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Quinn’s Falcons winning with toughness over talent

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — First-year head coach Dan Quinn, who was a driving force in flipping nearly 40 percent of the roster, has the Atlanta Falcons off to a surprising 3-0 start.

The Falcons, who don’t have an elite roster, have won games by staying in the battle and then closing strong in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory. They have trailed entering the fourth quarter in each of the first three games and have been able to rally for the victory.

When things were going poorly against the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday, Quinn lit into his defensive line group. They received the message.

“I love going through the whole process with them, and being at practice and all of the toughness that goes with it,” Quinn said. “I’m hoping when people watch us play the effort, toughness, and the finish comes through.”

Quinn wasn’t sure if he caught his players off guard.

“I don’t know if they’d be surprised, you’d have to ask them,” Quinn said. “I don’t think so; we’ve known each other now for going on probably nine months or so.”

The Falcons started fast against Philadelphia, but blew the lead and then had to take it back.

They trailed 20-10 against the Giants before scoring two touchdowns to pull out the victory.

Against the Cowboys, the Falcons trailed 28-14 before scoring 25 unanswered points in dynamic fashion.

Quinn has seen his team play in spurts. He knows they’ll have to improve to compete with the truly elite teams in the NFL.

“I think our best ball is out there as a whole team where we can collectively do it all together for the whole game,” Quinn said. “That’s what I’m most excited about, and that’s what I talked to the team about. Our best football is right out in front of us as a team from the start all the way through the finish.”

The Falcons have ridden the passing connection of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Former Pro Bowler Roddy White has not caught a pass in the past two games.

Running back Devonta Freeman erupted for 193 total yards in his first NFL start last Sunday, while fullback Patrick DiMarco has helped with his lead-blocking and pass catching.

“I think the mindset is to try and outhit,” Quinn said. “Some of the blocks that he had, and he played very well on special teams and punt as well. He’s somebody that we count on a lot.

“I think two of the adjectives or words that help me describe Patrick DiMarco are smart and tough. Those two things go a long way as a player. He knows where to be and he’s physical when he does it. He’s a really important guy to us.”

Quinn was elated to see Freeman have a break-through.

“I think he really demonstrated the toughness, and he was one of the guys that really set it off for us,” Quinn said. “He’s such a competitor and when a guy has that look about him, he had it. He was definitely one of the guys that stood out for us.”

Quinn also lauded offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan for having the offense clicking in the passing and run games.

“I thought there was a really good design by him,” Quinn said. “He has such a knack of how to attack, and he can go from one play to the next play, set one up, go to the next one, and I think it’s one of the real gifts for him. During all of the chaos of a game, he’s able to keep the focus where some people can’t. I think it’s one of the real qualities about him.”

INJURY NOTES: WRs Julio Jones (hamstring) and Devin Hester (turf toe), RB Tevin Coleman (cracked rib) and TE Jacob Tamme (concussion) were held out of practice Wednesday.

SERIES HISTORY: 4th regular-season meeting. The Texans led the series 2-1. The Texans won the last meeting, 17-10 in on Dec. 4, 2011. Houston running back Arian Foster ran 31 times for 111 yards and scored one touchdown in the last meeting.

GAME PLAN: The Houston Texas, who are coming off a 9-7 season, have Ryan Mallett starting at quarterback. Tom Brady’s former backup led the Texans to a 19-9 win over Tampa Bay last week and will be making his fifth career start against the Falcons.

The Texans like to play a physical brand of football and lean heavily on the rushing attack. Running back Alfred Blue rushed for 139 yards on 31 carries against the Bucs, and Arian Foster (groin) is expected to be a game-time decision.

The Falcons gave up 131 yards rushing in the first half against the Cowboys before holding them to minus-4 yards in the second half. The defense must cut down on its missed tackles in order to shut down Houston’s rushing attack and try to make Mallett beat them.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

–Texans DE J.J. Watt, who had 20.5 sacks last season, vs. Falcons RT Ryan Schraeder, who has been solid in the trenches: Watt who received some MVP consideration last season, is a force. He flipped a big truck tire over 60 times during an episode of “Hard Knocks.” He has an array of moves to go with his dynamic bull rush. Schraeder will have to anchor and battle the ferocious Watt. The Falcons may chip and send some help in order to slow down Watt.

–Texans LT Duane Brown, who’s coming back from a thumb injury, vs. Falcons DE Vic Beasley, who has two sacks: Brown, a Pro Bowler, has missed the past two games after aggravating a thumb injury in the season-opener. He’s expected to play. Beasley has a sack in each of the past two games. He’s rushing well off the edge and held his out against Dallas’ Tyron Smith last week.

–Texans OLB Jadeveon Clowney, who has returned following microfracture knee surgery, vs. Falcons RB Devonta Freeman, who amassed 193 total yards in his first NFL start: Clowney has played in all three games with two starts. He was the No. 1 player taken in the 2014 draft, but his rookie season was cut short with the knee injury. Freeman ran with authority last week and caught the ball well out of the backfield. The Falcons like to get him isolated on linebackers in space.


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