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  1. Jonathan Massaquoi making impact with more playing time Oct 20 8:00AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com BALTIMORE -- Jonathan Massaquoi obviously didn't want to make too big a deal out of his performance on Sunday considering his Atlanta Falcons lost to the Ravens, 29-7. But there was no denying the significant contribution Massaquoi made in defeat. The outside linebacker/defensive end was as active as he has been all season, finishing with six tackles, a tackle for a loss, and two quarterback hits while also drawing a couple of holding calls. He was able to build on the momentum he gained during last week's loss against the Chicago Bears. So what has been the spark behind Massaquoi's inspired play? "I ain't doing nothing better. It's just all mental," Massaquoi said. "Ain't nothing changed. It's a mental game. Once you have the mental part of it, everything else, physically, is God-given. You have to come to peace with everything. "You can't really ask me that question when I've only been given so many reps throughout the season. Things are starting to change. Hey, that allows you to change mentally as a person and feel comfortable. You know what I mean?" Massaquoi played 51 of 67 defensive snaps against the Ravens for 76 percent participation. His previous high percentage was against the Bears, when he played 59 percent (43 of 73). "Jonathan Massaquoi put some pressure on the quarterback; got a couple of holding calls," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "I still felt like we left some sacks out there. ... But I did think that Jonathan Massaquoi did some good things." Although his pressure was consistent Sunday, Massaquoi did not record a sack. And it bothered him. "That's what gets you even more hungry to go out and work hard every week, because you were just that close," said Massaquoi, who leads the team with two sacks. "I've got to get better this week."
  2. Sunday, October 19, 2014 Falcons have no chance if offense continues to struggle By Vaughn McClure OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A while back, wide receiver Roddy White said he believed his Atlanta Falcons had enough firepower to average 30 points per game. White should have put this disclaimer behind his statement: only if Matt Ryan has adequate time to throw and get the offense into a rhythm. Such was far from the case during Sunday's 29-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. This high-octane Falcons offense looked rather pedestrian in scoring 20.3 points less than their season average. Ryan, who completed 29 of 44 passes for season-low 228 yards and a touchdown, was sacked a season-high five times and was hit nine times. The Falcons managed a mere 4-of-15 on third down. And the third-ranked offense in the league set a new season-low with 254 total yards. "We've got to play ahead of the sticks, and we're not doing that right now," said White, who has nine catches for a season-high 100 yards in defeat. "It's frustrating because we're going out there and we're digging holes and we're basically putting ourselves in them. We aren't getting out of them. It's hurting our defense. It's hurting our team. The Falcons struggled to protect QB Matt Ryan, who was sacked a season-high five times. "Right now, we're just not that good on offense." The line took its share of the blame for the woes. Losing center Peter Konz was far from the main reason for the protection issues. "We didn't give Matt enough of a chance to make things happen down the field," said left guard Justin Blalock. "[The Ravens] played well. They played very, very well. They got after us, were able to exploit some things in protection. And obviously, they are very good players on top of that. They came out and played their ***** off today." The Falcons sit at 2-5 and have lost four in a row as they prepare for a week-long stay in London for next Sunday's matchup with the Lions. Any hope of ending the losing skid depends on fixing the sudden issues on offense, particularly if the defense shows the type of improvement it did Sunday. Ryan really had no chance against a strong Ravens defensive front that swarmed from all directions. "When you go out there and get beat soundly, I think everybody knows we've got to play better across the board," Ryan said. "We've all played football for long enough to know when you're getting your butt kicked, you've got to do something different and something better. "I think across the board -- offense, offensive line, running backs, tight ends, wide receivers -- we've got to do this together. We've got to become better today. Hopefully, we're able to find a way to get that done this week." Twice in the third quarter, the Falcons failed on fourth-down plays as they trailed 20-0. One was a fourth-and-7 play from the Ravens' 37-yard line which resulted in Ryan getting sacked for a 12-yard loss. The other was a fourth-and-1 play on the very next drive when Ryan threw a short pass to Devonta Freeman, who got thrown down for no gain. "The first fourth down that we had, we had a little drive going and it was right out of the half," White said. "I felt like if we would have got that and could have just gone down and scored a touchdown, we would have been A-OK. "It's frustrating, especially when your coach is pushing the pedal to the metal. [Coach Mike Smith] is giving us an opportunity on offense, going for it on fourth down instead of kicking field goals. He's giving us chances that we have to go out there and execute. That's not on the head coach. That's not on the coaching staff. That's on the players." The season continues to look like a lost one as the Falcons play their next three games away from the Georgia Dome. They haven't won a road game since Week 13 of last season against Buffalo in Toronto. The only thing working in their favor is a weak NFC South, with none of the four teams above .500. "It's tough, but nothing is impossible though," receiver Julio Jones said. "We just have to keep fighting. We can turn this thing around if we get going. We can be 11-5, you know that though? We can be 11-5."
  3. Sunday, October 12, 2014 Rapid Reaction: Atlanta Falcons By Vaughn McClure ATLANTA -- A few thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 27-13 loss to the Chicago Bears at the Georgia Dome. What it means: The Falcons needed this one badly but instead dropped to 2-4. It was their third loss in a row and first at home this season. The Falcons won't be back at the Georgia Dome until Nov. 23 against Cleveland. That means their next four games are on the road, including a "home" game against the Detroit Lions in London (Oct. 26). Things look rather bleak for the Falcons moving forward. Stock watch: Mike Nolan can't go out there and make plays, but the Falcons' defensive coordinator knows he has to absorb a bulk of the blame for the defensive woes, which makes his stock fall. In all fairness to Nolan, he doesn't have enough talent to work with, and it has caused him to be too conservative at times. There were a few signs of progress with the pass rush Sunday, but not enough to prevent Bears quarterback Jay Cutler from setting a new career high in passing yards with 381. There is no quick fix for Nolan. This defense is going to be bad this season, period. Dropping the ball: The Falcons never really got a chance to get going on offense, thanks in large part to a handful of drops by Levine Toilolo (three), Julio Jones and Roddy White. Since the Falcons obviously have to win games with their offense, the last thing they can afford to do is drop the ball. White has had more issues with drops lately, which is unfortunate for a veteran player with such dynamic ability. Toilolo is still young and learning, but he works enough on the Jugs machine after every practice to prevent this from happening. Game ball: The game ball has to go to Antone Smith once again, since he seems to be the only thing Falcons fans can be excited about these days. Smith scored his fifth touchdown of the season on a 41-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter. He has averaged 51 yards per scoring play this season. What's next: The Falcons visit Baltimore (4-2) next Sunday to visit a Ravens team that just demolished the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 48-17.
