After blowing big fourth-quarter leads in back-to-back games, the Falcons are in need of a closer.
The Falcons (0-3) are sent to face the heavily favored Green Bay Packers (3-0) at 8:50 p.m. Monday at Lambeau Field. (Monday’s start time was adjusted to accommodate the Patriots-Chiefs game postponed by COVID-19.)
“Your standout players go get you sacks or your standout players go get you interceptions,” defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said. “You end those games. You kind of close those games.”
Morris said when he was in Washington, former Falcons Pro Bowl defensive back DeAngelo Hall was a closer.
“He ended games with interceptions,” Morris said. “(Ryan) Kerrigan in Washington, we watched him get sacks at the end of games. He and Brian Orakpo.
“Even going further back with the Buccaneers, we watched Simeon Rice end the game with sacks or Ronde Barber on the back end.”
The Falcons’ inability to stop Dallas or Chicago’s Nick Foles off the bench in the fourth quarter led to losses. The Falcons led Dallas 29-14 entering the fourth quarter of the 40-39 loss. Atlanta was ahead 26-10 with one quarter left in the 30-26 loss to the Bears.
“Those two games that we just lost are crazy and unfortunate, but if we make some of those plays that you can see, the easy ones to see are the dropped interceptions,” Morris said. “I believe (Darqueze) Dennard had a few against Dallas. I believe Isaiah (Oliver) had a few against Chicago.”
Morris noted that the pass rush has been close to getting that key sack or a stripped ball.
“We are right there,” Morris said. “Those are the (opportunities) that you can’t miss when you’re in those winning-time moments.”
Hall, who played 15 years after being drafted by the Falcons eighth overall in 2004, tried to impose his will late in games.
“By the fourth quarter, you got a feel for your opponent, hopefully he’s given you his best shot and hopefully you still have something left in the tank,” said Hall, a three-time Pro Bowl selection. “My whole mindset was just to impose my will at some point in the game. If it happens early in the game, try to sustain that. If it hasn’t happened yet and it’s the fourth quarter, I’m still trying to impose my will. I’m trying to go out there and really make a play.”
Morris used to tell Hall that sometimes, gun fighters get shot.
“A lot of times it works out for you, sometimes it doesn’t,” Hall said. “Rah taught me the one thing that I still used to this day, he said, ‘gun fighters get shot.’ I’m mean, he would say it all the time.
“He would say it when you got Mossed (a reference to wide receiver Randy Moss). He would say it when you got ran over. He would say it when you got juked. At the end of the day, you’re in the business of eat or be eaten.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn has candidates for “the closer” position.
“(Dante) Fowler has that mindset and certainly Grady Jarrett does as well,” Quinn said. “Those are two that come to mind right off the bat. Then, at the end, having the mindset for the ball, (Damontae) Kazee has that, too.
“So, I would say whether you’re sacking the quarterback in those spaces or due to some pass rush, a ball gets up in the air and you come down with it, those are the first three that come to mind.”
Linebacker Deion Jones has closed out games with interceptions. Speedy Falcons cornerback Kendall Sheffield is set to make his first start of the season and wants to help the struggling secondary.
“Yes, I definitely feel like I can make big plays, but it comes with a team effort,” Sheffield said.
Out with an injury foot, Sheffield watched the two collapses.
“It was very tough because we are all winners,” Sheffield said. “We all know what we have to do to win. It just hasn’t (happened) for us. Monday will be a new slate.”
The Falcons know they are up against perhaps the league’s best quarterback in Aaron Rodgers.
“It’s going to be very tough,” Sheffield said. “I’m up for it. I believe in my abilities. The coaching staff has gotten us ready for this game. I’ll be ready.”
Jarrett leads the Falcons with 2.5 sacks. Fowler, who was signed in the offseason to a three-year $45 million deal, has a sack.
“This has been something that Dan and (general manager) Thomas Dimitroff have been trying to address for years now,” ESPN Monday Night Football color analyst Louis Riddick said. “They keep throwing money at the position and trying to….whether if it was Vic (Beasley), Takk McKinley, whether if it’s Dante Fowler.
“They’ve been looking for somebody to come along and help out Grady so when you have leads like that, you know you can make offenses one-dimensional and you can put the quarterback on his back. They really just haven’t been able to find that guy for whatever reason.”
Fowler, who was drafter third overall by the Jaguars in 2015, had 11.5 sacks last season with the Los Angeles Rams.
“Jacksonville thought he’d be that guy,” Riddick said. “The Rams thought he’d be that guy. I just don’t know if he’s going to be that guy, in the way that they are looking for and in the way that Dan is used to, especially with where he came from out there in Seattle where he had guys like that.”
Closing the game is not just on the defense.
“There is a lot that goes into their inability to close,” Riddick said. “The clock-management, game-management on the offensive side. They’ve been banged up in the secondary. Their secondary hasn’t been able to stop anybody.
“So, there are a lot of things that go into it, but there is no question that their inability to address the rush for years upfront has been a big part of it.”
Morris wants his unit to get another shot at protecting a fourth-quarter lead.
“I hope I’m in the same spot, every single week,” Morris said. “You’re talking about a team that could be sitting here at 2-1. Unfortunately, we are not. We are 0-3. We must face reality. We must face those winning-time moments, go out there and get it done.”
©2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)