With NFL-low five sacks, Falcons must find ways to generate more pressure

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Vic Beasley Jr. insisted he’s trying to affect opposing quarterbacks, even if the numbers don’t back it.

The Atlanta Falcons defensive end and 2016 NFL sack champ has 1.5 sacks, five quarterback hits and no forced fumbles for the 1-5 Falcons. He’s been the target of criticism for not living up to the high expectations that surround any first-round draft pick, particularly a top-10 selection. But through it all, Beasley continues his soft-spoken, calm approach toward any outside negative chatter.

"I think we’re trying," Beasley said. "We’ve got to just keep going. Against the Rams, we can’t just go out there and lay an egg. We still have a chance. As long as you’ve got a chance, you’ve got to keep fighting."

The Falcons won’t have a fighting chance if they don’t figure out how to generate more pressure in the coming weeks. Heading into Sunday’s home matchup with quarterback Jared Goff and the suddenly struggling Los Angeles Rams (3-3), the Falcons are tied along with the Miami Dolphins with a league-low five sacks. Eleven individual players have at least five or more sacks, led by Tampa Bay’s Shaquil Barrett and Cleveland’s Myles Garrett with nine apiece.

The Falcons are dead last in sacks per pass attempt at 2.6%, and no other team is below 3.5%. They’ve gone three consecutive games without a sack.

In Sunday’s 34-33 loss to the Cardinals, the Falcons failed to generate a single pressure on Kyler Murray's 37 dropbacks, the most plays without a pressure since 2016, according to Next Gen Stats.

"The joker’s just fast as lightning," Beasley said of Murray. "You’ve got to give him respect when it’s due. Takk [McKinley], A.C. [Adrian Clayborn], we had him a couple times. He either threw it or he used his speed to escape."

A deeper dive into the numbers show the Falcons' pass-rushers are beating their blocks. According to ESPN Stats & Info using NFL Next Gen Stats, the Falcons have the fifth-highest pass rush win rate at 54.2%. However, they’ve posted low pass rush win rates of 43.8% and 38.1%, respectively, in their past two games against the Texans and Cardinals. Their highest win rate was 70% against the Minnesota Vikings in the opener, but Kirk Cousins had just 10 pass attempts in that game as the Vikings pounded the Falcons with Dalvin Cook and the running game.

The Falcons simply aren’t closing the deal by taking down the quarterback or by forcing turnovers. They stand at minus-5 in the turnover ratio with just two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Many factors have to be considered when dissecting the effectiveness of the pass rush. It’s not always about sacks. Sometimes, it’s just about moving the quarterback off his spot and forcing him to throw out of bounds or hit the checkdown. Sometimes, pass-rush numbers are skewed when you’re rushing just three and dropping eight in coverage. And a solid pass rush doesn’t matter if there’s a gaping hole in the secondary where a quarterback can just loft a ball to his receiver with no defender in sight.

No matter how you examine the numbers, Falcons coach Dan Quinn expected more pressure from his group heading into the season, particularly after he took over as the defensive playcaller. Quinn’s background is on the defensive line, and he spent extensive time in the preseason working with Beasley and the other linemen on rushing techniques. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett seems to be the only one who truly gets it, with his outstanding quickness and devastating swim move. And the way Jarrett is winning inside, it should make life easier for Beasley and McKinley on the edges.

What can the Falcons do? Trading for another pass-rusher doesn't appear to be an option as this time. Quinn used the veteran Clayborn more against the Cardinals, but that had more to do with playing so much nickel against an offense that likes to spread opponents out. And maybe rookie John Cominsky will get more reps off the edge in the coming weeks.

"What I can tell you is that we’ve displayed the energy and the effort, but it still has to be about the execution; that execution from start to finish," Quinn said. "It could be the rush technique versus the coverage that’s there -- the coverage to make sure it allows the rush to get there. So, we’re going to work like crazy to make sure those two parts are in conjunction.

“That’s where we need to make a good stride this week: to make sure, coverage-wise, we’re on point, rush-wise, we’re on point. You can have a good rush and now an error in coverage can allow the quarterback to throw or vice versa: really good coverage but you didn’t coordinate a stunt or rush game to allow it to get there. That’s the part I would say for coaching and for players that we’re all frustrated with that we’re not reaching the numbers. But I am pleased with the energy and the effort. But the execution of it, for sure, needs work. And we’ll certainly put the work in to do that.’’

We’ll see what improvements the Falcons make against the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks in back-to-back home games that could be crucial in terms of Quinn’s job status. The Rams rank eighth in the league in sacks allowed per pass attempt at 4.88%. The Seahawks, with the elusive Russell Wilson, actually rank 25th at 8.47%.