  4. Sunday, October 5, 2014 Falcons blue over red zone inefficiency By Vaughn McClure EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The last thing a sulking Roddy White wanted to hear was anything about how he guaranteed that he would score a touchdown against the New York Giants. Especially after the Atlanta Falcons' offense missed out on two red zone opportunities in the first half, then got stuck in neutral for the final 30 minutes of a 30-20 loss Sunday. A couple touchdowns instead of field goals and maybe we're talking about ending a road losing streak at four instead of extending it to five. A pair of touchdowns and maybe the (Met)life is sucked out of the Giants' home crowd. "It hurt us," White said of the missed opportunities. "It hurt us down the stretch. When you get short fields and you get turnovers, you've got to score touchdowns in this league, especially on the road, with how hard it is to win on the road. When we were kicking field goals, we gave them an opportunity, a chance." The Falcons entered Sunday's game with the league's best red zone touchdown percentage, scoring touchdowns on eight of nine trips. Sunday, they managed just one such score in three attempts, looking more like the team that ranked 22nd in red zone efficiency last season. "Those are red zone situations that we would like to have put the ball in the end zone," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "And we know against a good offense and a good quarterback like Eli Manning that when you kick field goals when you get down there, you really put yourself behind." The first failure came on a third-and-4 right at the beginning of the second quarter, a drive that began after Eric Weems recovered a fumble on special teams at the Giants' 21-yard line. Quarterback Matt Ryan delivered a shovel pass to touchdown-maker Antone Smith, but Smith managed just a yard. The Falcons settled for Matt Bryant's 20-yard field goal. Then with 11 seconds remaining before halftime, the Falcons faced a third-and-goal at the 2-yard line. White ran a slant but couldn't come up with the ball as Giants linebacker Jameel McClain and cornerback Prince Amukamara converged on him. The Falcons again had to be content with a Bryant 20-yard field goal and 13-10 halftime lead. "We had a chance right there to put them away," White said. "We didn't handle our business on offense because we didn't convert in the red zone. We didn't get those touchdowns that we needed." Speaking specifically about his red zone chance, White said it led to a discussion about what could have been done differently. "We didn't run any fade routes today, but we talked about it on the sideline," White said. "We talked about it [happening] if we got another opportunity down there, but unfortunately we didn't get down there." And the Falcons' chances of winning slowly faded away as they surrendered a 10-point third-quarter lead and failed to build momentum off Smith's 74-yard catch-and-run touchdown. The defensive pressure was missing, as usual. And third-down was a problem on both sides, with the offense converting just 2 of 13 chances (15 percent) and the defense surrendering 9 of 15 third-down chances (60 percent) to the Giants. But even Ryan had to revert back to the red zone misses. "It came down to we weren't as efficient as we needed to be in the red zone," Ryan said. "And obviously, we were not as good as we wanted to be on third down."
  5. Peter Konz on the spot in rebuilt Falcons offensive line Sep 30 6:45PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Center Joe Hawley, with his tendency to mix it up with opponents, set an aggressive tone for the Atlanta Falcons from the very start of the season. The team will sorely miss that aspect of Hawley's character, maybe just as much as his consistent play. With Hawley shelved for the remainder of 2014 following an ACL tear, the onus is on former second-round pick Peter Konz to step in and maintain at least a solid level of play at the center position. Some might consider it too much to ask from a guy who was benched twice last season and physically pushed around. But Konz, who reshape his frame this offseason, seems to have a little more of an edge to him this year. "I want to play with a chip," said Konz, who has 25 career starts going into Sunday's game versus the New York Giants. "I want to play like I've got something to prove because it means a lot to me. And this game means a lot to me; this team means a lot to me. So whatever happens, I want to go in there and play better than I've ever played just to prove myself, just to prove I can do it. It's just as much about that as it is about having fun." As things stand now, the Falcons will proceed with a line combination of rookie Jake Matthews at left tackle, Justin Blalock at left guard, Konz at center, Jon Asamoah at right guard, and Gabe Carimi at right tackle. If Blalock continues to have issues with a back injury, Carimi would most likely end up at left guard with Ryan Schraeder stepping in at right tackle. Newcomer Cameron Bradfield and Harland Gunn, who was promoted from the practice squad, provide depth at tackle and guard, respectively. The Falcons now have lost Hawley, Holmes, left tackle Sam Baker (knee) and versatile linemen Mike Johnson (Lisfranc) to season-ending injuries. Hawley was the unquestioned leader of the line, something Konz might not be able to duplicate in terms of being vocal. But he'll win over a lot of teammates and coaches by being much more physical than he was last season. "Pete did a lot of work on his body in the offseason," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "He wanted to change his body, which he did. He wanted to become a more physical player, which that has shown up on film. "In regard to the chip, that's a personal thing. ... The bottom line is, if you're a pro football player and your number's called, then you're expected to perform. We have very high expectations for Pete, and for anyone else that's going to step up that they will do that." Carimi, who played with Konz at Wisconsin, expressed faith in his old college buddy. "Peter is everything you want in a center," Carimi said. "He's smart and strong. He comes to work every day wanting to be better. He'll play winning football every week for us."
  6. Thursday, September 25, 2014 Is Falcons receiver Julio Jones better than ever? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- By Vaughn McClure FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- If there were any doubts about how Julio Jones would perform coming off a second right foot surgery, the Atlanta Falcons receiver answer those doubts through the first three games. Jones currently leads the NFL in receiving yards with 365. He is tied for third in the league with 23 receptions, and he also has three touchdowns. Jones has a league-leading six receptions on passes thrown 20-plus yards down the field, according to ESPN Statistics and Information. He has been targeted 10 times in such a scenario and has a spectacular, 40-yard, over-the-shoulder touchdown to his credit. Fellow receiver Roddy White couldn't stop talking about Jones on Thursday. "He's playing at a very high level," White said. "We're going to expect him to play like that every game. ... We're going to need it to get wins, especially when we go out there on the road and have to fight to get Ws. It's so hard to win on the road in the NFL. "He's big, he's fast, and he's strong. I mean, you just don't see guys that are 225 (pounds), can run like he can and just get in and out of routes like he can. He's worked at it since the time he's been here; trying to get better each and every year. His concepts and grasp for the game, and understanding coverage and what defenses are trying to do to (him), is at a very high level right now. So, he's going to be a tough guard. It's going to be hard for anybody to guard him; how he's playing and how confident he is right now." Jones draws comparisons to Detroit's Calvin Johnson, although Johnson typically is considered the league's top receiver. "He's going to be the best wide receiver in this league, if he ain't already," White said of Jones. As the Falcons prepare for Sunday's game at Minnesota, Jones' role will be crucial in terms of the offense getting off to a much-needed fast start. Jones caught two passes for 39 yards during last week's opening drive against Tampa Bay, which ended with Matt Ryan's 3-yard touchdown pass to Harry Douglas. Jones talked during the preseason about how becoming physically stronger has worked to his advantage. He used a specific example. "As far as being stronger, I can get in and out of my cuts easier because my quads are very strong now," Jones said Thursday. "Last year, they weren't as strong, so I was using more of my hamstrings. So now I'm able to explode out of my cuts and, therefore, get separation from DBs." Jones, now in his fourth season, already separated himself as one of the elite receivers in the league.
  7. Sunday, September 28, 2014 W2W4: Falcons vs. Vikings By Vaughn McClure Here are a few things to watch as the Atlanta Falcons attempt to end a three-game road losing streak against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium: Devin Hester just set the NFL record for return touchdowns with his 20th against Tampa Bay last week. Now, he will face a Vikings team he tormented often while with the Chicago Bears. In fact, Hester has four career kick-return touchdowns against the Vikings, including a then-record setting 14th kick return score at Minnesota in December of 2010. Hester also set a single-game Bears’ record with 249 kickoff returns yards against the Vikings last season. "Guys that were on special teams for them are starting on defense now," Hester said. "It’s a totally different unit. You might have one or two guys who are still out there. It’s the same special teams coach, but different personnel." The Vikings have quite a dynamic, all-around threat themselves in wide receiver/return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said the team has to find ways to get Patterson the ball. He seems likely to be rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's top target on Sunday if it’s not veteran Greg Jennings. Patterson will be a challenge for the Falcons' defensive backs. "Very explosive," cornerback Desmond Trufant said of Patterson. "Once he gets the ball, it’s like a kick return every time he gets the ball. He’s trying to take it to the house. We’ve got be aware of him on special teams as well, too. That’s really where he’s most dangerous. He’s a great player. He’s got a bright future." Falcons right tackle Lamar Holmes held up OK last week against Tampa Bay following a dismal showing at Cincinnati. Once again, Holmes will be on the spot to bring his A-game on the road. He could face quite a challenge against veteran defensive end Brian Robison, who doesn’t have a sack yet this season, but totaled 25.5 sacks the previous three seasons. "He’s a **** of a player," Holmes said of Robison. "It’s not like he’s the type of player that just gives up after the initial contact. He works hard to get everything he gets. You just have to come to play against him. If you punch him, he’s coming back with something else to see if you can stop that."
