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  1. Mike Smith still not worried about his future By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith remains unconcerned about his future despite constant rumors saying his days with the organization are numbered. Smith's 6-9 team has a chance to take the NFC South title and a fourth seed in the playoffs with a win over the first-place Carolina Panthers (6-8-1) Sunday at the Georgia Dome. A report by CBS Sports suggested Arthur Blank already made a decision not to bring Smith back, even if the Falcons make the playoffs. Blank told ESPN.com he was bothered by the report. He has expressed all along a desire to wait until season's end to make a decision. For the third time since October, Smith addressed the outside perception about his coaching status. He was asked if the regular season finale against the Panthers could decide his future. "I know that that's a subject that everybody wants to talk about and I said, I don't know four or five weeks ago -- I hope this is the last time that I have to answer it -- I'm going to prepare just like I've done for the seven years that I've been here," Smith said. "My focus is on winning football games and winning the next football game. And I'm going to continue to do that until Arthur Blank tells me differently." Smith has a 66-45 overall record but is 10-21 over the last two seasons. If the Falcons win Sunday, it would mark the team's fifth postseason appearance in seven seasons under Smith. The Falcons made it to the NFC Championship game two seasons ago, losing to the 49ers. Smith, signed through 2015, could make a strong case to stay by making the playoffs and by having a strong performance in the postseason. The Falcons would host a first-round game by winning the division title. And a matchup against a team such as the Cardinals, whom the Falcons already defeated, 29-18, could work in Smith's favor. The Cardinals have issues as quarterback with starter Carson Palmer (ACL) out for the season and backup Drew Stanton (knee) not quite healthy. The Falcons have played some of their best football against teams already in the NFC playoff field: the Cardinals, Packers, and Lions. They played a superb second half in a 43-37 loss at Green Bay and built a 21-0 lead in the first half against Detroit only to lose, 22-21, in London.
  2. Inspired defensive effort keeps Falcons' playoff hopes alive By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com NEW ORLEANS -- It was crazy to think the Atlanta Falcons could rely on the defense in a must-win game on the road against a quarterback the caliber of Drew Brees. Then something unexpected happened Sunday. The Falcons found a way to generate a consistent pass rush. They came up with key third-down stops. They made coming up with turnovers look routine in their 30-14 win. Yes, the league's worst defense in terms of total yards allowed helped the 6-9 Falcons sweep their nemesis, the New Orleans Saints (6-9), and pave the way for what would be an improbable NFC South title with a win over first-place Carolina (6-8-1) next Sunday. The Falcons could become the first NFL team to go undefeated in their division despite having a losing record. [+] EnlargeAP Photo/Rogelio SolisKemal Ishmael, left, kept Atlanta in control in the fourth quarter by stripping the ball from Jimmy Graham at the goal line. "That was huge," quarterback Matt Ryan said of the defensive effort. "Our defense played an unbelievable game going against Drew Brees, who's a great quarterback and capable of making plays at any time. But I'm so proud of the effort they gave and the way they executed out there. They were the reason we got it done today." The Falcons intercepted Brees twice and sacked him five times -- their most sacks in a game this season. They also forced two fumbles, including a jaw-dropping strip and recovery by safety Kemal Ishmael that changed the complexion of the game. On the fourth-quarter play, Ishmael and rookie safety Dez Southward stood up Saints tight end Jimmy Graham near the goal line after Graham snagged a 12-yard catch. But Ishmael never gave up on the play until he came up with the ball. It kept the Saints, who were trailing 20-7, from coming up with a quick score to start the quarter. "There was no doubt in my mind it was a fumble," Ishmael said. "It felt good, man. Coach talked about going into this week playing with no regrets; put everything on the line." The officials reviewed the play, and the ruling was upheld. Referee John Parry explained the call in a pool report. "We spent the full 60 seconds, and we looked at every [replay] angle," Parry said. "We primarily focused on the angle that was -- I wouldn't say exactly -- but was pretty close to being down on the goal line to try to determine if it was either a score and/or a catch-fumble recovery by Atlanta. There was nothing clear and indisputable to make a change to the ruling from the field. If we would have ruled score, it probably would have stayed a score. If we ruled catch-fumble, recovered Atlanta, nothing enough to change it." Cornerback Robert McClain made the other key defensive stop in the fourth quarter when he intercepted a Brees pass intended for Nick Toon with 2:35 left and the Falcons clinging to a 20-14 lead. It helped set up Matt Bryant's 32-yard field goal that gave the Falcons just enough breathing space. "It was about time for me to make a play because I had been around the ball the entire game," McClain said. "Brees, he's going to pick his poison out there. I just felt like I was able to break underneath the receiver and make a play on the ball. I was just happy Brees threw the ball where I was able to catch it." The Falcons also shut down Saints running back Mark Ingram, holding him to 38 rushing yards on 13 carries. They limited Graham to six catches for 53 yards, although he scored one touchdown. Defensive linemen Jonathan Babineaux (sack), Corey Peters (sack), Ra'Shede Hageman (sack, tackle for loss), and Osi Umenyiora (86-yard touchdown off fumble recovery) all made big plays. The Falcons even survived a slew of injuries on defense, including a shoulder injury that knocked strong safety William Moore from the game and a hamstring pull that shelved nickelback Josh Wilson. Free safety Dwight Lowery exited with a shoulder injury, too, but returned and even had a sack. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan rotated a lot of bodies and kept intense pressure on Brees, which was something he didn't do when the teams met in the season opener. "We think that we are playing with a lot more consistency," head coach Mike Smith said. "We are playing with a lot of confidence. I believe that we are attacking much better over the last two weeks in terms of defending the run. That, in turn, allows us to transfer into our pass rush. I think that we have done a very good job. The coaching staff put together a very good plan. Mike [Nolan] and his staff did a great job." Now, the Falcons have to find a way to sustain that defensive effort as they approach their most important game of the season. It's win or go home against the Panthers next Sunday.
  3. Funeral' talk irks White, Douglas By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com NEW ORLEANS -- Atlanta Falcons receivers Roddy White and Harry Douglas had some choice words for New Orleans Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis following the Falcons' 30-14 victory on Sunday. It was Lewis who said the Saints would send the Falcons to their "funeral" by eliminating them from the NFC South race. Instead, the Falcons (6-9) eliminated the Saints and now sit in position to win the division title and make the playoffs with a win against Carolina next Sunday at the Georgia Dome. White, who shoved Lewis in the face mask during the game, pointed out how Lewis didn't play all the snaps after getting treated with an IV for undisclosed reasons. Lewis exited in the first half and came back late in the second half. "If you're going to go out there and be talking about funerals and arranging funerals and bringing in flowers and doing all that stuff, you've got to finish the game," White said. "Unfortunately, he didn't even play the whole game. ... Today, at (3:48 p.m.), we just woke up out the grave. So right now, we're going to get ready for next week." Douglas' criticism of Lewis was little more fiery. "If you're going to talk, you're going to have to play the whole game," Douglas said. "He didn't play the whole game. He checked himself out and tried to come back late. But everybody's hurt. We know if you're a dog or not. We're dogs in our group, so we know a dog when we see one. And he checked out early. "The one thing I know is we've got each other's back no matter what, so we're not going to let anybody punk anybody on this team. It's not happening. I don't care who you are or what team you play for. We stand for too much, so that's not happening." Douglas was asked about the trash talking that went on with Lewis on the field. "That's between the field and me," Douglas said. "I know one thing: If I'm going to talk junk, I'm going to be out there every play, no matter what. You can't send us to a funeral you're not showing up for, bottom line." Lewis gave a brief response after the game. "They hate us, we hate them, but hats off to those guys," Lewis told the New Orleans media. "They came out here and fought. And they deserve to move on."
