Although Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn has been focused on strengthened his own team coming off a devastating Super Bowl loss, he certainly realizes one NFC South foe, in particular, took a significant step via free agency.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' addition of wide receiver DeSean Jackson could have a significant impact, provided he plays up to expectations. Jackson is the only active player ranked in the Top 40 all-time in yards per reception at 17.7, which is tied for 37th.
"What a competitor," Quinn said of Jackson. "Just knowing his time from Philly and Washington, it’s the quickness. Some people have long speed, but don’t have the change of direction. He’s one of those rare guys who has both. And the thing I’ve always been impressed by him, too, is he can track the ball really late and go up and make the catch."
Now, the Buccaneers have a rather imposing 1-2 combination with Jackson and Mike Evans. Last season, Evans caught 96 passes for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns and Jackson caught 56 passes for 1,005 yards and four scores with the Redskins. Jackson tied New England's Chris Hogan for the league lead with an average of 17.9 yards per catch, and Evans tied Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown for the second-most touchdown receptions, behind Green Bay's Jordy Nelson (14).
In four games against Quinn's Falcons, Evans has 24 catches for 358 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Buccaneers are 3-1 in those games. And the last time Jackson faced a Quinn-coached defense was Week 5 of the 2014 regular season, when Jackson had five catches for 157 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown, in the Redskins' 27-17 loss to Seattle. Quinn was the Seahawks' defensive coordinator at the time.
Quinn was asked about the challenge his defense will have in facing the tall, physical Evans and the speedy Jackson.
"I haven’t gone there yet," Quinn said. "The way that they feature different guys with different tools, that, to me, is where the coaching comes about. When a guy has unique stuff with size or speed or strength or how do you position the players, well, clearly Mike and DeSean are guys people know how to feature because of their unique talents. They’re different, but both are really significant weapons. Yeah, it will be a battle that we look forward to."
Quinn is intent on improving the defense to be prepared for any challenge, including the Buccaneers. It starts up front with the pressure on Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, and newcomer Dontari Poe should help the pass rush with his ability to push the pocket and attract double teams. And the Falcons seem likely to add another edge-rusher via the draft to pair with reigning NFC sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr. The defensive line is coming together.
But the Falcons also suddenly have a surplus of cornerbacks with the return of one-time Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant from a season-ending pectoral injury. Jalen Collins emerged last season in place of Trufant, and the Falcons showed enough faith in Robert Alford to sign him to an extension. Quinn seems likely to play Trufant and Collins on the outside and move Alford to the inside in nickel situations. Brian Poole, who had a strong showing at nickelback as a rookie, won't be forgotten, either, although Quinn said Poole is expected to get a look at free safety as well.
Trufant has shadowed Evans in the past, and Collins has the length to compete with Evans' size (6-foot-5, 231 pounds). Alford and Trufant both have speed, but Jackson is capable of getting a step on anyone if not disrupted.
Quinn talked about having a talented group of cornerbacks.
"I think in this league, the way people are throwing it right now, you better have them ready to go," Quinn said. "Of course having (Trufant) coming back, that's huge. And we're pumped about where we can take C.J. (Goodwin), as a competitor. But you better have them ready. And that's the perfect example -- talking about Tampa and the addition of DeSean."