  8. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Raving about the talents of Devin Hester seems to be a weekly theme for the Atlanta Falcons. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter continued to gush about his newly discovered weapon Tuesday when asked about Hester increased role in the Falcons' offensive scheme. "The thinking is simple: All players usually get what they deserve," Koetter said. "Devin has played his way into more plays. I've told you before, when Devin signed here, I was thinking, 'Chicago didn't use him. Why are we going to use him?' And Smitty [coach Mike Smith] was talking to (wide receivers coach) Terry [Robiskie] and I saying, 'Hey, we've got to find some stuff for Devin.' "Devin has totally earned everything he's got by how he plays in practice. It's true of any player, it just happens that Devin (is) the greatest kick-returner in league history. But Devin, he's earned it by studying, by fitting in, by making plays in practice. Devin is a way better route-runner -- I think I told you this last week -- than I ever knew. He's got tremendous range. We knew he had speed, but I didn't realize he had that type of catching radius and range and hands." Hester enters Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings ranked sixth in the league in combined yards with 390. He has 168 kickoff-return yards, 126 receiving yards, 76 punt-return yards, and 20 rushing yards. The latter was a touchdown off a reverse against the Buccaneers, the type of play most expected would be a part of Hester's small offensive package. But the fact that Hester has played 62 snaps at wide receiver through three games keeps defenses from keying on him when he enters the game, that and the presence of top receiver Julio Jones. "When a guy is in the game a lot, it's easier to do unique things with him because it doesn't look unusual that he's in the game," Koetter said of Hester. "We got into situation last year where at times, every time we put Antone [smith] in the game, he was getting the ball. "Devin's been playing enough regular wide receiver that they can't just look at it and say, 'Hey, watch a reverse.' Of all the plays ... we've run one reverse. He's getting it in different ways. And we still have some other ways that have yet to be shown as well." http://espn.go.com/b...co/8WB9XuhkrD"}
  9. Matt Ryan: Julio Jones better than ever Sep 19 3:10AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com ATLANTA -- Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had quite an impressive night himself in a 56-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, setting franchise single-game records for completion percentage (87.5 percent) and passer rating (155.9). However, he was more excited to talk about wide receiver Julio Jones than his own marks. Jones, showing no ill effects of an injured ankle he suffered last week in Cincinnati, caught nine passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns, including a falling, over-the-shoulder 40-yard touchdown grab good enough to be a "SportsCenter" Top 10 play for the next week. "It was a **** of a catch," Ryan said. "Just his ability to adjust as the ball goes over his shoulder, as good as it gets. He had a great release on the route. It's something that we feel like we can give him a chance because he's one of those guys that has the ability to make those kind of plays. He showcased that tonight." Jones, who missed most of last season following right foot surgery, now has 23 catches for 365 yards with three touchdowns. He did not speak to the media following Thursday's game. But Ryan had plenty to say about his top target. Jones is expected to have a major impact on a weekly basis, but his role was even more emphasized Thursday with Roddy White (hamstring) sidelined. The Buccaneers had no answer for Jones and didn't really alter their defensive strategy to slow him down. "Julio is as good as he's ever been, if not better," Ryan said. "He's only going to continue to get better because he's got a better understanding of defenses that he's going against. He's got a better understanding of our offense. I think he's playing the best he's ever played." So that would make Jones virtually unstoppable, correct? "Yeah," Ryan said. "Defenses are going to have certain ways that they're going to try and stop him. But we feel like anytime he gets in that one-on-one situation, that's a win for us."
  10. Corey Peters makes most of his snaps Sep 19 9:15AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com ATLANTA -- Lost in the hoopla surrounding record-setting nights by both Devin Hester and Matt Ryan was the outstanding performance by Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters. In looking at the defensive snaps, Peters played 34 of the 60 possible snaps, or 57 percent. He ended up with a sack, four tackles for losses, and two quarterbacks hits in the Falcons' 56-14 thumping of the Buccaneers. Remember, Peters returned on a one-year contract this season after tearing his Achilles last December. If he continues to dominate like he did Thursday night, he'll earn himself a nice payday sometime soon. It's obvious Peters is over the frustration that came with the long recovery from a major injury. He's also much more motivated these days. "I'm really enjoying the game much, much more than I have in the past," Peters said. "I think I was kind of taking it for granted. And when I got injured, I said that I would never do that again. I'm just enjoying it all, man." Here a few other highlights from the snap counts: *Rookie left tackle Jake Matthews played 50 snaps before he was pulled with the game well in hand. He returned to the lineup off a left ankle injury and made an obvious difference in terms of protecting Matt Ryan. And he showed no ill-effects from the injury. *Safety Kemal Ishmael played 34 of 60 defensive snaps as defensive coordinator Mike Nolan showed more of that three-safety look with William Moore, Dwight Lowery, and Ishmael. It obviously paid off as Ishmael had a pick 6. *Designated pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora played 28 snaps and had his most effective game of the season in terms of generating pressure. Peters credit Umenyiora for applying the pressure that led to his sack, while Ishmael also singled out Umenyiora's pressure on his interception and 23-yard touchdown. Umenyiora didn't get a sack but he was credited with his first quarterback hit of the season as the Falcons had seven quarterback hits. *Eric Weems played 33 snaps at receiver as Harry Douglas exited the game with a foot injury and did not return. Weems made some plays, too, finished with four catches for 69 yards while being targeted five times, the second-highest targets on the team behind Julio Jones (11).
