Dan Quinn hasn’t asked too much of the Atlanta Falcons in his first season as coach and it’s already paid off.
The Falcons can improve to 5-0 for the second time in four seasons Sunday against the visiting Washington Redskins.
Rather than make any drastic changes, Quinn has provided a simple approach to his first head coaching job. He expects his offensive players to take care of the ball and his defense to be disruptive without being careless.
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"The coaches give us a great game plan, and we go out and execute it," cornerback Desmond Trufant said. "We believe in each other, and it’s really starting to show."
Atlanta, which opened 8-0 in 2012, ranks third in the NFL with an average of 34.3 points and hasn’t committed a turnover since Matt Ryan’s two interceptions in the opening 26-24 victory over Philadelphia. The defense has four interceptions and four fumble recoveries – two of which were returned for scores in last Sunday’s 48-21 rout of Houston.
"For us, it was going to be about the ball, so for us to be plus-four and convert on some opportunities – all units improved (last Sunday)," said Quinn, whose team led 42-0 after three quarters. "That’s our goal going forward.
"That’s a real challenge as we go through it. Can we keep finding small ways to improve? Can we get more turnovers? Can we take care of the ball better than we ever have?"
Not settling for anything is a concept the Falcons have embraced after going 10-22 the previous two seasons. They’ve also welcomed a general team concept.
Julio Jones had 34 receptions for 440 yards and four TDs in the first three games but had no problem with his four catches for 38 against Houston. He even lauded an offense where reserve Leonard Hankerson caught six passes for 103 yards and a TD last weekend.
With rookie running back Tevin Coleman (ribs) out a second consecutive week, Devonta Freeman recorded his second straight game with three rushing TDs while gaining 149 of the 342 total yards he’s amassed over the last two contests.
"Each guy was doing (it) for another guy," said Jones, who enters the week still leading the NFL with 38 catches and is tied for the league lead with 478 yards. "What’s great is we can only get better."
Sporting a 101.2 passer rating, Ryan has thrown six touchdown passes and helped the Falcons score 12 TDs on 15 trips to the red zone.
"I think we’ve got something good going on here," defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said.
Veteran return man Devin Hester hasn’t been part of the fun on the field and won’t return until at least Dec. 6 after he was placed on injured reserve-designated to return with a turf toe injury. It’s also uncertain if linebacker Justin Durant will play after he injured his elbow against the Texans.
The Redskins (2-2) aren’t undefeated but feel they might have something special in the making after rallying for a 23-20 win over the Eagles last weekend. Despite totaling 110 yards in penalties, Washington pulled ahead after Kirk Cousins hit Pierre Garcon for a 4-yard TD pass with 26 seconds left.
"Being 2-2, it’s not 4-0, but we’re tied for first in the division after the first quarter (of the season)," coach Jay Gruden said. "We’re happy about that.
"I like the fact that we’re competing. I like the fact that our guys are giving great effort. And I think the way they’re preparing, the coaches are preparing, it’s going to pay dividends for us in the long run."
Though Washington has won half as many games as it did during Gruden’s 2014 rookie season, it must snap a five-game road skid that dates to a 20-17 overtime victory at Dallas on Oct. 27. That’s the only win in the last 15 away games for the Redskins, who fell 32-21 to the New York Giants in their lone road contest this season.
Cousins hasn’t thrown an interception in two of the last three games, but has 10 with nine TDs while losing the last five of his six career road starts. That slide began with a 27-26 loss at Atlanta on Dec. 15, 2013, in the most recent meeting.
Cousins was picked off twice in that contest but threw for three touchdowns, including one with 18 seconds left. However, the Redskins’ go-ahead, two-point conversion attempt failed. Garcon had seven receptions for 129 yards and a TD in that one.
Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed are tied for the team lead with 24 catches, but Reed won’t play after suffering a concussion and injuring his knee and ankle against the Eagles.
Washington also won’t have its top two cornerbacks. DeAngelo Hall will miss his second straight game with an injured right toe while Chris Culliver, who missed practice all week, won’t play due to some cartilage issues in his left knee, which was operated on in the past.