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Atlanta Falcons' last-ranked pass rush still a missing link
Atlanta Falcons inside linebacker Joplo Bartu (59) sacks New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) during the first half on Oct. 15 in New Orleans. - photo by Gerald Herbert

Falcons at Titans

When: 1 p.m. Sunday

Where: Nissan Stadium; Nashville, Tenn.

On TV: Fox

FLOWERY BRANCH — The pass rush is a missing link in the Atlanta Falcons’ otherwise strong start.

The Falcons are tied for last in the NFL with only seven sacks through six games, and that’s a troubling number for coach Dan Quinn heading into Sunday’s game at Tennessee (1-4).

Atlanta (5-1) has improved in other areas under Quinn, but the pass rush seems to be stuck in the past. The Falcons finished 2014 with 22 sacks to rank ahead of only the Bengals’ 20. This season they are tied for last in sacks with the Dolphins.

There is reason for hope this week.

Miami’s pass rush had only one sack before enjoying a dramatic recovery with six sacks in last week’s 38-10 win over the Titans. The Dolphins sacked Marcus Mariota five times in the first half.

Now the Falcons are hoping for a similar breakthrough against Tennessee’s young offensive line. The Titans are expected to start two rookies on their offensive line — center Andy Gallik and right tackle Jeremiah Poutasi. Veteran Jamon Meredith shared time with Poutasi last week.

Quinn said his top priority for the defense is forcing more turnovers. An improved pass rush can create more opportunities for interceptions and also produce opportunities to strip the ball from the quarterback.

“There are a lot of times you can get the ball off the quarterback in terms of the sacks and the forced fumbles,” Quinn said Thursday. “That’s for sure an area we’ve circled and dialed in on, to say how we can get better at this specific area.”

Vic Beasley Jr., the first-round pick from Clemson, and Adrian Clayborn each have two sacks — disappointing totals for six games. Kroy Biermann, Ra’Shede Hageman and Nate Supar also have sacks.

“We just have to continue to hunt and continue to get after the quarterback,” Clayborn said Thursday. “I feel we’re doing all right. … I guess the numbers don’t show it, but we’ll see. We’ve just got to do better.”

The Falcons hoped Beasley would make a much bigger impact in their pass rush when they made him the No. 8 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.

Beasley has no sacks in the last three games. He has been close at times, but Quinn wants to see more from the rookie.

“I think that’s a tough question only because close doesn’t really count in this,” Quinn said. “It’s all about the finish. The hits are there, but how often do we move the quarterback off the spot? And really let’s make sure we’re all rushing together all four of the guys.”

Quinn said he is happy with Beasley’s effort.

“Although the numbers aren’t there like we’d like them for him, there’s no decline, in terms of the work and attitude to go get it,” Quinn said.

NOTES: Quinn said LB Justin Durant (elbow) and C Mike Person (ankle) remain on track to play this week, barring setbacks. Each missed last week’s loss at New Orleans. … It is possible LB Phillip Wheeler, who signed on Tuesday, could play as early as this week. “We’re really encouraged by the first couple of days,” Quinn said.

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