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Facing the GOAT: Falcons' defense must respect but not 'fear' Tom Brady

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Matt Ryan is confident the Falcons can compete in the NFC South (1:40)

Matt Ryan details how the Falcons can stay competitive in the NFC South while facing Tom Brady and Drew Brees. (1:40)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons safety Ricardo Allen has a simple message to his young defensive backs now that Tom Brady has joined the NFC South with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Go make a play on him.

Allen doesn't care that Brady is arguably the best quarterback of all time. He doesn't reflect on how Brady erased that 28-3 deficit to beat the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. And Allen doesn't dwell on Brady's 6-0 career record against the Falcons (including the postseason).

Allen simply wants his younger teammates to look at Brady as a quarterback to disrupt and create turnovers against in 2020.

"As young dudes, you're so used to watching guys like Brady and seeing him on TV, so sometimes you have to tell younger dudes, 'All right, I know that's the guy you looked up to, but now you've got the opportunity to go against him,'" Allen said.

"I tell them, 'If he was your favorite player or whatever, wouldn't it be cool to go make a couple plays on your favorite player?' Sometimes, you have to calm these dudes down when it comes to playing against guys like Brady -- or even Julio [Jones] and Matt [Ryan] in practice. You've got to realize that this is what some of these guys have been dreaming about their whole lives and they're really into these dudes."

Maybe the younger Falcons would be a little awestruck if they had to face Brady in the season opener. As the schedule played out, the Falcons won't encounter Brady as a Buccaneer for the first time until Week 15 at home (Dec. 20), and then they will face him again two weeks later in the season finale at Tampa (Jan. 3).

By then, new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris should know what he has in his secondary and his defense as a whole.

The start of training camp has been a positive sign. First-round cornerback A.J. Terrell has consistently made plays on the ball, and returning cornerback Isaiah Oliver seems extra motivated in competing with Terrell for a starting spot opposite Kendall Sheffield. Veteran safeties Keanu Neal and Allen have worked well in unison coming off injuries allowing for a unique three-safety look with Damontae Kazee. Newcomer Dante Fowler Jr. has shown he could be the secondary's best friend with his menacing pass-rush skills.

Having one of the best defensive tackles in the game in Grady Jarrett playing along with a top-flight middle linebacker in Deion Jones certainly helps the Falcons' chances of improving upon last year. They started the 2019 campaign 1-7, and they finished 6-2, thanks in large part to dramatic strides by the defense in the season's second half. The Falcons surrendered 31.3 points per game through the first eight contests. They allowed 18.6 points over the final eight while seeing their third-down defense go from allowing a 53% conversion rate to 25.8%.

Probably the best defensive effort of last year came in a 26-9 win at the New Orleans Saints, as the Falcons sacked Drew Brees six times and held his offense to 3-of-12 on third down.

Brees is always going to be a problem, regardless.

And now comes Brady -- eventually. As mentioned, the Falcons don't face the Bucs until Week 15.

"It is way too early to talk about Tom Brady when you've got to get A.J. Terrell ready for Russell Wilson, which is Week 1," Morris said. "But with Tom Brady, you're talking about a future Hall of Famer. You're talking about a great quarterback that we all respect but we don't fear. And we look forward to the challenge.

"When you play this game and coach this game, you want to coach and you want to play against the best and their highest levels. That's what we all do it for. So when that game comes -- I believe it's Week 15 -- we'll have a body of work on tape. I can't wait for the challenge."

The Falcons will face top quarterbacks all season, including Brady and Brees within the division; Wilson, Dak Prescott and Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter of the season; and reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes sandwiched between those two late matchups with Brady.

And in the Buccaneers, Atlanta also will battle two highly regarded wide receivers coming off 1,000-yard seasons in Chris Godwin and Mike Evans and the always dangerous Rob Gronkowski at tight end.

Deion Jones, the Falcons' one-time Pro Bowl linebacker, put it best when he said he was glad to see Brady in the division because it's always going to be a "brawl" in the NFC South. Some have touted the Buccaneers as the team to beat and that the Falcons and coach Dan Quinn are in a must-win season coming off back-to-back 7-9 showings.

Winning any bout with the Buccaneers likely will depend on what type of pressure you get on Brady, and his ability to step up to avoid edge pressure calls for a consistent interior rush. Jarrett has that covered, along with Fowler running stunts.

Brady isn't a long ball threat, but he'll pick you apart.

"Everybody knows Tom Brady is a perfectionist and always diligent in working with his craft," Allen said. "Tom Brady, Drew, even Ice Man [Matt Ryan], those are quarterbacks that you're not going to trick. They know what their reads are. They know what you're going to try and do against them. They can see bluffs. They can see blitzes. They see things that most young quarterbacks haven't seen.

"Brady's brain, it's like on another level. He's going to, nine times out of 10, throw the ball to the best spot, the best matchup. He's actually going to go through his read every time and throw it to the best spot that he thinks will win more times than not. He'd rather pick a winning throw than go for the gusto."

New Falcons defensive back Darqueze Dennard faced Brady in December when Brady's New England Patriots defeated Dennard's Cincinnati Bengals 34-13.

"He's just really smart with the ball, really don't turn the ball over," Dennard said. "So when you get opportunities to make a play, you've got to make a play."

Like Allen said from the beginning.