off for the Falcons against the league's touchdown leader, Todd Gurley. Aside from a few big runs, which Quinn said were not the result of missed tackles, Gurley was largely contained by Atlanta's defense.
After a season in which he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 2,093 total yards and scored a league-high 19 touchdowns, Gurley gained 111 total yards against the Falcons and was held out of the end zone.
Gurley had his opportunities in the open field, but second-year cornerback Brian Poole was consistently there to bring him down with a good display of fundamental tackling.
"That was the first name that popped to mind when we talked about tackling," Quinn said of Poole. "When I went through the tape last night, there was just some really strong open field tackling for him.
"We had to make sure when the catch took place, that ended the play, and I thought there was a couple examples of Deion [Jones] on that. Those two in particular jumped out to me in terms of tackling in the open field. … I thought in the pass game, Brian [Poole] in particular really was put into those spaces and did a really, really good job in that spot."
Poole wasn't the only defensive back to display some physicality. Jones led the defense with 10 total tackles, including one for a loss, but four of the Falcons' top five tackles were defensive backs. Keanu Neal registered seven tackles; Desmond Trufant chipped in with five tackles; Poole made four stops and Alford had three tackles to go along with three pass defenses.
It was a great night for the secondary, overall. The group helped set the tone against both the run and the pass, knocking down plenty of passes early on and selling out to limit any yards after the catch.
Unlike many other defenses in the NFL, the Falcons aren't relying on a handful of stars to succeed. Yes, Jones, Neal and Trufant, among several others, are beginning to leave their mark on the league, but Quinn believes in putting his players in a position to maximize their strengths. That philosophy has paid off thus fair.
It's how a player like Poole, an excellent tackler, wins in the open field against one of the league's best running backs. It's how a first-round rookie like Takkarist McKinley becomes a true pass-rush threat who appears to only be getting better. It's how a physically gifted cornerback like Alford learns how to trust his training and begins to look like a shutdown player. The Falcons' defense has enjoyed a breakthrough season, and this group made a loud statement on Saturday night. Atlanta set the tone early in Los Angeles, shutting down the league's top-scoring offense and securing an upset victory to continue its march through the playoffs.