Falcons Notes: Focus on turnovers sparks offense

Howard Balzer

January 31, 2017 at 2:03 pm.

Jan 1, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley (44) applies pressure to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) in the fourth quarter of their game at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons won 38-32. Photo Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 1, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley (44) applies pressure to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) in the fourth quarter of their game at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons won 38-32. Photo Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

HOUSTON — Beyond the familiarity that accompanied his second season with the organization and the increased knowledge of his returning personnel, Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn attributed the spike in offensive production this season to an increased emphasis on turnover margin.

Quinn and his offensive staff better utilized the tailback tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman while showcasing a stronger understanding of what plays best suited their offensive line, but the Falcons also were fourth the NFL with a plus-11 turnover margin after finishing 27th in 2015 at minus-7.

“I love using turnover margin because it’s a team stat,” Quinn said. “It’s the way that the defense can go after the ball and it’s the attitude and style that the offense can take care of it. We’re much clearer now in that vision than we ever have been in terms of taking care of the ball.”

Beasley’s rise

Linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. led the NFL with 15.5 sacks in his second season and numerous people around the Falcons credit the addition of defensive end Dwight Freeney for having a positive influence on him.

Freeney confirmed he took Beasley “under my wing, and added, “Vic is a guy who has a lot of the same characteristics and traits that I had when I was coming out (of college). I was fast, quick and agile. The thing is when you’re young you don’t know much. You just run around and make plays because you’re athletic.

“My thing with Vic was just try to raise his IQ just a little bit, his awareness, when you use certain moves, when you don’t use certain moves, when you see certain protections this is what this means so you can do different things. Hopefully, that rubbed off on him in a good way so when I am long and gone, keep on doing it.”

Asked if Beasley asked for his help, Freeney said, “I think it was a little bit of both. He’s like a sponge. He wants to learn and I am here to help out however. That is the role of a veteran. The role of a veteran is to help the younger guys and advance their career as much as possible.”

Said Beasley, when asked how Freeney helped his career, “I can’t even put that into words. What Dwight does, he just prepares. You just got to see it for yourself. He prepares so well week-in and week-out. I just try to take everything I can from him.”

Freeney was an unrestricted free agent throughout the offseason and didn’t sign with the Falcons until the first week of August. But there was an obvious method to Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s madness.

“I think the idea to have a guy like that with a young pass rusher like Vic Beasley, and honestly a head coach that believed in pass rush through and through, was going to work with the pass rushers. Dwight knew he was going to come here and we were going to be focused on ramping up our pass rush and he was going to be a big part — whether it was sacks, whether it was pressuring the quarterback, or whether it was going to be leading our young guys — I think that was a big thing for him.”

Asked if he knew the team needed a veteran like Freeney to help lead, but also could produce, Dimitroff concluded, “No question about it. I’ve said this time and again as well: I’m so vehemently opposed to bringing in an older player who is just a cheerleader, and he’s far from a cheerleader.”

In the trenches

Given the multitude of weapons the Falcons feature on offense, it’s easy to lose sight of the role played by their offensive line. In the Falcons’ case, a significant cause for their success in the trenches is continuity. Atlanta has started the same five linemen — tackles Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder, guards Chris Chester and Andy Levitre, and center Alex Mack — for all 18 games this season.

“It’s tough to keep five guys playing every snap or starting every game as an offensive line,” said Matthews, a Houston native and the sixth overall selection out of Texas A&M in 2014. “It’s hard to say, ‘We did this and that’s why no one got hurt.’ It’s worked out well for us. We just prepare well and we feel good about what we do.”

All in a name

Falcons free safety Keanu Neal displayed a sheepish grin when the subject of his first name was broached on Tuesday during media availability.

Yes, Neal was named after actor Keanu Reeves of The Matrix, Speed and John Wick fame. Reeves is a favorite of Neal’s older brother Kelly Hart. “My mom has four boys: two Cs and she had one K,” Neal said, referencing the first letter in their names. “She wanted another K.”

Falcons linebacker Deion Jones shares a similar origin story for he is named after Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, who played five seasons (1989-93) with the Falcons. Jones’ nickname, Debo, is a blend of his father Cal Jones’ two favorite players: Sanders and former Raiders RB Bo Jackson.

The juice

Quinn often talks about “bringing the juice,” so it only made sense for someone to ask him to go in depth and explain what it means to him.

“Bringing the juice is providing the energy for yourself, your teammates and for everybody here,” Quinn said. “Sometimes you’ve got it, and you bring somebody along. There are other days you don’t have it, and the guy next to you will help bring you along. And then there are days everybody has it, and those are the days to look out because we’re ready.

Bringing the juice is a mindset, it’s an energy. I said this the other day, we’re all here, for the players we’re here for eight hours in the day, nine hours. What do we get done in those eight or nine hours? That’s our responsibility to bring the energy, bring the learning, bring somebody with me to help get them ready. So that’s the juice.”

Injury update

Falcons C Alex Mack (ankle) and WR Julio Jones (toe) were limited in practice on Monday but remain on pace to start Super Bowl LI. Both will ramp up their participation in practice Wednesday and Thursday.

“Julio looked great,” Quinn said. “So for him to get rolling just like he did right off the bat, you could feel his intent, you could feel the energy. Alex, it was equally as important for him to get moving and for him to feel like he could participate like he could and feel comfortable.

“I was encouraged by both of them on the first day of the week for us.”