FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — New players. New coaches. New schemes.
Same ol’ results.
For the better part of a decade, the Atlanta Falcons have been trying to figure out how to get more pressure on the other team’s quarterback.
Coming off a season with their lowest number of sacks since the 1980s, the shortcoming quickly cropped up again when the Falcons failed to bring down Jameis Winston in a season-opening loss to Tampa Bay.
With four of the next five games on the road, Atlanta desperately needs someone — Vic Beasley? Dwight Freeney? Anyone? — to step up.
“We all want to get sacks,” Freeney said. “That’s what we’re here for. I don’t care what it is. Our job is to try to get as many as possible.”
Since leading the NFL with 48 sacks in 2004, they have failed to crack the top 10. In recent years, they’ve consistently finished near the bottom of the rankings.
After placing 29th and 30th in Mike Smith’s final two seasons as coach, the Falcons turned to Quinn with the idea that he’d bring some of the aggressive attitude that worked so well when he served as coordinator of one of the league’s most fearsome defensive units in Seattle.
The result: Atlanta managed only 19 sacks a year ago, finishing last in the league with the lowest total by the franchise since 1987 and the lowest by any team since the Jacksonville Jaguars recorded just 14 sacks in 2009, according to Pro Football Reference.
In 2015, the Falcons drafted Beasley with the eighth overall pick to provide the sort of hybrid linebacker-defensive end who would give offensive linemen fits coming off the edge.
But Beasley managed only four sacks as a rookie, still good enough to lead this team’s minuscule output but hardly what Quinn was counting on.
In Week 1 against the Bucs, the youngster didn’t even show up on the stat sheet.
“It’s fair to say I expect him to have a really big impact this year,” the coach said, in what sounded like a bit of a warning.
The Falcons did get five hits on Winston, but it wasn’t enough to keep him from throwing for 281 yards and four touchdowns, including deep scoring plays that covered 45 and 30 yards.
This year, the Falcons brought in the 36-year-old Freeney , who ranks among the NFL’s career sack leaders, to provide a mentor to Beasley and some occasional pressure in a spot role.
Despite his age and playing only 11 games at Arizona last season, Freeney still brought down the quarterback eight times — double what anyone managed in Atlanta.
Freeney, in what has become a familiar refrain on the Falcons, stressed that sacks are just one indicator of how much pressure a team is getting.
“If the quarterback happens to throw the ball quick, well guess what: I don’t care how fast you think you are, you’re not going to get there,” he said. “It’s a little bit more complicated than, ‘Oh, no sacks, no pressure.'”
But one couldn’t help but notice that the Buccaneers — where Smith is now the defensive coordinator — sacked Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan three times last Sunday.
They won the game, too, stamping themselves as a team on the rise in the NFC South.
The Falcons, on the other hand, are a team that remains on the defensive as they travel to Oakland on Sunday to kick off a brutal five-week stretch against the Raiders (1-0).
Quinn, in fact, sounds very much like his predecessor when facing many of the very same questions that bedeviled Smith during his seven years in Atlanta.
“The pass rush isn’t totally made up of sacks. It’s hits, it’s forced fumbles,” Quinn said. But, he conceded, “Sacks are definitely a factor, because you have an opportunity to get the ball out and they lose yards. Those are significant factors.”
The Falcons are definitely a faster, quicker team on the defensive side, which was one of Quinn’s top priorities, but it hasn’t yet led to the sort of game-changing plays he talks about every week.
One week into his second season, Quinn is not going to start bringing all-out blitzes on every play simply to get more sacks on the stat sheet. He remains confident that his scheme will work, especially as younger players such as Beasley and a pair of rookie starting linebackers, De’Vondre Campbell and Deion Jones , get more experience.
“I knew we’d have a challenge,” Quinn said. “We’re not there yet.”