  11. Falcons should be thankful to have Hester September, 19, 2014 2:50AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com ATLANTA -- As he stood at the podium relishing his new NFL record for return touchdowns, an emotional Devin Hester acknowledged a handful of folks who helped him along the way. The Atlanta Falcons receiver/return man started by thanking God. Then he talked about how his mother, Juanita Brown, encourages him on a daily basis. "Every day before I leave the hotel, I call her and I get a prayer from her," Hester said. "She just motivates me to go out and do what this team is capable of doing and what I'm capable of doing." Then Hester praised his mentor, former Atlanta Falcon and current television analyst Deion Sanders, whom Hester surpassed with his 20th return touchdown in Thursday night's 56-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hester paid tribute to Sanders by high-stepping to the end zone while striking a Deion-style pose as he returned a punt 62 yards for a score. Hester wanted to save the ball for Sanders. "But the ball is on the way to Canton, Ohio," he said of where the Pro Football Hall of Fame is located. "They hurried up and took the ball from me. When I get it back, you know I am going to give him the ball." Sanders, who was on the sideline for CBS/NFL Network, told Hester he almost pulled a hamstring sprinting toward the end zone to follow him. "It is tough to break record from a guy that holds it that's my No. 1 mentor," Hester said. "The relationship that Deion and I have started back in college, and to this day I get a text from him every day. Every day I wake up, that's my alarm. "I kind of teared up a little bit, and he knows that if anyone was capable of breaking that record and he wanted anyone to break it, then I knew it was going to be me." Hester couldn't forget Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith, the man who drafted him in Chicago when Smith was the Bears' head coach. The two shared a moment before the game, and Hester mentioned that although he hated playing against Smith, at least his old coach would be there if he happened to break the record. He did. Indeed, this was Hester's night. But it symbolized much more than a historic moment. The energy he brings and his production will only help the Falcons thrive. "You can’t say enough about him," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "Devin's been awesome since he's gotten here. And he is as good a teammate as you could ask for. He works as hard as anybody I've been around. And he's extremely humble. I couldn't be more happy for him to break the record tonight." Hester's record-setting return -- his 14th on a punt to go with five kickoffs and one field-goal attempt taken back for TDs -- was far from his only contribution. He scored the first rushing touchdown of his career on a 20-yard reverse in the second quarter, following a block from fullback Patrick DiMarco. But even more impressive is how Hester stripped Buccaneers safety Mark Barron and recovered the fumble after Barron recovered a fumble by Falcons tight end Levine Toilolo. It allowed the Falcons to remain on offense and led to Ryan's 8-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones, which gave Atlanta a 14-0 lead in the eventual blowout. "That could have been one of the biggest plays of the game," Ryan said of Hester strip and recovery. "Kind of channeled some of his inner-defense from college." Hester said he learned the ball-punch trick from former Bears teammate Charles Tillman. Funny Hester would mention his former team. Had Chicago not given up on him, the Falcons might never have seen him in a No. 17 uniform. Now, the Bears might have some regrets. Hester sure doesn't. "Chicago knew I was unhappy with things that were going on," Hester said. "But I'm here in Atlanta, and I'm happy to be here. And that's all that matters. "I know the fans in Chicago hate what's going on. I know the fans didn't want me to leave. But at the same time, me and the organization were both on the same page with me not being happy. So, this is just a new life and a new fresh start for me." And things have started off pretty well for Devin Hester, the Atlanta Falcon. Falcons knew Devin Hester still had “gas in the tank” Posted by Mike Florio on September 19, 2014, 2:06 PM EDT When free agency began in March, receiver Devin Hester wasn’t near the top of anyone’s list. Anyone except the Falcons. “We’d been talking for a number of years about what we’re going to do with our return specialist situation and what we’re going to do with our receiver group,” G.M. Thomas Dimitroff told PFT Live on Friday. “We thought if we could land a legitimate return guy, both punt and kickoff return, and then mix him into that group of three or four [receivers], that was going to help our production on the offensive side of the ball as well. Our feeling was that with Devin, he is an electric type of player as we all know, and that we truly felt that he still had gas in the tank, he still had the explosiveness, and we saw last night, when he gets in the open space how he creates is something that is unparalleled quite honestly, and it’s fun to watch him.” So how did the Falcons evaluate a guy’s potential on offense when he hasn’t played much offense lately? Last year with the Bears, Hester didn’t participate in a single snap from scrimmage. “I’m a big believer in assessing the athleticism, the movement, the ability to start, stop, the body control,” Dimitroff said. “That’s something that there’s no question he has. The fact that he can catch the ball naturally is another big point. And you have an assistant head coach in Terry Robiskie here and [offensive coordinator] Dirk Koetter, who are creative minds. It’s putting him in the right spot to be successful. We all know how important that is and some of the best coaches in this league are able to do that. Know the talent, know their strengths, and accentuate their strengths. . . . “We’re getting out of him what we wanted and more, no question about it.” There’s also no question that the 2014 Falcons look to be much better than their 2013 counterparts. For more from Dimitroff, click the box below. http://profootballta...as-in-the-tank/
  12. Roddy White itching to get back Sep 19 1:34AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com Observed and heard in the locker room after the Atlanta Falcons' 56-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Coach Mike Smith said receiver Roddy White was close to playing after injuring his hamstring in last week's loss at Cincinnati. White himself was confident about playing in the game, and Smith implied White probably would have played had it been a Sunday game rather than played on Thursday. As White strolled through the locker room, he yelled out, "I'll see you all next week," as if to say he'll be ready to face Minnesota. Safety Kemal Ishmael was all smiles by his locker showing his gold. Well, he was golden with a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown to put the Falcons up 21-0 in the first quarter. "It started up front with great pressure, great recognition from the linebackers, and having trust in my corner," Ishmael said. "It was just knowing what was coming and taking a chance." Defensive tackle Corey Peters cracked a rare smile before exiting the locker room. He had reason to be pleased with his individual performance after notching one of the Falcons' first three sacks of the season. Peters, who is finally back to form following last year's Achilles tear, also had four tackles for losses and two quarterback hits. "I think that my attitude is better and I'm just back into the flow of things now," Peters said. "I'm starting to get my feet back under me. It's been like four weeks of practice. I'm just enjoying myself. I'm really enjoying the game." Rapid Reaction: Atlanta Falcons September, 18, 2014 Sep 18 11:50 PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com ATLANTA -- A few thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 56-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Georgia Dome: What it means: The Falcons, whose NFC South record improved to 2-0, are extremely dangerous when they are clicking on all cylinders. Quarterback Matt Ryan set the tone early by marching his team on a a six-play, 70-yard scoring drive, capped by his 3-yard touchdown pass to Harry Douglas, in the first three minutes of the game. The Falcons scored 21 first-quarter points, and it was pretty much over after that. If the Falcons can jump ahead early like they did Thursday night, not many teams will be able to keep up with them. And if the defense plays inspired football like it did, the Falcons could be unstoppable. But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. It's just one game -- although a very dominating one -- but the Falcons have to find their rhythm on the road at Minnesota the next time out. Stock watch: Ryan's stock plummeted last week as he posted just a 48.6 passer rating in a 24-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Well, that's a distant memory now after Ryan posted a career-high and franchise record 155.9 passer rating Thursday, completing 21 of 24 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. His 87.5 completion percentage was a franchise single-game record (minimum 20 attempts). Ryan again made some plays with his feet, and his top receiver, Julio Jones, caught nine passes for 161 yards and two scores. The biggest difference for Ryan from last week was the return of rookie left tackle Jake Matthews to the lineup off an ankle injury. If Ryan gets the proper protection, he'll put up elite-quarterback numbers every time out. Walking wounded: The Falcons left the game rather banged up at receiver. Douglas injured a foot in the first half but didn't return, although he walked around the bench area in the second half. Devin Hester left the field before halftime with cramps but returned in the second half. He then limped off the field in the second half and went straight to the locker room. The Falcons already were without veteran Roddy White, who expected to play in the game but was inactive due to a hamstring injury. The Falcons have 10 days to rest up for their next game against the Vikings, so maybe those injured players will be healed up by then. If not, a guy such as rookie Bernard Reedy might have to be activated from the practice squad. Game ball: As Chicago Bears radio play-by-play man Jeff Joniak would say, Hester was "ridiculous" as he set an NFL record with his 20th career touchdown return -- a 62-yard punt return -- to surpass mentor Deion Sanders. Hester high-stepped to the end zone in Deion Sanders-like fashion, and he also scored his first-career rushing touchdown on a 20-yard reverse.
