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Pass Rush Coming Together for Falcons

During his Monday press conference with the local media, head coach Dan Quinn noted his team's ability to affect the quarterback was significant during Sunday's victory. In the past, the Falcons had been "struggling in that neighborhood mightily," according to Quinn, but through October, Atlanta's pass rush showed improvements.

And because of those improvements, the Falcons are on pace for 36 sacks in 2016 — or, in other words, nearly twice as many as they earned last year.

"We are tight as a group. Defensive line-wise, defensive-wise and whole team-wise. We stick together no matter what until the end of the game," Adrian Clayborn said after beating Green Bay. "The coaches bring us all together and the players buy into the system and bond."

Clayborn's performance against the Packers was one of his best in a Falcons uniform. The 6-foot-3, 280-pounder finished with three tackles (all solo) and two sacks. Heading into Week 9, he has 3.5 sacks and a team-high eight QB hits, according to Pro Football Focus.

"You can see he's really started to hit his stride both at defensive tackle and at defensive end," Quinn said about Clayborn on Sunday. "He looks healthy. He was very quick off the ball today. He's one of our best competitors on the defensive line as far as that goes. We were proud of his effort."

Vic Beasley Jr. also tallied a sack in Week 8 and has emerged as one of the league's top pass rushers. The Clemson product has 7.5 sacks, good for third in the NFL and first in the NFC.

"He's just learning, learning how to rush in the NFL," Clayborn said about Beasley. "He's just learning what to do. Freeney's been a big help for him, learning how to rush from the edge. It's been good; he stepped up his game a lot."

Indeed, Dwight Freeney has helped Beasley a lot this season. The 2015 first-rounder credits Freeney for teaching him how to work like a pro, saying the future Hall of Famer has "been so much of a benefit to me with all the rush plans he comes up with every week."

Freeney has chipped in on the field, too, adding 3 sacks and a team-high 28 QB pressures, per PFF.

"At the end of the day, as long as somebody's making plays, that's all that matters," Freeney said. "You want to have the total team defense work."

Quinn has a similar philosophy. On Monday, he described rushing the passer like playing basketball, when "four or five people have to work in concert together."

By blending a high draft pick (Beasley) with a veteran finding his stride (Clayborn), a living legend (Freeney) and a group of valuable role players (Grady Jarrett, Courtney Upshaw, Jonathan Babineaux, Brooks Reed), the Falcons have created that harmony.

"Dwight and Clayborn as well, and some of the other guys, it's the amount of time they spend studying the opponent," Quinn said. "'What pass rush game would work and why would it work? What do we need to call at certain times?' So Dwight's been a real factor for the on-field communication as far as the defensive line goes.

"Oftentimes, on the practice field, it's just that communication that can take place. A hand signal, a look that means, OK, now that we've had some reps and some time together — that's what happens when you spend time together, you keep working together. The group starts getting tighter and tighter and tighter. And I think that's what's happening with that group."

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