ATLANTA – In their final four-game stretch of the season, the Atlanta Falcons have placed an emphasis on improved play at the line of scrimmage. Defensively, that emphasis resulted in a five-sack performance that had a greater impact on the Falcons 40-20 victory against the Carolina Panthers than that one stat would indicate.
Defensive ends Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley each sacked Kyle Allen twice during the win on Sunday, with the latter pass rusher forcing a fumble each time he reached the quarterback.
"It feels great," Beasley said of the pass-rush success. "You know, me and Takk we always talk about getting sacks. We've been working so hard, and we just haven't been able to see the production. It feels really good, two guys that have been working hard all season getting that accomplished."
Linebacker De'Vondre Campbell also recorded a sack in the win, and the Falcons finished with six hits on Allen who felt pressure throughout the afternoon. That pressure played a direct role in Atlanta forcing three turnovers, another major emphasis for the team as the 2019 season nears its end.
The first of Beasley's strip-sacks was recovered by Tyeler Davison and set up the first touchdown run of the season for Devonta Freeman, a 13-yard burst that gave the Falcons a 20-10 lead they would never surrender. While Beasley had a direct hand – literally – in forcing one turnover, the pressure the Falcons created throughout the afternoon helped the Falcons' secondary create havoc on the back end.
Safety Damontae Kazee played his centerfield role extremely well, coming away with two interceptions – his second and third of the year. In total, the Falcons had six pass breakups and prevented the Panthers from completing many deep passes throughout the afternoon.
"When the rush is going well it causes the quarterback to get the ball out fast and throw it over the receivers head and you get interceptions," Beasley said. "It all marries together, we all work in unison. It's just good to be able to actually see it in person."
Atlanta's pass rush hasn't consistently landed home this season, but that is partly due to the way the games have unfolded in 2019. Too often the Falcons have been playing from behind, allowing other teams to remain balanced on offense and protecting their lead.
By staying out of obvious passing situations, Atlanta's opponents haven't given the Falcons many opportunities to pin their ears back and rush the quarterback. Consider this: in their four wins this season, the Falcons have a combined 19 sacks; in their nine losses, the Falcons have just four sacks.
The Falcons built a lead in the second half on Sunday, and their pass rush played a big role in helping them maintain it.
"When it's time to go rush, you go rush," McKinley said. "When you get a lead, it's time to go hunt."