  13. Falcons' Paul Worrilow tackles his misses Sep 16 6:10PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Glance at the NFL statistics this week and you'll see Atlanta Falcons inside linebacker Paul Worrilow atop the league with 29 combined tackles. It would appear to be a significant accomplishment for a second-year player who came to the Falcons as an undrafted free agent out of Delaware. But the only number Worrilow sees is four: He's counted four missed tackles for himself through the first two games. One was during Sunday's 24-10 loss at Cincinnati, when Worrilow and strong safety William Moore both missed a chance to corral Bengals running back Jeremy Hill on a checkdown from quarterback Andy Dalton. A 3-yard gain suddenly became an 18-yard explosive play with Hill's 15 yards after the catch. "It was just a poor tackle attempt, thinking that you were going to be able to take a shot at a guy," Worrilow explained. "Obviously, we both whiffed. That's something that I usually don't do. I usually try to just secure the tackle and get the guy down. ... That's one that sticks out that you'll never do again." Another against the Bengals occurred when Worrilow couldn't get off a block in time to wrap up Giovani Bernard on a fourth-quarter run. "There was a penalty on the play, and it came back," Worrilow said. "The play might not count on the stat sheet, but that's one of those that plays over and over in your mind as you're preparing for the next game." Worrilow deserves plenty of credit for not being content with his play. He could have been somewhat comfortable following a solid rookie season, during which he led the Falcons in tackles with 127 and had back-to-back 19-tackle efforts against Carolina and Seattle. Instead, he never became consumed by those gaudy numbers after his team finish the season 4-12. Falcons coach Mike Smith appreciates Worrilow's self-criticism and willingness to strive for perfection. "I think the guys that are really truly driven, it's not about what they did well, it's about what they can improve on," Smith said. "Paul is that way. He's a guy who is hypercritical of his play. And when you are hypercritical, I think it's a good trait to have as a football player. "Is he too critical? Absolutely not. I like that. He's a guy that studies the game extremely hard. For a second-year player, I think he's light years ahead of other people that I've been around in terms of his understanding of the game." Worrilow needs to be a sure tackler Thursday night against Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers boast a rather elusive running back in Bobby Rainey, who is coming off a 144-yard rushing outing against St. Louis. Rainey rushed for a career-high 163 yards and scored three touchdowns in a 41-28 win over the Falcons last season. "He's definitely a guy you have to wrap up," Worrilow said of Rainey. "A lot of times I see they (Rainey and Doug Martin) take on the contact and they're going forward for 3, 4 more yards. Like you always teach, wrapping up and not diving is something that's going to be big." Worrilow will try his best to do his part. His teammates have to follow suit.
  14. Physical, mental flubs foil Falcons' defense Sep 14 9:02PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com CINCINNATI -- For a moment, Robert Alford seemed content to dip out of the locker room without uttering a word. Instead, the Atlanta Falcons' second-year cornerback showed his maturity and addressed the big play he surrendered in Sunday's 24-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan sent safeties William Moore and Dwight Lowery on the blitz at Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton on a third-and-6 from the Bengals' 26-yard line. It left Alford one-on-one against receiver Mohamed Sanu, who became a primary target with A.J. Green out of the game due to a foot injury. Alford gambled on the play by diving to knock the ball away. His attempt failed with no safety help behind. The end result was Sanu's 76-yard catch-and-run touchdown that was the beginning of the end for the Falcons. "It was just a mistake by me," Alford said. "I was all over it. I went to hit the ball. I tipped it. I didn't get all my hand over it like coach and them say. ... I've got to make that play. I've got to bat that one down instead of tipping it. I've got to block that junk down." Alford's gaffe was critical, but he was far from the lone culprit on defense. The Falcons got pushed around way too much up front, leading to the Bengals' running back tandem of Giovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill combining for 164 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 42 attempts. Bernard had no problem leaping over defenders when he wasn't running through them. Bernard also gained 46 yards on a quick dump pass right before Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters was able to corral Dalton. At least three missed tackles followed after Bernard broke into the open field. Throw in another day without much pressure on the quarterback and you're talking a recipe for disaster. "They won the line of scrimmage, and we did not tackle well," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "They were running downhill. We had a very difficult time tackling No. 25 [bernard] early in the ballgame. And we have go to improve our rush defense. And we have to improve our total defense." The Falcons allowed 472 total yards to the Bengals a week after giving up the same total in a 37-34 overtime win over New Orleans. The difference this time was, the Falcons' offense couldn't keep pace, finishing with just 309 total yards. "You can't give up [472] yards week in and week out and expect to win," Smith said. "You've got to get stops, force punts. You've got to be able to change the field position. You've got to get some three-and-outs, and we did not accomplish that today." Once again, the Falcons' defense was below standard on third down, allowing the Bengals to convert on 6 of 14 attempts. But no weakness was more glaring than how the Falcons were dominated at the line of scrimmage. Dalton had success early by spreading the Falcons out, but some of that changed when Green exited with his foot injury. After that, it was just the Falcons not being physical enough. Such was not expected against the run with the additions of two run-stuffers in Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson this offseason. "They're a good team," Soliai said of the Bengals. "Give credit to them. They came out and did their game plan well. We've just got to do better. We've got to wrap up. We've got to tackle. "We just have to keep working. Right now, we've just got to focus on Tampa [on Thursday night]. It was a tough one today, but we just have to go out there and keep working."
  15. Falcons have to walk fine line vs. A.J. Green Sep 9 7:10PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- As the Atlanta Falcons prepare to face the Cincinnati Bengals, contending with top receiver A.J. Green without picking up penalties will be a point of emphasis. During their Week 1 37-34 overtime win over the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons were whistled for two pass interference penalties, one defensive holding, and an illegal use of the hands. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 25 defensive holds, 15 illegal use of hands, and 14 illegal contacts were called league-wide during Week 1 as opposed to 8, 7, and 2 in Week 1 of last year. Those were the primary points of emphasis going into the season and led to an abundance of flags during the preseason. Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan continues to emphasize the importance of avoiding such penalties. But sometimes, it's inevitable. "You're always coaching that, but sometimes 5 yards is better than 50," Nolan joked. "They're being real sticklers about the rules and enforcing it. We all know that. "You've got to be like two magnets that won't touch. When you flip them opposite, you've got to be one of those things: You just can't touch it, but you can get as close as you can. So it's a difficult job, but that is the job that you have. And again, when you have players like that that are mismatch guys, you've really got to be at your best." The Falcons seem likely to double the 6-foot-4-inch, 207-pound Green and make the other receivers around him beat them. Desmond Trufant, who Nolan said played the cleanest game of any defensive player against the Saints, might get some one-on-one opportunities. The 6-foot, 190-pound Trufant is savvy beyond his years and capable of getting physical with Green. Green actually started last week's game against Baltimore lining up on the left side then went in motion and caught a 9-yard pass to the right. He lined up in the right slot two plays later, then remained split wide left on the following play. "He's a similar player to Julio (Jones) here," Nolan said of Green. "Similar in the part that he's, for one, he's kind of an Avatar guy, you know what I mean? The movie. He's just bigger than everybody and taller and just a step above, athletically. He's got outstanding speed. He's got very good hands; I think he's got outstanding hands. Like I said, he's a big target. He can do just about all the things you ask of him." Green averaged 21.8 yards per catch in a season-opening win over the Ravens and had a 77-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Andy Dalton.
