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NFL: Falcons CB A.J. Terrell earning notice as a lockdown corner

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The Atlanta Falcons’ defense held Alvin Kamara and the New Orleans Saints to three points through three quarters Sunday, then survived a late comeback attempt for a 27-25 win on the road.

Among the Atlanta defenders who gave a stellar performance was cornerback A.J. Terrell, who broke up a season-high three passes from New Orleans quarterback Trevor Siemian and recorded five tackles.

The second-year pro has yet to snag his first interception of the season, but he has helped the Falcons by locking down his side of the field as Atlanta has improved to 4-4.

“He’s been solid,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Monday. “He makes an impact on every game when he’s out there. He continues to improve. He’s had some chances to pick the ball off, and I think next time he probably will.”

There are other ways to grade a defensive back besides interception total — especially when quarterbacks decide it’s better not to throw someone’s way. According to Pro Football Focus, Terrell has allowed just 74 receiving yards this season, the fewest of any starting corner in the league.

Smith was quick to point out that Terrell will attract more attention from fans and the media because of his status as a first-round draft pick last year out of Clemson. Smith said Fabian Moreau has also had a strong season opposite Terrell. The Falcons have needed them to perform, with slot cornerback Isaiah Oliver lost for the season with a knee injury.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Smith said. “(Terrell) could probably tell you he could still play better. I know there (will be) some social media fan boy … when you look at some of these other grading systems and whatever. He’s done a nice job, but he can continue to get better for us.”

That will be pivotal as the Falcons head into Week 10’s visit to the Dallas Cowboys, whose normally dynamic offense features not only Dak Prescott at quarterback but also a talented receiver tandem in Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb.

The Falcons passed over Lamb when they selected Terrell 16th overall in the 2020 draft. A former five-star high school prospect, Terrell grew up in Atlanta before heading to Clemson, where he grabbed a pick-six off Tua Tagovailoa in the Tigers’ national championship game victory in January of 2019.

For now, the hometown connection is paying dividends for the Falcons. On the season, Terrell has six pass breakups and a forced fumble to go with 29 tackles, after making 14 starts as a rookie and racking up seven pass breakups, three forced fumbles and an interception.

But as Smith said, “it’s everybody involved” that he needs to continue producing on defense.

“There’s a lot of people that help and make this thing go,” Smith said. “The contributions that you get from guys, and it’s a long season, you need that. There’s no scholarships given here. Everybody we bring in there, as we say, has a chance to play and contribute.”

–Field Level Media

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