  4. Falcons' Dirk Koetter unconcerned with red zone misses By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons were 2-for-4 in the red zone in last week's 27-20 loss to the Steelers. Settling for those field goals obviously had a significant impact, based on the final margin. Yet offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter wasn't as discouraged about the situation as one might think he would be. His rationale was based on the offense's season-long performance in the red zone. "It seems like we talk about this every week: I mean, you guys think we suck in the red zone," Koetter said. "We're fifth in the NFL in the red zone. Unfortunately, we needed to be 100 percent last week, and we were 50 percent. So, it's what you need that week. And to beat the Saints, we're probably going to need a higher percentage." The Falcons indeed stand fifth in the league in converting 65 percent of their red zone opportunities (26-for-40). But their record is also 5-9, and they will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to the Saints (6-8) Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, so those statistics in the red zone really are meaningless. In other words, every red zone opportunity will be crucial from here on out. The Falcons actually were 3-for-3 in the red zone during a season-opening, 37-34 overtime win over the Saints, who currently stand 27th in the league in red zone defense in allowing opponents to convert 63 percent of the time. In last week's loss to the Steelers, Falcons receiver Roddy White said it was unacceptable not to score a touchdown after having second-and-goal from the 2-yard line. On that particular play -- a Steven Jackson run for a two-yard loss -- the offensive line didn't get the job done blocking. Then an incompletion by Matt Ryan on third down from the 4 led to Matt Bryant's 22-yard field. It's fair to wonder if the Falcons need to make their red zone and goal-line chances four-down situations, based on the urgency of the moment. "That's a question you'll have to ask [Mike Smith]," Koetter said. "That's a question that he'll have to make those decisions as we work through the week. Are those critical? Absolutely. This is like a one-game playoff. We're not looking at it as a two-game, we're looking at it as one game. There is nothing after this week as far as we're concerned right now."
  5. Playing through pain part of Falcons' game plan By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Roddy White's left knee might never stops hurting. His left ankle kept him from playing against the Cardinals three games ago. And a hamstring injury forced him to miss a Week 3 game against Tampa Bay. But no matter how much White's body throbs with pain, the veteran Atlanta Falcons receiver always approaches every game as if he's going to play -- particularly a late-season game like this Sunday's against the rival Saints, with postseason hopes at stake. "Everybody has little nicks and stuff like that," White said. "Nobody is completely healthy after 14 games in an NFL season, so you're going to feel bumps and bruises. You've just got to put yourself in a mental state that you're going to get through it. You're going to fight through it and do what you have to do to get the job done." White was asked if he has relayed the same message to teammate Julio Jones as Jones continues to recover from a hip injury. All indications are Jones is going to try and gut it out despite not being on the practice field the past two days. "I don't have to relay it to him, because he's played hurt before," White said. "I know what he can do and how that feels. But as far him playing this Sunday, I don't want him to have to go out there and he can't run or he can't be himself, because that's not going to help us. And that would limit the stuff that we can do on offense, because we'll be calling plays to get him the ball. If he can be the explosive, down-the-field guy and make people miss, he needs to chill and see if we can make it for next week." Strong safety William Moore certainly understands the importance of toughing it out through an injury. Moore confirmed that he has a torn fascia in his right foot. It is an injury that typically takes one or two weeks to heal and doesn't require surgery. But it can be painful to play through because the only true treatment is immobilization. Moore, who missed last week's game against the Steelers, was back on the practice field Thursday running sprints and backpedaling in a limited capacity. He vowed not to miss Sunday's game for anything in the world. "This is it: for all the marbles," Moore said. "Ain't no reason to sit back and watch. You know, my team needs me, and I want to be there. This is what I play the game for; for opportunities like this in December. We have an opportunity, regardless of what the record says. And I want to contribute. I don't want to sit back and watch."
  6. Robert McClain on the spot for Falcons By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Sunday would have been a ideal time for Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford to make his return: back in his home state of Louisiana against the hated Saints and their potent receiving corps. Instead, Alford landed on injured reserve this week after undergoing wrist surgery. That puts the onus on another Robert -- McClain -- to bring his best game forward in the most important contest of the season. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan sees weekly progress in McClain's performance. "I think Robert's got good confidence to play the game," Nolan said. "He's got his work cut out for him because Drew Brees is an outstanding quarterback. He'll throw to whoever he thinks the match is. So Robert's got to hold his own, at times. But I believe Robert has good confidence on the outside. I think he has more confidence outside than he does inside." Falcons coach Mike Smith made a similar assessment of McClain, who played nickelback at the start of the season. "Again, it's a lot easier to play on the outside because you've got the boundary to help you," Smith said. "When you're inside, you've got receivers that really have two-way gos. But Robert's done a nice job. I think he's playing with more confidence, like Mike [Nolan] said." As much as he appreciated the kind words from his coaches, McClain wanted to clarify one aspect. "I agree and disagree because I feel as though I play with confidence regardless of where I am on the field," McClain said. "I mean, there's not really much more I can say about it. I'm going to go out there and compete. Coach Nolan knows I'm going to go out there and compete and play as hard as I possibly can play. He knows I know my playbook. He knows I'm going to go out there and give it 100 percent." McClain has started the last four games in place of Alford and had a bumpy first few games as the starter. Then he made one of his best plays of the season last week against the Steelers when he knocked the ball away from Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant in the end zone after Bryant got a step on him and almost came up with a one-handed grab. Remember, McClain also had a key interception in the end zone during the Falcons' 37-34 overtime win over the Saints in the season opener. He's not the fastest cornerback on the roster, but can make up for it with heady plays. "It's always good building on positives," McClain said. "But I feel as though I never play a good game, regardless of whether I have an interception or 10 tackles. I feel like I never play well enough, especially if the team doesn't win. I'm a harder critic on myself than a lot of people. The biggest thing this weekend is getting a win on Sunday." Desmond Trufant is the corner the Falcons rely upon to be the shutdown guy. But Alford understands his role and the challenges ahead against the Saints. "There will be a lot of matchups between me and [Kenny] Stills, me and [Marques] Colston, me and Nick [Toon]," McClain said. "And if they bring in any other receivers after that, I'll be ready for the matchup. They move personnel around a lot, so I could even be matched against [Jimmy] Graham sometimes. You just have to compete. It's all about competition."