  16. Falcons OC downplays sideline move Sep 9 8:40PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Maybe Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter didn't want to make a big deal about being on the sideline to start the season, but his quarterback certainly thought it worked to the team's advantage. Matt Ryan, coming of a franchise-record 448 passing yards, acknowledged the impact of Koetter's sideline presence during his weekly radio show on 680 the Fan. "Just something that Mike Smith and Dirk talked about and we kind of experimented with it during the preseason," Ryan explained. "Thought it was good for us. And, Smitty made the call that (it) was going to be the way we were going to go. "I thought it was good. It's great for me, as a quarterback, to have the playcaller right there to be able to talk to him and for us to be able to communicate without any middle man. I thought that was awesome. And I really think it helps our tempo, too, out on the field. We're able to go as fast as we want because Dirk's right there firing off the play calls and letting me know what we want to do." Koetter offered his take on coming down to the sideline from the booth. "I've been down quite a bit in my career," he said. "I was down off and on in Jacksonville. And then for nine years as a head coach in college, I called it from the field. "I don't know how many people are aware, but whoever is talking to the quarterback has to be on the field. If you're calling it from the press box, it goes through -- for us, it was Glenn Thomas our quarterbacks coach who did a great job -- so I would say the play, then Glenn pushes the button (and) he would say the play and say it to Matt. When you're in no-huddle, that's one thing it does is it cuts out the middle man. So, it might save you 4 or 5 seconds." Such time would appear to be important. "It could be," Koetter said. "Anything's important if the players think it's important. I would downplay it. If Matt likes it, then that's great. But it was something that we've done in the past and we wanted to try and get back to it." Speaking of the no-huddle, the Falcons used it at the start of the Saints game and were effective running it throughout once they got going. Koetter said his usage of the no-huddle was predetermined. "Actually we started the game in the no-huddle and we stayed it in most of the first game," Koetter said. "We were in and out in the second half. That's another thing, when I'm on the sideline, we can just get into it just like that. All I tell Matt is no-huddle and we go." Tempo could again be key this week in keeping a solid Cincinnati Bengals defense on its heels. "They've got some talented guys on this defense," Ryan said of the Bengals. "In my opinion, it's one of the better defenses in the league. They're very sound in how they play. They've got a really good pressure package that they bring both (linebackers) to the line of scrimmage and create some problems that way. We're going to have our work cut out for us."
  17. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/8012/third-down-still-issue-for-falcons-defense FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Last season, the Atlanta Falcons had the league's worst third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 45.93 percent of the time. The numbers didn't exactly improve following Week 1 of 2014. During Sunday's 37-34 overtime win against New Orleans, the Falcons allowed the Saints to convert 8 of 13 on third down for 62 percent. That currently stands second-to-last in the league behind the New York Giants, who allowed the Detroit Lions to convert 10 of 15 (67 percent) on Monday night. Falcons coach Mike Smith wasn't the least bit pleased with the third-down defense. "It is a big concern," Smith said. "We had four penalties on defense. Three of the four penalties on defense were on third down. We've got to be more efficient on third down. "We gave up a third-and-8, which is in the defense's advantage. We had a sack (Jonathan Babineaux) taken away on third down because of a hands to the face (Robert McClain) which gave them a first down. We have got to be better in a lot of areas, especially on third down. And it's not just pass rush. We've got to affect the quarterback, move the quarterback. We've got to make sure that we stay with the receivers and have tight coverage." As Smith said, it's not just about a lack of a pass rush, but the Falcons failed to record a sack against Drew Brees after Babineaux's was wiped off the board. Brees is a special quarterback who is tremendous with his feet, but there were times when he had an eternity to throw. "Wasn't good enough," Smith said of the pass rush. "I thought there were times that we moved the quarterback, and it was maybe one guy getting a win. We've got to have much more production from our guys up front in terms of affecting the game." Now the Falcons are set to face a Cincinnati team that ranked in the top 10, offensively, on third down last season. But the Bengals, behind quarterback Andy Dalton, converted just 4 of 14 (29 percent) on third down in their 23-16 season-opening win over the Baltimore Ravens.
  18. Falcons snap counts: McClain plays plenty September, 8, 2014 10:35AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com Note: Some of the snap count figures from Sunday's Atlanta Falcons-New Orleans Saints game in terms of which players participated were inaccurate. The following figures take into account how the snap counts were calculated in the final game book as it was posted. Falcons nickelback Robert McClain wasn't overly concerned about Josh Wilson being listed ahead of him on the depth chart, and for good reason. McClain figured he'd get plenty of opportunities regardless. In fact, he was the first and only nickel to take the field during Sunday's 37-34 overtime win over the Saints. And he made quite an impact, intercepting a Drew Brees pass in the end zone during the third quarter, setting up Antone Smith's 54-yard catch-and-run touchdown that gave the Falcons their first lead at 24-20. McClain played 51 of 75 defensive snaps, while Wilson only saw time on special teams. Here are some other snap count figures: Safety Kemal Ishmael played 14 snaps as the Falcons opted for a three-safety look, at times, with William Moore, Dwight Lowery and Ishmael all on the field. "I love it," Moore said of the look. "Kemal's a heck of an athlete, and I told him before the season ... I told you guys he showed up in training camp and he's been playing lights out. It's just showing a comfort with the coaches that we've got to get this guy on the field. And that's what we did." Julio Jones played 67 of 72 offensive snaps in his return from foot surgery. He had a team-high seven catches for 116 yards while being targeted nine times. Fellow receiver Devin Hester played 20 offensive snaps and responded with five catches for 99 yards while being targeted six times. The running back foursome broke down like this: Steven Jackson (32 of 72 offensive snaps), Jacquizz Rodgers (28), Antone Smith (seven) and Devonta Freeman (five). They accounted for 181 total yards (rushing and receiving) and two touchdowns. Rookie Prince Shembo played 10 snaps at inside linebacker alongside Paul Worrilow, who played every snap and had a team-high 15 tackles. Shembo spelled Joplo Bartu (53 snaps). Osi Umenyiora played 32 defensive snaps as the designated pass rusher but was unable to record a sack. He had two tackles. Starting defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson played 43 and 34 snaps, respectively. Soliai's total accounted for 57 percent of the defensive snaps, while Jackson's was 45 percent. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will be able to decipher Tuesday what type of impact they made in those limited snaps. Speaking of defensive tackles, rookie Ra'Shede Hageman played 15 snaps. Along the offensive line, Gabe Carimi played 59 of 72 offensive snaps at both right and left tackle, while Lamar Holmes played 55 snaps at right tackle. The two knew they would have to rotate at right tackle going into the game. But Carimi ended the game at left tackle after Jake Matthews suffered a left ankle injury. Matthews played 30 snaps before exiting.
  19. W2W4: Saints vs. Falcons September, 7, 2014 8:00AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com Sunday will mark yet another chapter in the storied rivalry between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints. Last season, the Saints won both meetings by a total of 10 points. The Falcons lead the all-time series, 46-43, but the Saints are 13-3 since 2006 and have won six of the past seven meetings. Here is what to look for Sunday: MATCHUP TO WATCH: Falcons right tackle Lamar Holmes vs. Saints pass-rusher Cameron Jordan. Holmes is more likely to face Jordan when the Falcons go with 11 personnel -- one running back, one tight end, and three receivers. If quarterback Matt Ryan is going to stay upright, a lot will depend on Holmes holding his own against Jordan. "They have a good D-line, honestly," Holmes said. "It's going to be a good matchup across the board. You're going to have to come to play and work on technique, like we've been taught." Last season, Holmes lined up against both Jordan and Junior Galette and had his struggles. "From both of them, I learned that I have to have good sets and good hand placement, because last year my sets were not always good and I would get myself in trouble sometimes," Holmes admitted. "Going into this game, I'm just focusing on my hands and my feet, just relying on those to do the work for me." Said Jordan of Holmes: "I’ve definitely watched a little bit of tape on him. I’m sort of looking forward to this game, just because it’s the first game of the season and also because anytime you see some newer names at tackle, you get a little excited." Holmes isn't exactly new, but we get Jordan's point. HESTER-IA: Falcons fans saw flashes of Devin Hester's dynamic ability when he scored two catch-and-run touchdowns playing receiver this preseason. That is a nice bonus, but Hester was signed in the offseason primarily because he's arguably the most dynamic return man in NFL history. Of Hester's NFL-record 18 punt and kick return scores, one included a 64-yard punt return for a score against the Saints in 2007. Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong said New Orleans boasts a solid directional punter in Thomas Morstead. So, will the Saints punt to Hester? "I think they're going to test us," Hester said. "It's the nature of the beast of every team: They're not going to shy away from a guy the first couple games of the season. ... I think they're going to come out having faith in their players, and we're going to do the same. Hopefully the best man wins." Hester has a career average of 12.3 yards per punt return. ON THE DEFENSIVE: Remember all the flags for defensive holding and illegal contact league-wide during the preseason? Well, let's see if that happens to resurface on Sunday. Such would be bad news for the Falcons' secondary, with two physical cornerbacks in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. And whether it's safeties Dwight Lowery and William Moore or linebacker Joplo Bartu, the Falcons will have to get physical with dynamic Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. The Falcons simply have to do their dirty work within five yards and without drawing a flag. "We just have to go out there, play within the rules, and be aggressive," Trufant said. "Definitely got to be physical. They like to take deep shots down the field, so we have to reroute them at the line, get up in their faces."
