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Falcons' Beasley still searching for more sacks
Atlanta Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley sits on the bench during an Oct. 22 game against the New England Patriots, in Foxborough, Mass. - photo by Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Vic Beasley says he feels fine, that he's fully healthy and ready to ignite the Atlanta Falcons' pass rush.

Trouble is it's Week 15, and Beasley has just four sacks to rank third on the team. Coach Dan Quinn wants more production from Beasley, particularly in stripping the ball loose. The Falcons are tied for 11th with 34 sacks, but Quinn doesn't believe his defense hits the quarterback enough.

Beasley, a hybrid defender who plays both end and outside linebacker, forced a team-high six fumbles last year. He has just one this season, in Week 2 against Green Bay.

Drafted eighth overall out of Clemson two years ago, Beasley rose to prominence last season with 15.5 sacks that led the NFL. But a right hamstring injury in September forced him to miss two games after the win over the Packers. Though it might still have a lingering effect, Beasley insists there's nothing wrong with him physically.

Atlanta (8-5) has won four of five despite Beasley averaging less than two tackles a game over that span. His most recent sack came six weeks ago at Carolina.

"At times it was bothering me, but I feel like my hamstring has strengthened up," he said. "I feel like it hasn't really limited my ability as a pass rusher."

Heading into Monday's game at Tampa Bay (4-9), the Falcons' defense has improved in scoring from a year ago, moving up 18 spots to rank ninth, and in third-down percentage, moving up nine spots to 17th.

But the team has only four interceptions, second-fewest in the league, and just 11 takeaways overall to rank 29th.

Quinn knows the picks are lacking because the pass rush isn't consistent enough. Without a strong push to beat blocks, defenders don't have the time or space to use proper technique and stunts to reach the quarterback. That lets receivers stay open longer and wears down the secondary.

"Sometimes you may have a game where you have only one sack, but you hit a quarterback eight or nine times," Quinn said. "That can be just as effective as a game where you had four sacks but not as many hits. We know, at our best, that part of our game has got to come to life to try and knock the quarterback around."

Adrian Clayborn leads the team with nine sacks, though six of them came against Dallas. Rookie Takk McKinley is second with five.

Beasley's low sack total wouldn't be such a big deal if he caused more fumbles, but that number has dwindled. His success last year has caused opponents to chip him more frequently with running backs and tight ends. He's also seen higher frequency in double teams.

Another reason for Beasley's decrease in productivity is the offense, which led the league in scoring last year, isn't building as many early leads.

"Teams run a lot of play-action against us to try and slow us down, and they pass a lot out of those formations," he said. "If we can get off blocks and pressure the quarterback in those situations, it will definitely help us."

The Falcons beat Tampa Bay 34-20 three weeks ago with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, but Jameis Winston has returned to lead the offense. He's started the last two games after suffering from a shoulder injury.

"It's going to be tough," Beasley said. "I played against him in college. He's a highly talented quarterback, definitely capable of beating us. We know he's not going to lay down at any point. We expect him to give us his best shot, and he's definitely going to get our best shot."