  7. Falcons' Mike Tice works his magic with rebuilt offensive line By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Diligent Atlanta Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice neglected to get much rest this week. Hours after his rebuilt line executed its best overall performance of the season at Green Bay, Tice was back to work on three hours sleep, game-planning for yet another formidable defensive front in the Steelers. "The first thing we do is try to know your guys and make sure you can put your guys in positions that they can handle, athletically and mentally," Tice said. "Secondly, you identify the opponent and where we’re going to need protection -- and I’m not talking about pass protection -- protection or help with a guy that’s our opponent because we don’t match up as well, and give (our) guy a chance to succeed when a matchup isn’t in his favor. [+] EnlargeAP Photo/Bob LeveroneFalcons' offensive line coach Mike Tice has helped his unit succeed despite a rash of injuries this season. "I don’t mean our guy is going to get his *** kicked 10 plays in a row, but when he has 10 plays against a certain guy and he’s only going to win three or four. Now, that guy needs a little help. So, that’s how we try to start the week." Obviously, Tice has found the formula for success. Most folks figured the Falcons might get their "*** kicked" up front after losing five offensive linemen to season-ending injuries, including regulars Sam Baker (left tackle), Joe Hawley (center), and Lamar Holmes (tackle). Tice has worked with five different line combinations this season, including three starting centers and four right tackles since the preseason. Now, with an undrafted rookie in James Stone at center and an undrafted second-year player in Ryan Schraeder at right tackle, Tice has found a way to orchestrate a success story. How many teams could go through so many bodies and combinations along the line and still put a respectable unit on the field? "Mike’s done a real good job with the offensive line," Falcons coach Mike Smith said of Tice. "We had rash of injuries early on. We’ve had the next-man-up attitude, and those guys have developed. We anticipated that they would. We said at the beginning of the year that we liked the depth of our offensive line, and we had to go out there and play some players who haven’t had a lot of experience. "Mike has done a really good job of getting those guys ready, along with (assistant offensive line coach) Wade Harman. And when they play together, they've played as a unit. It’s shown over the last three to four weeks." The Falcons have gone with the same starting five for the past six games with rookie left tackle Jake Matthews and veteran guards Justin Blalock and Jon Asamoah joining Stone and Schraeder. Matthews is playing his best ball after finally overcoming the effects of an early season high-ankle sprain. Asamoah has been the most consistent, and Blalock has been stout in pass protection. Stone’s high intelligence helped him make a seamless transition into the starting role, and Schraeder epitomizes the bigger, tougher, stronger motto the Falcons brought into the 2014 season. Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked nine times in back-to-back games against the Bears and Ravens. Since then, Ryan has been sacked a total of 10 times. As a result of the improved protection, Ryan has gotten more opportunities to throw deep to Julio Jones. "We knew when we got together that we’d have to be great in pass protection, because we had such great receivers," Tice said. "So, in a nutshell, we set a goal. One of those goals was to be in the top 10 in the least amount of sacks. Right now, we’re at 12 (25 sacks allowed), so we can do it." Tice praised his linemen for their overall cerebral approach and ability to communicate. Run blocking is still an area that needs some refining, but he believes the effort is there. "I like all the pulling, but you don’t see much pulling anymore," Tice said. "We haven’t been real consistent with our pulling game. We’ve had so many missing pieces, and the run game takes cohesion, with two guys working together. I like where our run game is going. Our pass protection is ahead of our run game, which is good, because we’re a throwing team." The key for the Falcons is sustaining the line improvement over the last three games, starting with Sunday’s matchup against the Steelers. Tice started the game-planning by identifying the tough matchup for both Schraeder and Matthews in containing outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who is second on the Steelers with 4.5 sacks and has a team-leading 14 quarterback hits. Tice is confident his players will get the job done, just like his linemen are confident in how he coaches them. "He knows football," Schraeder said of Tice. "He’s been doing this for a long time and he’s always on you about something you need to improve. He’ll consistently get it engrained in you throughout the week so you correct it for the next game. "As far as the schemes, he just knows how to explain things really well and make it simple for guys. He’ll figure out how you learn, whether it’s visual or actually doing it. He just makes things easier on you."
  8. Explosive Julio Jones the key to Falcons season now more than ever By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Julio Jones' every move was deliberate as he hobbled through the locker room, gently sat down by his locker, then struggled to bend over and put his clothes on before addressing the media. The hip injury the Falcons receiver suffered during Monday night's spirited effort against the Packers in a 43-37 defeat obviously drained Jones. But before he exited the game in the final minutes, he left everyone inside Lambeau Field in awe with a breathtaking performance. "He's just playing great football, man," teammate Harry Douglas said. "No one can guard Julio one-on-one -- point blank, period. It's **** near hard to guard him two-on-one. There are times he's double covered and he's still just making the play. That's why he's one of the greatest receivers in the game right now." One week after going for a career-high 189 yards against the Cardinals, Jones topped that, catching 11 passes for a franchise-record 259 receiving yards with a touchdown. It was the most receiving yards for any receiver in the NFL this season and the most yards for any opponent against the Packers, ever. It also put him at 1,428 yards for the season, also a franchise record. [+] EnlargeBenny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsJulio Jones had 11 catches for a Falcons-record 259 yards against the Packers. "I just credit my teammates," Jones said. "The offensive line giving me time to go down and make plays and Matt [Ryan] having the faith in me to throw the ball up to me and the offensive coordinator [Dirk Koetter] just drawing them up. They just leaned on me today. I just try to make most of the plays. Every thing they kind of threw at me, I tried my best to get them every play." Jones might have gone for 300 had he not been sidelined for his team's final offensive series due to the hip injury. The Falcons managed to score without him on Douglas' 2-yard catch that cut the Falcons' deficit to six points, down from 24 at halftime. But it went for naught as the Packers recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock. In the big picture, the Falcons need Jones healthy for the stretch run, so not forcing him back into the game was probably a good move. The team remains in first place in the NFC South despite a 5-8 record with three games left, starting with Sunday's home matchup with the Steelers. If the Falcons have postseason aspirations, Jones has to play a big part in driving them to their destination. "How big is Julio to our final stretch run? That's like saying how big Santa Claus is to Christmas," Douglas said. "He's huge. We've got to have him on this run. He's amazing, man. We're going to need him, man." If the latest injury doesn't keep Jones out of action, it's hard to imagine anyone being able to slow him down -- particularly with the Saints and Panthers and their porous defenses still left on the schedule. The last two weeks, both the Cardinals and Packers boldly tried to go man-to-man against him for a number of snaps. Patrick Peterson, the self-professed best cornerback in the league, had very little success. The Packers obviously didn't take the hint from Peterson's failures. "We were playing the defense," Packers defensive back Micah Hyde said when asked about bracketing Jones more. "And I think that we had some good calls going out there. We just didn't execute. ... It had nothing to do with the calls. The plays out there just weren't executing." Even with as much pain as he was in afterward, Jones had to snicker a little about teams deciding to play him one-on-one. "I don't know what defensive coordinators are doing," he said. "I like it. Keep doing it. I don't have a problem with it. So, that's my take on it." The Falcons talked all offseason about how much Jones' return from last year's season-ending foot fracture would mean for the team. He's simply gone out and put up the numbers to prove it and now leads the entire league with those 1,428 receiving yards, surpassing the Steelers' Antonio Brown (1,375). "When Julio is healthy and he and Matt are in tune with one another, they're as good as any in the NFL; he's a good as any in the NFL," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "He's hard to cover. He's got great speed. He's got great hands. And he's an elite wide receiver. One of the best, if not the best, in the NFL."