  20. Saturday special: Cliff Matthews September, 6, 2014 8:00AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com Every Saturday during the 2014 season, we will highlight a member of the Atlanta Falcons' special teams. We start with Cliff Matthews, a fourth-year defensive lineman who was on the bubble going into final cuts. Cliff Matthews by no means thought his job was secure. The Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman managed to hang around the last three seasons after joining the team as a seventh-round draft pick out of South Carolina. He made a few cameo appearances on defense last season, but not nearly enough to say he would be a part of the defensive line rotation moving forward. Plus the Falcons stocked up along the defensive line with the additions of Tyson Jackson, Paul Soliai, and rookie Ra'Shede Hageman. So the 6-foot-4-inch, 268-pound Matthews buckled down and embraced his role on special teams -- something many players didn't do, as you learned if you caught special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong's tirades on HBO's "Hard Knocks." "I knew that [special teams] was going to be a big part of me making this team," Matthews said. "I knew I had to fight for a [roster] spot. And I'm going to take advantage of every opportunity that I get. I just have to show up." Matthews is on kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, and punt returns. "A little bit of everything," he said. "You could see me anywhere." He certainly stood out with his play during the preseason. Just ask Armstrong. "He's another big 'thumper' that ... he kind of fills our role as that big linebacker," Armstrong said of Matthews. "But he's a physical guy; kickoff coverage, kickoff return inside guy that's going to smack people around for us. He's a physical football player. And it's really important to him. "Cliff's going to lay it on the line for you. Really good football player. I love coaching him." It has to be refreshing for Matthews to know he is on Armstrong's good side. Most of the world now realizes what happens to a player who isn't. "I take everything he says very seriously," Matthews said of Armstrong. "Special teams is very important to football. That's what we start off with to start the game. It's just very important."
  21. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/7904/saturday-special-cliff-matthews Every Saturday during the 2014 season, we will highlight a member of the Atlanta Falcons' special teams. We start with Cliff Matthews, a fourth-year defensive lineman who was on the bubble going into final cuts. Cliff Matthews by no means thought his job was secure. The Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman managed to hang around the last three seasons after joining the team as a seventh-round draft pick out of South Carolina. He made a few cameo appearances on defense last season, but not nearly enough to say he would be a part of the defensive line rotation moving forward. Plus the Falcons stocked up along the defensive line with the additions ofTyson Jackson, Paul Soliai, and rookie Ra'Shede Hageman. So the 6-foot-4-inch, 268-pound Matthews buckled down and embraced his role on special teams -- something many players didn't do, as you learned if you caught special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong's tirades on HBO's "Hard Knocks." "I knew that [special teams] was going to be a big part of me making this team," Matthews said. "I knew I had to fight for a [roster] spot. And I'm going to take advantage of every opportunity that I get. I just have to show up." Matthews is on kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, and punt returns. "A little bit of everything," he said. "You could see me anywhere." He certainly stood out with his play during the preseason. Just ask Armstrong. "He's another big 'thumper' that ... he kind of fills our role as that big linebacker," Armstrong said of Matthews. "But he's a physical guy; kickoff coverage, kickoff return inside guy that's going to smack people around for us. He's a physical football player. And it's really important to him. "Cliff's going to lay it on the line for you. Really good football player. I love coaching him." It has to be refreshing for Matthews to know he is on Armstrong's good side. Most of the world now realizes what happens to a player who isn't. "I take everything he says very seriously," Matthews said of Armstrong. "Special teams is very important to football. That's what we start off with to start the game. It's just very important. "
  22. Falcons' Umenyiora tired of losing to Brees Sep 3 8:00AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons veteran pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora has dropped his share of games against New Orleans Saints gunslinger Drew Brees. When Umenyiora first encountered Brees in 2005, his New York Giants lost to Brees' San Diego Chargers, 45-23. Then the next season, when Brees left San Diego for New Orleans, he guided the Saints to a 30-7 win against Umenyiora and the Giants. In fact, Umenyiora lost his first four games against Brees and is 1-6 all-time against him, including 0-2 upon joining the Falcons last season. "Basically every time I played him while I was with the Giants, they beat us pretty good," Umenyiora said. "You knew right away, this guy is serious. He ran the offenses tremendously. "One time I beat him, in 2012 (52-27). I think we got up on them and really kicked their *** on offense and on special teams. You get him down, and it becomes difficult. But if they are able to be in the game and they have the option to run and pass, he's going to deal with you, man." Brees is 13-3 against the Falcons since joining the Saints, and five of his 26-game winning drives with New Orleans have come against Atlanta. In those 16 previous games versus the Falcons as a Saint, Brees completed 412 of 615 passes for 4,913 yards with 33 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, and a passer rating of 96.9. "Excellent quarterback; very accurate," Umenyiora said. "He knows what he wants to do before the snap of the ball. He's just a great player." Umenyiora, now the team's designated pass-rusher, hopes to be part of the formula that knocks Brees off his game Sunday. If the Falcons can recreate what happened in 2012, when they forced Brees into five interceptions in a 23-13 win, then they'll be much better off. They only had one sack in that game, but it was a game-changing one by John Abraham late in the contest. Maybe the sack numbers won't be there Sunday, but the Falcons have to generate pressure somehow. Umenyiora believes getting a push up the middle and getting pressure in Brees' face, because he's a shorter quarterback, will be a key factor. "Obviously, they've got a very good scheme," Umenyiora said. "All you can do, pretty much, is see how much push you can get up the middle and have good consistent pressure. And that's the key to trying to disrupt some of the timing and some of the things they do." Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan realizes how difficult it will be to pressure Brees. He was the league's top quarterback against the blitz last season while completing 66.5 percent of his passes against such pressure, according to ESPN Stats & Information. "Drew's a great quarterback; he's a Hall of Fame quarterback," Nolan said. "He's very good at recognizing the blitz. He's good at getting rid of the ball. He's good at avoiding the sack in the pocket. He's does a lot of things good that the great ones do. So we have our work cut out for us more than a typical week. "He does have a knack for finding the lanes. I think that any good quarterback will tell you, they really do see through the lanes. They're not going to see over the top of a 6-5 guy. ...It does help to be a little taller to get the vision, but it hasn't seemed to affect Drew very much. He finds them. I think part of that is just knowing how every play is going to develop. He knows where a guy is going to be. He doesn't have to kind of look the field over to find the open guy." http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/7761/umenyiora-tired-of-losing-to-brees
