The Falcons’ run defense must stop its slide.
If they can’t stop the run against New England, it could be a long night in Foxborough on Sunday against the Patriots.
The Falcons have given up more than 100 yards in each of the past two games. Miami and Buffalo had much success running up the middle.
The Falcons were without tackles Jack Crawford and Courtney Upshaw and cut ties with mammoth space-eater Ra’Shede Hagemen after his domestic violence case was settled.
The Falcons signed 10-year veteran Ahtyba Rubin on Thursday, and he will be considered for action against the Patriots.
They waived defensive tackle Taniela Tupou, who was recently signed off the team’s practice squad in the wake of a season-ending biceps injury to Crawford. Upshaw is set to return from an ankle injury, and he should help the interior of the defense.
“Over 25 runs, you can’t do it OK 22 times and have three that get out long,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “That part for sure is something that we talked about as a group.”
Quinn, who said the Falcons play a lot of eight-man fronts, noted that his players were getting blocked out of their gaps.
“For us, it was more of an occasion of be in the right spot when you’re supposed to be there, do your job, (and) get it done correctly,” Quinn said. “We play a lot of eight-man front. You’re responsible for your gap. When those breakdowns occur to where an explosive play took place, that’s where it had to get fixed. (Upshaw) helps that.”
Quinn did not want to dwell on the problems with the run defense. But the roster move speaks volumes.
“I’m very encouraged about where we’re at defensively, especially the way we’ve improved in the red zone and in the pass game,” Quinn said when asked about the run defense. “We haven’t created as many takeaways, but from a scoring standpoint we’re way more equipped than what we’ve been in my first two years here and playing better defense.”
Then he backed into run defense the issue.
“Am I (ticked off) about the run game, having too many leaky yards, missed tackles? Damn right, I am,” Quinn said. “Do I think it’s something that can be corrected? 100 percent, I know it can be.”
Rubin (6-foot-2, 310 pounds) spent seven years with the Browns, two with the Seahawks and played in two games for the Broncos this season.
After giving up a season-high 138 yards rushing to Miami, the Falcons dropped two spots in the run-defense rankings, from 11th to 13th.
Before the collapse against the Dolphins, the Falcons allowed the Bills to rush for 117 yards against them.
The Falcons are giving up 102 yards per game, which ranks 13th in the NFL. Before the Miami game, they were giving up 93 yards per game, which was 11th in league.
The Falcons need to shut down the Patriots, who average 102.2 yards per game (19th in the league), to make a move back up the rankings and into the top 10.
Defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley believes the defense can shut down the run.
“We understand that it’s a long season, and we have to make the corrections that we messed up on (against Miami),” Beasley said. “We can’t allow that to have (an effect) on us because we are going to New England to play a pretty good bunch of guys.”
The Dolphins ran the ball off the backside of some unbalanced formations and through the middle of the Falcons defense.
“A lot of guys got out of their gaps,” Beasley said. “We had a couple M.E.s – mental errors – there, but those are things that we can correct and we are go in correct those going into this week.”
Rubin may be able to help clogged things up and keep blockers off middle linebacker Deion Jones.
“When Jack went down we had a good-sized player (lost) inside, and with (Rubin) … although I didn’t coach him I knew the style that he played and went back to evaluate him from last year and this year,” Quinn said.
“And we felt it was important to have another guy with his strength and stature inside.”
The Patriots use three running backs in Mike Gillislee, Deon Lewis and James White.
“Atlanta has a very athletic group like (Dontari) Poe, (Adrian) Clayborn and (Grady) Jarrett, obviously, is very hard to block,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “None of the holes that are there stay open for very long. They pursue and close it very quickly.
“We are going to have to do a great job of making our blocks and staying on our blocks and running with the ball to have any success in the running game.”
The diverse running styles of the New England running backs could be an issue for the Falcons.
“They’re really equipped because of the versatility of their running backs and how they want to play,” Quinn said. “Gillislee is somebody that’s featured in a certain way (power runs) different from White at running back. Both of them are good in their own unique ways.”