  9. http://m.espn.go.com/general/blogs/blogpost?blogname=atlanta-falcons&id=10679 FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Roddy Whiteunderstands the dynamics of his team's situation. The 5-8 Atlanta Falcons, currently in first place in the NFC South, control their own destiny for the playoffs, and they don't even have to win Sunday's game against the Steelers to do so. As long as the Falcons win their final two games against the Saints (5-8) and Panthers (4-8-1), they would would win the division and earn a postseason berth. And they could become the first team in NFL history to go undefeated in the division with a losing overall record, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. NFL Playoff Machine Check current playoff seedings and NFL standings. | Scenarios "I understand the numbers that if we lose [sunday] and then we go to New Orleans and beat them and then win our last game [at home versus Carolina], we're in," White said. "I understand that we'd be undefeated in the division and [possibly] have the same record. But I'm trying to win these last three, big dog. We want to win this week." The Falcons currently hold the tiebreaker over the Saints after a 37-34 overtime win in the season opener. But the next matchup between the teams on Dec. 21 is in New Orleans, which makes it much more difficult for White and crew. The Saints have won three straight over the Falcons at the Superdome and have won seven of the past eight at home in the series. "You want to win all three of these games because New Orleans is such a hard place to go down there and win," White said. "In the past, we haven't gone down there and won a lot of times. You just can't count on that: We just got to get two wins to get in the playoffs or anything like that. You've got to go out there and get all three. Then, we'll be in. "That's been my goal. That's what I'm preaching to the guys. We just can't go in there and say, 'Well if we lose this game, we'll be all right,' because it's going to be a lot of pressure to win the last two." Free safety Dwight Lowery is on the same page with White in regard to not focusing on the final two games against the division foes, although those games are the most crucial in the equation. "You've got to look at it from a morale perspective; you've got to look at it from a confidence perspective," Lowery said. "If you lose two games in a row going into playing your division opponent in what would be a pretty huge game, I'd rather go in winning than losing. Everything matters. Everything counts. "You look ahead in the sense that you want to win every single game. But at the same time, you've got to take it one game at a time. The Steelers are focused on us because they have to win, too. And next week, it will be New Orleans, then Carolina. They could win, we could win. They could lose, we could lose. If you start thinking too far ahead, it might actually handicap you when you actually get to that game." No team in the NFC South can finish above .500. And by the way, the worst combined record for any division in NFL history, according to Elias, is the 2008 NFC West with a 22-42 overall mark and .344 win percentage. This year's NFC South currently is 16-35-1 for a .317 win percentage.
  10. If stopping run first priority, Falcons need serious help By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com Kroy Biermann actually fared pretty well, personally, against the run Monday night. But the Falcons outside linebacker/defensive end didn't look at his performance against the Packers from an individual perspective. As a defense, the Falcons struggled to stop anything, including the run. "It's just basic football,'' Biermann said. "You've got to be consistent. Everybody's got to do their job and beat the man across from them. That's what it boils down to. You've got to play as a unit. If you're not playing as a unit, then holes are going to open up and things are going to fall apart. [+] EnlargeBenny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsThe Falcons had their hands full with Eddie Lacy, and it won't get easier with Le'Veon Bell coming in. "The key to winning games is stopping the run against any team. If they can run the ball on you, it's probably going to be a long day. You've got to stop the run and make them throw it. And when they throw it, you've got to cover and you've got to rush. So, it's basic football that you've got to get sound with and do.'' The Falcons, 21st in the league against the run, surrendered 179 yards rushing yards to the Packers in Monday's 43-37 loss. James Starks and Eddie Lacy combined for 148 of those yards and each averaged 5.6 yards per carry or better. Lacy started the game with an explosive 22-yard run, and Starks pretty much ended it with a 41-yard blast with just under two minutes remaining. Of course, the Packers' final rushing total was inflated by those big runs and Aaron Rodgers ability to scramble. Regardless, the Falcons played undisciplined with plenty of mental errors as well as missed tackles. “Yeah, we had some misfits obviously there at the end of the game,'' Falcons coach Mike Smith. "The 41-yard explosive run, we misfitted. Again, when you misfit a run there’s a chance you’re going to give up a lot of yardage, and that’s what took place on that particular play. "We didn’t tackle well. Our tackling not only in the pass game, but in the check down game was a concern. We’ve got to get multiple pads on the big backs because they’re going to run through one-on-one opportunities. Our tackling and our leverage was not very good. I can recall a couple of times we had three guys pursuing to the ball and had him within three or four yards, and we had seven missed tackles on one specific play. It was a checkdown play, but we’ve got to be much better. So my concern coming out the game was our tackling. We didn’t tackle well.'' The Falcons better figure out a way to resolve those issues quickly or else their chances of making a playoff push might evaporate. One of the league's best young running backs visits the Georgia Dome Sunday when Le'Veon Bell at the Steelers come to town. Bell, named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, has amassed 711 total yards over his last three games. “Well, he’s going to have a challenge very similar to what we had in the game [Monday],'' Smith said of Bell. "He’s not just doing it carrying the ball; he’s doing it catching the ball as well. It’s going to be a challenge for us. They’ve got a big strong quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger that’s hard to get on the ground. He doesn’t move like the quarterback we played this past week, but he does extend plays, so there’s going to be some things we definitely have to be better at in this ball game this week than we were last night.” Defensive lineman Tyson Jackson was asked about the challenge presented by Bell. "You can't worry about one person on the team: You have to worry about the entire offense,'' Jackson said. ``So we've got to come out, go back to the drawing board, and play our style of defense. We've got to start knocking those guys back and start playing on the other side of line of scrimmage, and start making plays in the backfield.''
  11. Harry Douglas still a key element to Falcons' offensive success By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com AP Photo/David GoldmanThe Falcons will need a big game from Harry Douglas to knock off the Packers on Monday night. Ask Roddy White about the importance of having fellow Falcons receiver Harry Douglas on the field and White will break into a monologue filled with endless superlatives. "I told people a long time ago when we were going through that [losing] streak and Harry wasn’t playing, he is such a crucial point to our offense because he’s so smart," White said. "And he can play. When he’s in there, we don’t have to game plan where we have to put people in certain areas, switch our formations and stuff. When he’s in there, we just play football. And that’s a big difference. That’s a real big difference." Ask Julio Jones the same question regarding Douglas’ significance, and he’ll echo White’s praise. "It’s amazing to have Harry back," Jones said. "He poses a threat for defenses because you’ve got to put a safety on him; nickel guy, third or fourth corner. He’s in the slot. He makes plays. He’s got very, very great hands. A lot of people underestimate Harry, but last year, when I went down, he was a 1,000-yard receiver. And it’s hard to go over 1,000 yards in the league. He did that. It’s just great to have Harry back." Douglas missed four games with what he called a bruised left foot suffered in a Week 3 win over Tampa Bay. With Douglas in the lineup, the Falcons are 5-3 this season. In the games he missed, they went 0-4. In last week's 29-18 win over Arizona, Douglas backed Jones’ career-best 189-yard day with a season-high 116 receiving yards of his own while compensating for White’s absence. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter spoke about the most impressive elements of Douglas’ performance. "The way he attacked the ball and the way he ran after the catch," Koetter said. "Because Harry usually plays in the slot for us, he had a different route type [last] week where he was more of a feature guy. And he made the most of it. Harry looked like last year, when Roddy and Julio were down and he, in essence, was our No. 1 [receiver]." Douglas realizes how key he is to the offense. He simply feels no need to remind people about it. "I keep that humble mind and spirit," he said. "That’s one thing that allows me to be who I am. I always abide by this scripture since I’ve been in college, James 4:10: Humble yourself before the Lord. I always keep that mindset." Douglas takes the same mentality into Monday night’s matchup with the Packers at Lambeau Field. He could be a key factor in the game with most of the defensive attention likely to be on Jones and with White’s status questionable after a left ankle sprain (although White vowed to play). Last season at Lambeau Field, Douglas had a key late-game drop in a 22-21 loss to the Packers. "Last year was last year," Douglas said. "I’m going to always redeem myself. Honestly, I don’t too much focus on stuff that happened in previous years. I had 1,000 yards last year, but that was last year. We didn’t go to the playoffs. We weren’t winning. So it is what it is. So I’m focused on how I can help this team win right now -- and we’re in first place in the division -- and how I can help us get to the playoffs." In order for the 5-7 Falcons to reach their postseason destination, the offense has to live up to its full potential, which hasn’t happened consistently. The Falcons were at their best during their first two home games, when they scored 93 points, amassed 1,056 total yards, and utilized plenty of four-receiver sets with Douglas, Jones, White and Devin Hester. "With all four of us on the field, that’s unstoppable to me," Douglas said. "I think our chemistry, off the field and on the field, plays such a big part in our success. We know how to work for each other. We know how to get each other open. We know how to be in certain spots so another person can get open. That’s big. "I think we’re the closest receiver group probably in NFL history because on any other team, any of us could get the ball at any time. So for all of us to be on one squad and be on the field at the same time and have so much love for each other, it’s a blessing." Playing at Lambeau can be a curse, as Douglas found out last season. The Packers don’t have one of the league’s most dominant defenses, statistically speaking, but they’ve been opportunistic because they play the ball well. They have 15 interceptions. "I think they play six [defensive backs] a lot," Douglas said. "It’s probably one of the few teams in the NFL that plays that many DBs. It will be a good matchup. I’ve got respect for them. They’ve got respect for me. When those lights come on, it’s time to play. And I’ll be ready to play."