  23. In reality, Kroy Biermann not distracted Sep 4 6:10PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Many folks wondered initially about HBO's "Hard Knocks" being a distraction for an Atlanta Falcons team coming off a 4-12 season. Such didn't appear to be the case as the show concluded this week. "It was good," said outside linebacker/defensive end Kroy Biermann, who was featured at home during the documentary. "I think they portrayed the team very well. It added some very competitive elements to camp. And I think, overall, it went pretty well." For Biermann, being followed by cameras is a natural part of life. His wife, Kim Zolciak, stars in the reality show "Don't Be Tardy" on Bravo. Biermann, of course, plays a big part in the show. However, he insisted it hasn't detracted from what he is trying to accomplish for the Falcons. "Like I've told people in the past, that's her deal," Biermann said Thursday. "That's her job. That's something that she really enjoys to do. And, I don't mind. I'm around. I'm in the house. And so, that's kind of where you see me. I'm not really that big of a role in the show because it's her deal. But we're a family so when they're filming her, I might be around. "There are boundaries there that they know they can't cross with me. It's a balance, but it's not too hard." The reality for Biermann is he has to be more productive on the field going into his seventh NFL season. He has 16.5 career sacks and two interceptions, both returned for scores. Biermann's not expected to all of a sudden explode for double-digit sacks, but the Falcons do need him to be effective in a starting role. He played in just two games last season before suffering a season-ending Achilles tear. "I think I'm good and I think the preseason was a good test," Biermann said of his health. "I feel great. I'm ready to go. The biggest thing is switching to a little bit more coverage this year. I want to get that down. You never want to turn a guy loose because he might beat you. He may beat you because he got you on one play, but you never want to turn a guy loose. And that's mentally being prepared for the route you're going to see." In terms of his pass rush, you'll find Biermann working his hands and his technique with outside linebackers coach Mark Collins on a daily basis. "As far as rushing, I think physicality is going to be a big thing there, and it coming down to what [defensive line coach] Bryan Cox has coached me and the guys in the room to do, and implementing those points," Biermann said. "That's what's going to get wins out there as far as one-on-one stuff. "There's obvi0usly different aspects to the rush. There's angles involved. There's hands. There's feet. There's eyes. There's violence. All those things play a part. But one of the major components is hands. If you can get a guy's hands off you, you beat a lot of the other areas, forcing him to be kind of on and island when he can't get a hold of you. ... It's just fine-tuning those things, paying attention to detail, and training yourself to look at the things when you're supposed to look at them." We'll see if Biermann can put all those aspects together in time to enjoy a successful outing against the Saints on Sunday. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan talked about where he believes Biermann stands coming off the injury. "I think he's coming along well," Nolan said. "He wasn't 100 percent when we started training camp -- I say wasn't. The part he wasn't obviously was the confidence that he has inside that everything's back to normal. ... For example, after the first game (versus Miami), I remember he said after the game that the stress that he put on it in a game was different than the stress that he puts on it in practice. The turf is harder on your legs than the grass is. "Outside of that, as far as doing his job, a year ago he started at the position he's playing now and it was the first year doing it. And then he only lasted a short while before he got hurt. So this year, it would have been nice to have that year under his belt of him doing it, but he hasn't. So there's some things that he's still picking up on the go." Sunday's opener will be the true test of where Biermann stands, and the Falcons hope he stands tall.
  24. Falcons don't want to come up short Sep 4 7:45AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson made it look so easy during the last matchup with the New Orleans Saints. Facing a third-and-goal on his team's initial drive, Jackson took a handoff from Matt Ryan and vaulted his 6-foot-2, 240-pound body over the top of the pile for a score. If only it could be that simple on every short-yardage play. "Goal-line situations are honestly harder than (typical) short-yardage because of the amount of field the defense has to cover," Jackson said. "So, it's just attitude. You have to come down there with a toughness and mentality saying that as a running back, I know that I have to take on two." Last year, the Falcons actually were a respectable 12-of-17 on third-and-short run plays and converted 1 of 2 fourth-and-1 run plays, and Jackson didn't even play the full season. But that still falls below the 75-percent standard the Falcons have set for short-yardage situations. Just a slight improvement, particularly in goal-to-go scenarios -- where the Falcons ranked 24th last season -- could make the difference in pulling out a close game. Jackson, who turned 31 in July, might not break free for 1,000 yards this season. He still has the physical tools, however, to consistently pick up the tough yards, particularly with three other capable backs in Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith, and rookie Devonta Freeman ready to keep him fresh and share the workload. "Short-yardage, it really starts with the offensive line and ends with us," Jackson said. "From last year, we made those improvements from that unit. And as a running back -- particularly me because I'll be in there most of time -- like I said, I always expect that I've got to make two guys miss." The Falcons hope one particular play in the preseason isn't symbolic of how they'll fare in short-yard situations during the regular season. In the third and most meaningful exhibition game against Tennessee, Rodgers got stuffed for no gain on fourth-and-1 from the Titans' 20-yard line. Center Joe Hawley says that was an aberration. "That was just a schematic thing: I made the wrong call," Hawley said. "That didn't have anything to do with physicality. There was an unblocked guy. Coach [Mike] Tice said, 'I'm glad it happened in the preseason, when it doesn't count.' Now we know. I'm the guy trying to get everyone on the same page. That's my job. So when something doesn't happen the right way, it falls on me because I'm the one telling them what to do. "Short yardage has been an emphasis for us. I think we've improved along the offensive line. I think we'll get it right. And hopefully, Coach [Mike] Smith trusts us in those fourth-and-1 situations, which I know he does."
  25. WRs have Matt Ryan ready to set tempo Sep 3 2:45PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There were times last season when Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan couldn't accomplish everything he wanted to offensively, without his full allotment of receivers. Such won't be the case going into Sunday's season opener against the New Orleans Saints, with Julio Jones and Roddy White healthy and Harry Douglas back off a great season. Sprinkle in elusive newcomer Devin Hester, and Ryan has even more explosiveness to work with. It should allow Ryan to set the offensive tempo. "When you have veteran guys out there that have been in this game for a long time, I think it allows you to be more multiple than when you have young guys out there," Ryan said Wednesday. "So having those guys back on the field is big for us. It gives us our full complement of what we want to do offensively. It allows us to go as fast or as slow as we want to go." Although the no-huddle and fast pace might work to the Falcons' advantage against many opponents, extended scoring drives might be more logical to keep dynamic quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints off the field. The Falcons were able to accomplish such during the last meeting between the teams, as Ryan attempted 39 passes while the running backs combined for 20 rushing attempts. The Falcons won the time of possession battle, 33:46 to 26:14, although they lost the game, 17-13. "Certainly when you go against a good offense and a great quarterback like Drew Brees, time of possession can factor into success," Ryan said. "Hopefully we'll be able to get out there, get the run game established, and that really will set things up for us." The one component Ryan will miss this season, of course, is tight end Tony Gonzalez, who retired. "Obviously, you'd love to have Tony," Ryan said. "And we're going to miss him because of the production that he brought to the table. But in order to replace that, I think schematically, we have to be a little bit different, because we don't have Tony's skill set on one individual in our offense. But we can use different guys to make up for that. And Devin, obviously being a new guy, I think he'll be part of that mix of finding different ways to recreate the production that Tony provided for us for the last five seasons."
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