FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Grady Jarrett is off to a great start this season. His stat line will tell you that. The Falcons veteran defensive tackle has 3.5 sacks, 16 tackles – including five for a loss – and 14 total quarterback pressures through four games. He's on pace to set career marks in pressures and sacks.
And those are numbers delivered without context. How and when he earned two of those sacks takes things to another level, with quarterback takedowns against Seattle and Cleveland that set up game-sealing interceptions.
He has been the Falcons defensive MVP, someone in great form entering a pivotal Week 5 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Not that he wants to talk about that. Jarrett doesn't have much interest in evaluating his own performance or numbers independent of what his defense is doing overall.
"I feel like I'm doing the best I can to be the best I can for my team," Jarrett said. "I just want to make plays that are there and allow others to make plays when presented and affect the game. It's a long season. I plan on getting a lot better as the season goes on.
"I'm focused on what's ahead, you know? That's all I can control, is what's ahead and the effort I put in day in and day out and let the results take care of themselves. My main job, my main focus, is to be the example for my teammates about how we work and how we finish the day and how we perform."
Jarrett is performing well. The Falcons defense is performing better. The defense has closed games far better, darn well after some late-game struggles against New Orleans. They have closed out victories against Seattle and Cleveland and put the team in solid position to upset the L.A. Rams in Week 2.
Individual or team success? Take a wild guess which one Jarrett cares more about.
"It takes everybody to be out there, doing their job," Jarrett said. "From play calling to executing the play to making something happen, it takes everyone on defense. It feels good as a unit to do what we need to do to come out of that with a win. We want to continue to get better and build up this defense and this team so we can put a complete game together."
That's 100 percent correct. It takes all 11 to be good on defense. Having a big-time player make a big-time play helps the unit succeed.
Take his Week 4 sack as an example. The Browns had a second-and-15 with 84 seconds left when Jarrett busted through Cleveland's line to put Jacoby Brissett on the ground. That set up a desperation shot on the ensuing play that Brissett threw to Dee Alford to secure a Falcons victory.
That was both Jarrett doing his thing and his whole team executing a play right.
"Whenever someone makes a play, an interception or whatever it is, usually there's more people involved," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "In that particular case, the secondary did a great job of disguising a coverage. It didn't look anything like what it actually played, which made Jacoby hold it just a second longer or at least look. He couldn't just plant the back foot and throw it. By that time, Grady had the guy beat, and so there's always – yeah, it was Grady making a great play – but it was also the secondary doing a really good job of disguising the coverage so that Jacoby couldn't get rid of it quick."
Falcons coaches are actively working to put Jarrett in position to make the big plays he's making individually, which, as he'd surely want me to point out, are done to help the whole.
"We've done a lot of things different. We have," head coach Arthur Smith said. "I don't know how much teams have been paying attention to him, but we've done a lot of things differently. It's a give-and-take. To put more context to it, there are a lot of things we've done differently with him. They've tried to adapt. He plays a lot of different spots for us. Certainly, he's accounted for every play and that's kind of the give-and-take of what you're doing and as versatile as we try to play."
Jarrett is making plays in higher volume, but he chose instead to focus on his role as tone setter and the accomplishments of those around him.
"You want to make progress and we've done that," Jarrett said. "And seeing some of these young guys make plays has been awesome. Dee Alford closed it out for us, and Richie Grant did the week before. We're seeing young edge rushers like [Arnold] Ebiketie come alive. [Lorenzo] Carter has been great for us and seeing TQ [Ta'Quon Graham] turning into what I knew he could be, which has been great. It's encouraging and I'm super excited to be part of this team. I truly believe there are good things ahead of us."
It's clear from speaking to other defenders that Jarrett is striking a proper tone as an example and an executer, willing his team to be better.
"We want to win. We want to be a great defense," Graham said. "I feel like Grady is spearheading that effort, that drive, while at the same time putting a great product on the field. When he's putting that type of product on the field, he gets double teams that set me or someone else up to make a play. Then offenses have to pay more attention to us and that makes this a little easier on him. It all goes hand in hand. We're working more as a cohesive unit."
Take a look as the team puts in the work in Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.