The Atlanta Falcons may have finally discovered their pass rush.
A team that has ranked 25th or lower in sacks per pass play the last five seasons suddenly looks more than capable of applying intense pressure. The flashes shown by rookie Vic Beasley and veteran Adrian Clayborn on the right side of the line in Friday's 30-22 preseason loss to the New York Jets gave coach Dan Quinn plenty of reason to be optimistic.
"It was good to see Vic play fast," Quinn said in his postgame radio interview with Dave Archer. "It was good to see him and Adrian -- they're getting their timing and their chemistry together over on that right side."
The first-team defense played well as a whole, helping to force the Jets into five consecutive punts to start the game. First and foremost, the Falcons were able to stop the run. Then guys such as Paul Worrilow, Justin Durant and Kemal Ishmael made plays in the back seven.
But when it came to third down, Beasley and Clayborn pinned their ears back and got after it. On a third-and-9 play during the Jets' first drive, Beasley pushed back three-time Pro Bowl left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson while Clayborn made a quick swim move past guard James Carpenter to move quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick off his spot. Fitzpatrick ran a couple of yards but was taken down by Worrilow and Durant to force a punt.
Later, on a third-and-14 play set up by Jonathan Babineaux's tackle of running back Chris Ivory for a 4-yard loss, Clayborn sacked Fitzpatrick, thanks in large part to Beasley's bull rush of Ferguson that essentially knocked Ferguson into Fitzpatrick. Clayborn just cleaned up the mess.
And finally, Clayborn and Beasley teamed up on a stunt that resulted in Beasley rushing up the middle and tipping a Fitzpatrick pass incomplete on third-and-6, forcing another punt.
Beasley showed the full arsenal all night, rushing from both sides and even giving folks a taste of a devastating spin move.
Quinn's 4-3 attacking scheme has the Falcons playing a lot freer and faster, but the added speed of Beasley, Clayborn and O'Brien Schofield obviously has elevated the level of play. Schofield himself nearly got a sack while pressuring Fitzpatrick.
The pass rush group of Beasley, Clayborn, Babineaux and Schofield looked dominant. Babineaux saw more snaps with Ra'Shede Hageman sidelined with a concussion.
"We wanted to come out and play our style of football," Babineaux said. "Unfortunately, our first unit, we didn’t go out there and get the ball back -- our type and style of football -- but we got after them. We got to the ball and tried to harass the quarterback a few times in the backfield and tried to make some plays."
The Falcons finished with three sacks and four quarterback hits. Stansly Maponga got a sack for the second consecutive game as he looks to earn a roster spot.