After finishing with 28 sacks in 2019, the second fewest in the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons made a concerted effort to improve their defensive line play heading into 2020.
That effort paid off for at least one week. Although the Falcons ended up on the wrong side of a 38-25 score, the defensive line was far from the reason. Atlanta made its presence felt early on with its defensive line, showing promise for the upcoming season.
"For the most part, we did a great job," defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. "We made some improvements, and I'm excited to keep building."
Jarrett led all Falcons players with 1.5 sacks on Sunday, but Takk McKinley and Dante Fowler also took Russell Wilson to the turf during the action. McKinley sacked Wilson on the very first play of the game, screaming in off the left side of the defense to tackle Wilson as he finished a fake handoff to the running back.
McKinley showed up to training camp noticeably lighter than he had been previously, and the Falcons are hoping to add more speed to his game. That speed was on display Sunday as McKinley finished the afternoon with a game-high six quarterback hits.
"He's a hard guy to get to," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of Wilson. "So, having Takk have the opp on the first one, on the keeper, and Grady having another one to knock them out of potential field goal ranges. It was good to see that. I know those guys have been working hard in that space, and I would hope to see continued improvement in that space."
Fowler ended up with a half-sack after meeting Jarrett in the backfield to take Wilson down on a play that also featured great coverage by the secondary. One of the team's primary offseason acquisitions, Fowler was not only a factor in rushing the passer, but he played very well in the run game, setting the edge on outside runs and forcing Seattle's backs to cut back inside.
As the game continued to progress and Seattle's lead grew in the third quarter, the situation became less suitable for Atlanta's defensive line to rush the passer. Still, defensive linemen accounted for 17 of the defense's 61 tackles and registered 10 hits on the quarterback and three tackles for a loss.
"Game situations, when the score gets a little hobbled some opportunities to rush don't come," Jarrett said. They kind of go more to run game, more play-action pass game. They make adjustments, so we've just got to continue to rush up front. We were able to get him off his spot a couple of times and rush a couple of bad passes in the second half as well, so it wasn't a total fail."
The defensive line will have to play better than it did in 2019 if the Falcons are to have different results in 2020. Although the season began with a loss, the focus on the defensive line in the offseason appears to be paying off.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks with top photos from the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Week 1.