  12. Falcons finally find way to generate pressure, even with no sacks By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith often talks about how pressuring opposing quarterbacks isn't always measured in sacks. Well, his team proved his point in Sunday's 29-18 win against the Cardinals. The Falcons didn't record a sack, but they put tremendous pressure on quarterback Drew Stanton. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was aggressive with his blitz packages, and defensive linemen Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters, and Cliff Matthews stepped up with big defensive efforts while winning their battles at the line of scrimmage. [+] EnlargeScott Cunningham/Getty ImagesFalcons safeties William Moore and Dwight Lowery apply pressure on Arizona in their Week 13 game. Smith pointed to third-down efficiency as the statistic most indicative of the defensive pressure applied. The Cardinals were 1 of 7 on third down. "We went into the game wanting to put pressure on the quarterback, and I know the first thing you're going to say is, 'Well, coach, you had no sacks.' But we hit and knock the quarterback down 11 times," Smith said Monday. "So, we got accomplished what we needed to get accomplished. We forced three turnovers. There were two others that we felt like that we possibly should have had in the ball game. So, we did a good job on third down. ... "We had the quarterback feeling the pressure, and we took the ball away. And when you win the turnover battle and you win third downs on defense, you're going to have a pretty good day." The official statistics showed the Falcons with eight quarterback hits, with two apiece by Matthews and free safety Dwight Lowery, who perfectly executed his blitzes. Nolan blitzed nickel back Josh Wilson on the Cardinals' first third-down opportunity, which caused Stanton to hurry his throw for an incompletion. Babineaux, who had four quarterback pressures, batted down a pass on another third down. Then a perfectly executed stunt by outside linebacker Stansly Maponga and Matthews, along with pressure from Babineaux, caused a Stanton incompletion on a third-and-13 play. Maponga, unfortunately, injured his right elbow on the play. On a third-and-5 play in the third quarter, Matthews exploded by Cardinals center Lyle Sendlein and put a hit on Stanton that jarred the ball loose. It appeared to be a fumble recovered by Babineaux, but the Falcons never challenged the ruling on the field of an incompletion. Regardless, Matthews' inspired effort in just 14 of 55 defensive snaps played was symbolic of the intense pressure applied by the Falcons. Matthews, who had been inactive in nine of the first 11 games, got an opportunity to play with nose tackle Paul Soliai away from the team following a death in the family. "I thought Cliff was very productive," Smith said. "He put some pressure on the quarterback. He basically played in our sub-package, and Cliff's a great story. ...When his opportunity has come up, he's made plays." If the Falcons can find a way to generate similar-type pressure against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Monday night, then they'll really be in business. Rodgers historically is one of the best in the league against the blitz. In his MVP season of 2011, Rodgers' passer rating against the blitz was 131.4. According to Stats LLC, that was the second-highest mark in the NFL against pressure since 1993. The Packers and Rodgers, however, are 18th in the league in sacks allowed per pass attempt. Rodgers, who has attempted 380 passes, has been sacked 25 times.
  13. Protective padding should aid William Moore's return from shoulder separation By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons strong safety William Moore fully expects to return to the field Sunday from a shoulder separation and will take all the necessary precautions to do so. Moore separated his right shoulder in a Week 4 loss at Minnesota and was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return. He is eligible to play this week against Arizona and anticipates being activated before game time. Moore will test the shoulder in pads during practice, and he'll wear protecting padding to support the shoulder in the game, provided he receives full clearance. "It's a pad in my shoulder pads to keep it from extending,'' Moore explained. "It's not all the way around. It's just so it doesn't extend up. I wore it all [last] week. I don't think it's going to have much effect on my game. But me personally, I don't care what I wear. "I just have to watch how I land more than anything; not how I hit, but how I land.'' Moore doesn't seem overly concerned about his conditioning despite missing the required eight weeks of action while on short-term IR. He returned to practice last week and ran with the scout team. He'll return to the starting lineup alongside free safety Dwight Lowery. "Personally and individually, I feel like I need to get in there and contribute,'' Moore said. "Missed a lot of time, and it's going to be very important for me to make sure that I tackle well and I know my assignments. Got a huge task against myself.'' Moore's expected return means Kemal Ishmael, who has started the last seven games, would move back to a reserve role. Ishmael has a team-leading four interceptions, including one in each of the last three games. Moore previously said it would be hard to keep Ishmael off the field. "That's part of being professional and being mature,'' Ishmael said of surrendering his starting spot back to Moore. "I tried to do as much as I could to help the team while I was out there. With Willy Mo coming back, he's our leader. I'm just going to sit back and just enroll in my new role on the team. "It sucks, because I want to be out there continuing to play and make plays. But that's my role. That's Willy Mo, now. It's not just anybody.'' Once Moore is activated, the Falcons have to make a roster move to be at the 53-man limit.
  14. Sunday, November 23, 2014 Rapid Reaction: Atlanta Falcons By Vaughn McClure ATLANTA -- A few thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns at the Georgia Dome. What it means: The Falcons dropped to 4-7 and lost their hold on the top spot in the NFC South, although they could get it right back with a loss by New Orleans Saints on Monday night. The Falcons had won two in a row and looked poised to make in three following a 53-yard field goal by Matt Bryant. But the Falcons' defense gave up too much cushion in the end as Billy Cundiff nailed the 37-yard game-winner for Cleveland. Stock watch: The Falcons' run defense took a tumble Sunday. Had the Falcons been a little stouter against the run, the Browns wouldn't have had a chance. Instead, there were plenty of missed tackles as the Browns rookie running back tandem of Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West to combined for 150 yards. The Falcons gave up 475 total yards. Matty Ice: Matt Ryan was cold for much of the day. He almost threw an interception early that would have easily been returned for a touchdown and eventually did get picked off once. He also walked into a sack and just didn't appear to have the right chemistry with Julio Jones. Ryan finished 27 of 43 for 273 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Game ball: Regardless of the outcome, one person deserve this honor today. Desmond Trufant made an incredible interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter that gave the Falcons a chance. He leaped in front of star Browns receiver Josh Gordon, who didn't make much of an effort. Yes, it was a terrible throw by Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer, but that doesn't take away how magnificent a play it was by Trufant, who was shadowing Gordon most of the day. Gordon still finished with eight catches for 120 yards. What's next: The Falcons have another home game upcoming with one of the league's best as the Arizona Cardinals come to the Georgia Dome next Sunday. The Cardinals won nine of their first 10 games but lost starting quarterback Carson Palmer to a season-ending ACL tear. There is something terribly wrong with this team and his starts with Coach Smith punk azz!!
  15. Formatting is a little jacked up... Maybe it was a preview of things to come for Devonta Freeman. In the third quarter of last Sundays 19-17 win at Carolina, the Atlanta Falcons rookie running back took a handoff, exploded a few steps up the middle, then made a quick cut left while following a block from pulling guard Jon Asamoah. Freeman made a safety miss, made another quick cut in front of a block by receiver Julio Jones, then stiff-armed veteran safety Roman Harper en route to a 15-yard gain. "Thats what I do," Freeman said confidently. "Thats my game. Once I feel the game out and understand everything, I feel like if you just let me go out there and play, Im going to dominate. Im going to do my job. Im going to go out there and contribute." Freeman should get ample opportunity to prove his value for the remainder of the season. The Falcons lost a key part of their running back rotation when speedy Antone Smith suffered a season-ending broken leg last Sunday. The loss of Smith means the Falcons will transition from a four-man running back rotation to a trio of Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Freeman. Expect Freeman to be the primary beneficiary of the redistribution of carries following Smiths injury. "Injuries are going to happen all the time," Freeman said. "Ive been hurt so many times in my career. I broke my ankle three times; broken hip. Ive sprained my ankles a lot. So I understand what [smith] is going through and all the pain, especially when you have a passion for football. "For me, I just want to go out there and help the team as much as I can and contribute to this teams success, which I think were going to have a lot of success. I just plan on going out there and being consistent, competing, being physical, and doing what I do best." Freeman had a career-high 11 carries (for 12 yards) during a 56-14 blowout of Tampa Bay in Week 3. He has 35 carries for 147 yards (4.2 yards per carry) through 10 games along with a 7-yard touchdown reception against Detroit. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter talked about what Freeman brings to the running game. "Well Devonta has an explosive running style," Koetter said. "He hits the hole fast. You saw when he got out into the open field on the one the other night, he was able to make one guy miss and then kind of run through a second guy. Hes just got an explosive style. "Usually, at the running back position, this thing sorts itself out earlier in the season. Its unfortunate. We hate to lose Antone because hes such a valuable player in both the offensive aspect and in the special teams aspect. Now were splitting three guys instead of four, so both Devonta and Jacquizz should see their time go up." Coach Mike Smith was disappointed with the lack of efficiency in the run game last week against Carolina as the Falcons averaged just 3.2 yards per rush. Koetter attributed it to a few breakdowns plus the fact that the Falcons were up against two of the leagues top linebackers in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. The Falcons have inserted Gabe Carimi as an extra blocker in the run game, while tight end Levine Toilolo has drastically improved as a run blocker. But they still rank 24th in the league in rushing, averaging 96.1 rushing yards per game. This Sunday, the Falcons will face a Cleveland team banged up at linebacker and struggling to stop the run. The Browns rank 30th in the league in run defense and allow 142.1 rushing yards per game. They allowed 213 rushing yards -- 156 to rookie Alfred Blue -- in a 23-7 loss to Houston last week. "Theyve lost three starters in the last two weeks, so every team has its injury issues as this point of the year," Koetter said. "I did watch the Houston game and Im not sure what (the Browns) exact issue was in that game. Every team is a little bit different in how they attack. ... We try to run the ball every week, and well try to run this week as well." The Falcons still count on Jackson to set a physical tone, although he missed some practice time Thursday with an illness. Maybe Freeman will inject a little more life into the running game Sunday and help the Falcons get to the second level more consistently.
  16. W2W4: Falcons vs. Browns By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com Here are a few things to watch for as the 4-6 Atlanta Falcons try to make it a three-game winning streak Sunday when they host the 6-4 Cleveland Browns at the Georgia Dome: Four-wide open: The Falcons had success at the end of last week's win over the Carolina Panthers with their four-wide receiver look, as Matt Ryan noted after the game. A few missed games by Harry Douglas kept the Falcons from using their "10 personnel" as much as they wanted. Then back-to-back matchups against solid defensive fronts in Detroit and Tampa Bay discouraged offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter from using the alignment. Well, Douglas is back healthy, and the Browns are missing a key piece up front in Phil Taylor. Not to mention they only have one really solid cornerback in Joe Haden, and Haden's not a fast guy. So expect the Falcons to take advantage with the four-wide setup. "That's been going really good for us because we're creating so many bad matchups," Roddy White said. "Our four-wide package is tough to cover." Not to mention the Browns like to play man-to-man coverage, which should make Julio Jones, Devin Hester, Douglas and White salivate. "I'm hoping they come out and do that and play us man to man so those guys can get into the slot and do their thing," White said. Added Jones, "A lot of teams only have two good corners, if that. It's mismatches. That four-wide, it's pretty hard to handle." On the run: It's no secret the Falcons have to try and run the ball against a Browns' defense that surrenders 142.1 rushing yards per game. On the flipside, the Falcons have to be able to stop a formidable Browns' rushing attack. Yes, Cleveland dumped what appeared to be a quality back in Ben Tate, but the decision was made, in part, because of the emergence rookie running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. They have combined for 766 yards and eight touchdowns on 190 carries. "I think they're fairly similar in terms of their run styles," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "This is a team that runs zone-blocking schemes, and it's more of a one-cut. They do put some fluff around it in terms of formations and stuff, but they're really a team that is going to run the one-cut zone running game." The Falcons have improved their run defense as of late and have tweaked the lineup to help the cause, inserting Malliciah Goodman as a starter up front to help stop the run. Run-stuffers Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson are off to a good start in the second half of the season. In a corner: Plenty of eyes will be on the likely matchup between Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant and reinstated Browns receiver Josh Gordon as Gordon plays his first game of the season. But how Robert McClain fares as the starting cornerback opposite Trufant will be worth monitoring, too. McClain steps in for Robert Alford, who is expected to be sidelined the next three games with a broken wrist. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said the Browns will be the fastest group of receivers his defense will face up to this point with Gordon, Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel and Travis Benjamin. And McClain would be the first to say speed isn't his greatest asset, so he'll have to compensate. "Just have to play good, fundamentally sound football," McClain said. "You can kind of tell a pace of a receiver whenever he wants to go up top. I just have to play smart, play disciplined the entire game. I can't get lazy on any of my coverages or have bad eyes on any of my coverages, which I had last week when I had bad eyes and relaxed on a [touchdown] play. I'm not slow, so I'm not saying I'm going to get ran by. Just going out there and executing our game plan will help us win."
  17. Matt Ryan hopes to take advantage of more shots down the field Nov 19 7:45PM ETBy Vaughn McClure | ESPN.comFLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan admitted the offense has missed on opportunities to throw the ball down the field, an aspect Ryan hopes changes when his team faces the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. "I think it's a couple things: We've got to hit them when they're there," Ryan said. "We've had opportunities to take some shots down the field. We just haven't hit as many as we would like. And then from a schematic standpoint, we've got to figure out ways to maybe take another shot here or there. And that's something that we've talked about in our rooms. "But from a player's perspective, I think when it's there, we've got to be opportunistic. That's something that, I think we've talked about the last couple of weeks. We've done a decent job of it, but we still need to do a better job." [+] EnlargeGrant Halverson/Getty ImagesJulio Jones hasn't scored a touchdown in seven games, the longest drought of his career. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan's passes have traveled an average of 7.8 yards downfield, which ranks 20th in the league among quarterbacks with six or more games played. Cleveland's Brian Hoyer leads all regular starters with a 10.35-yard average. Ryan has thrown six of his eight interceptions on passes traveling at least 15 yards downfield. Sunday, he'll be up against a Browns defense that is tied for third in the league with 14 interceptions, led by league-leader Tashaun Gipson with six. The Falcons' top deep threat, Julio Jones, leads the team with 67 catches for 912 yards and three touchdowns. But Jones has just two catches of 30-plus yards through 10 games. Last year he had three catches of 45-plus yards in just five games before breaking his foot. And Jones hasn't scored a touchdown in his last seven games, which is the longest drought of his career. Jones draws his share of added defenders, of course, which affects the downfield shots. You also have to factor in the offensive line changes when talking about Ryan's ability to connect deep with Jones or anyone else. The Falcons have lost five linemen to season-ending injuries, including three players that started games this season. Rookie left tackle Jake Matthews has struggled through a high-ankle sprain suffered in Week 1, which has allowed added pressure on Ryan. Despite being under duress at times, Ryan said the deep ball has been there. "There's been some chances, I think so," he said. "There's been some chances and just a little bit off across the board on making those plays. When they present themselves, we've got to make them." The Falcons often have opted for so many wide receiver screen plays rather than attempting to go downfield. Such was the case in last Sunday's win over Carolina, as the Panthers appeared to sniff out the wide receiver screens. Ryan was asked why those screens haven't been so effective. "They've been successful for us," Ryan said. "We've made a lot of big plays on those, even this year. We've had a lot of success on those this year. Last week [vs. Carolina], you've got to give those guys some credit. I mean, Carolina did a good job of defending them. And so, they're hit or miss. Those kind of plays are hit or miss, and we know that going into it. We're going stick with it. That's part of who we are. And we're going to find ways to get the ball to our playmakers -- both running backs and wide receivers -- in space." Ryan has had four screen passes gain 20-plus yards this season. Only Washington's Kirk Cousins has more such passes, with five.
  18. William Moore eager to hit again after shoulder separation November, 19, 2014 3:30 By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons strong safety William Moore isn't all the way back just yet, but his return to practice Wednesday off a separated right shoulder marked the next step in his much-anticipated return to full action. Moore, who remains on injured reserve with a designation to return, isn't eligible to play in a game until next week's home matchup against Arizona. He is running on the scout team this week while working back up to game speed. Moore was asked about his conditioning following the long layoff. "You want to go out there and get your legs back,'' Moore said. "It's a physical game. And my injury, it's all about going in and hitting. And I'm actually going to need my shoulders every play. So, I want to go out there and not be cautious. But I want to continue to play football the way I've been playing and make sure I'm all the way in shape before I go back out there.'' Moore suffered the injury in a Week 4 loss at Minnesota. It happened three defensive snaps into the game, when Moore fell to the ground hard after attempting a diving tackle of Vikings receiver Jarius Wynn during Wynn's 52-yard catch and run. Moore remained in the game for seven more snaps and even attempted another diving tackle -- leading with his right shoulder -- on a screen pass to Wynn. It obviously was a tribute to his toughness. The separation was related to Moore's clavicle. The technical term for the injury is a sprain of the AC joint. It's typically a four- to six-week injury. There's is no guarantee Moore will be ready for the Cardinals game, although he declared himself fully healthy. Moore can’t play this week against Cleveland because there’s an eight-week window he has to sit out before returning to game action, and that window expires next Tuesday. When he returns, he'll move back into the starting lineup ahead replacement Kemal Ishmael. "You couldn't ask for much more: Kemal stepped in and played a huge role,'' Moore said of Ishmael. "It's unfortunate how the game goes, but I'm sure we'll find a way to get Kemal on the field. You can't keep Kemal off the field. You can't keep good players off the field.'' Moore also expressed his thoughts on the solid play of free safety Dwight Lowery in his absence. Lowery emerged as a leader on defense. "I told Dwight that I loved how not only he's been playing good football, but he stepped up and showed some leadership his first year in the organization,'' Moore said. "I think that's more important than anything on the back end. He took a lot of guys under his wing, talking about Dez [southward] and Kemal. You've got three safeties that really haven't played that much, and Dwight showed leadership.''
  19. Kroy Biermann trying to find his rhythm By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The pass-rusher lined up wide left, exploded up the field with two steps at the snap, then sped around the helpless offensive tackle to corral the quarterback. No, we're not talking about J.J. Watt or Von Miller. It was Kroy Biermann. Before anyone jumps to conclusions, no one is putting Biermann in the same category as those elite pass-rushers. But for one Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons' outside linebacker/defensive end put together a few highlight clips that made you think he's capable of giving his team's hapless pass rush a boost. He had 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, and a batted-down pass in last Sunday's win. But Biermann's best outing out of the season was against the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And his key fourth-quarter sack was against an unknown backup rookie left tackle named Kevin Pamphile who played 28 snaps in the game. It might explain why Biermann didn't exactly pound his chest about his performance. "As a team, we've worked very hard to continue to stay on the right track and get things going," Biermann said. "Me personally ... I approach it like it's going to be my last game and my last practice, and that's to go out there with a fire in me and run around and make plays; try to practice as close to game speed as I possibly can because that's the way I feel like we're going to get the appropriate looks that we need to get. The looks that I want to see are going to happen for me that way. So I've just got to keep working and keep moving in the right direction.'' We'll see if Biermann builds off last week as the Falcons prepare to face a Carolina offensive line that allowed Cam Newton to be sacked a career-high nine times Monday night against Philadelphia. Since Biermann most often lines up on the left side, he's likely to see right tackle Nate Chandler, who got abused by the Eagles. Chandler was back at full practice Thursday after battling a toe injury. And Chandler, now in his third season, was undrafted. So was starting left tackle Byron Bell. Should make life easier for the Biermann and the Falcons, right? "They're men. They're going to come ready to play," Biermann said of the Panthers' line following Monday night's implosion. "Nobody likes to have a bad game. Obviously, that kind of motivates them to come back with some fire and put up good performance and kind of right their wrong. So we're ready to play. And they will be. It's going to be a good game, I think."
  20. vaughn mcclure ‏@vxmcclure23 Jake Matthews was told his high ankle sprain would linger throughout the season. He's just going to keep fighting. http://es.pn/1xCm0lA Jake Matthews shaking off ankle injury; still adjusting to NFL pass-rushers By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons rookie left tackle Jake Matthews was missing from the open locker room for quite a while and was obviously preoccupied with getting treatment on his ailing left ankle. The bye week at the start of the month gave Matthews a little more time to recover. One can tell the sense of relief in his tone. ``I'm ready to get that behind me,'' Matthews said during a locker room appearance on Thursday. ``They told me, right when the sprain happened, it was going to be something that I'd have to deal with the whole year. It's been getting a lot better. It's a lot more manageable now. I'm going to keep building on it and keep getting that treatment and getting it right.'' Matthews refused to use the injury as a crutch despite the severity. He suffered a high-ankle sprain -- typically a 4-to-6 week injury -- in the season opener against New Orleans and missed just the Cincinnati game. ``Man, it sucks, but that's the nature of the game,'' Matthews said of playing through the pain. ``Everyone's got something that's bothering them. Unfortunately, I had to learn that Week 1.'' That's not the only lesson Matthews learned. The transition from college to the pros figured to be an easy one for the sixth-overall pick and son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews. A switch from right to left tackle threw off the timing of his development. Then came the injury. Then Matthews was asked to contend with the likes of Terrell Suggs and Jason Pierre-Paul while playing basically on one leg. ``Every week, I've feel like I've learned something from who I've played against,'' Matthews said. ``[Pierre-Paul] was definitely a good player, and I felt like I learned a lot from him. Like I keep saying, every week, you're going up against a good player. It's one of the biggest things I've picked up from since I got here.''
  21. Jonathan Massaquoi believes he has earned more snaps Nov 4 8:10AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons pass-rusher Jonathan Massaquoi didn't exactly voice his frustration in dramatic fashion, but he did make his voice heard in terms of looking for more snaps during the season's second half. Massaquoi actually put together a pair of strong performances against Chicago and Baltimore, playing 59 percent of the snaps against the Bears (43 of 73) and 76 percent against the Ravens (51 of 67). But in the last game against Detroit in London, his playing time actually diminished to 49 percent of the snaps (37 of 75) despite him showing some momentum in terms of being able to pressure the quarterback. And it wasn't as if the Lions were running the ball down the Falcons' throat in that game. "Was I surprise that I didn't get more reps? No," Massaquoi said. "What's to be surprised about? Hey, obviously that's how it's been throughout the course of season with my playing time. Any expectation that I set for myself and my reps is only going to be. ...I just have to go out there and prepare for the league. How many reps they want to put me out there, that's how many reps I have to go hard in the paint and make sure we're successful as a defense and as a team." Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan no doubt regrets not playing Massaquoi more against the Lions. Defensive line coach Bryan Cox noted the strides Massaquoi has made as a pass-rusher in terms of putting himself in good positions and remaining active. So with such an ascent, it seems only natural for the Falcons to give Massaquoi a longer look moving forward, one would think. "Hey, I really have done nothing," Massaquoi said. "My success is based off how many reps I go out there and how I execute those reps. So, the more my reps go up, the more I can become an executor in those type of situational downs and be able to help the defense get off the field." In that game against the Ravens, Massaquoi finished with six tackles, a tackle for a loss, and two quarterback hits while also drawing a couple of holding calls. Right now, he leads arguably the league's weakest pass rush with two sacks. The rotation at outside linebacker/defensive end has been somewhat curious throughout the season, with Kroy Biermann managing to remain on the field extensively despite his lack of production, with no sacks. Biermann hasn't actually been a run-stuffer, either. Massaquoi doesn't believe playing the run should factor into his reps. He views himself as an every-down player. "That's what I want to be," he said. "And that's how my energy is up to this point. You would think that you would be an every-down guy. But there are other parts to this team that need help; that need my speed, my leverage, my strength and my knowledge. So I have to be an all-around guy. "I can play the run. I've played it my whole life. I'm a pass-rusher first, but the run is the run. It just depends on how many times they want to run the ball. ...My run game, I can hold it up. If I've got to hold up the run to get to a pass down, (shoot) I'm going to do a great job." The Falcons need the entire defense to play with such confidence the rest of the season.
  22. Mike Tice: Jake Matthews will be back to form in second half of season Nov 6 10:00PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It's obvious Atlanta Falcons rookie left tackle Jake Matthews hasn't been himself since the start of the season. Matthews suffered a high left ankle sprain in the season opener against New Orleans, an injury that typical takes four to six weeks to fully heal. Rather than rest and recover, Matthews missed just one game and gutted out the last six contests while playing well below 100 percent. The sixth overall pick even tweaked the ankle again during a Week 5 loss to the New York Giants. But Matthews refused to use the injury as a crutch, even as he struggled against the likes of New York's Jason Pierre-Paul and Chicago's Jared Allen. Now, Matthews will have had almost two full weeks of rest before taking the field against Tampa Bay on Sunday. Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice believes Matthews will be back to his normal self after finally getting ample time to recover. "I think the thing that really has happened with Jake is right tackle, right tackle, right tackle, right tackle, right tackle, left tackle, boom, hurt,'' Tice said. "He has really not played with any confidence in his ankle. And I think as he's getting healthy -- and I think, right now, he's as healthy as has been with that week off -- I think his confidence level has really picked up. "I think he had some concern about getting beat because of that ankle. Even this week in practice, you can start to see that go away. So I expect Jake to be on the rise the rest of the way out.'' While the interior of the Falcons' offensive line will have to contend with one of the league's best in Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, Matthews is likely to face an underachieving pass-rusher in Buccaneers veteran defensive end Michael Johnson, who has two sacks and three quarterback hits in seven games played.
  23. Atlanta Falcons secondary coach Tim Lewis pondered the question for a few moments before revealing if any of his defensive backs had been a pleasant surprise through the first eight games. "Somebody that makes me go, 'Wow, I did not see that coming?' Our free safety," Lewis said, referring to Dwight Lowery. "He got hurt in training camp. He had a concussion. And so we didn't have a chance to see him very much in preseason. I didn't know what we were getting. I didn't know whether he could actually tackle or cover or do anything. "He's done a fantastic job. He's an older guy who has bounced around a little bit. ... I like the heck out of him. He's smart. We've got him playing penny now. He plays free safety. He can play strong safety. He goes down and plays the slot corner. He's got coverage ability. He's got good hips. He's tough. He's smart. He's physical." Dwight Lowery has been a pleasant surprise at free safety for the Atlanta Falcons this season.Lowery, who spent his first six NFL seasons with the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars, hasn't been flashy, but no one really has been on defense. Lowery has given the Falcons more stability at a position where they struggled last season with Thomas DeCoud as the starter. He's shown more versatility and more durability than initially anticipated. After Lowery's preseason concussion, there was initial concern about him being sidelined for a while, considering it was his third concussion in the NFL. Last year with the Jaguars, a concussion kept Lowery from keeping a spot on the team. Lowery wasn't overly concerned about his health after his concussion with the Falcons. He was more concerned with proving he could be a reliable starter, and he's started and finished every game. "I'm appreciative of Coach Lewis, and I'm also appreciative of the opportunity to play," Lowery said. "I think what you expect of yourself as a player is to come and try to get better every day. I know that I've always had the ability to be a good player, to be a consistent player. And it's just about focusing in on that and making sure you don't have any distractions to take away from being the best that you can possibly be. "Quite honestly, I feel like I'm playing the best football since I first got into the NFL. ... I feel like there's been progression of myself from the beginning of the season until now; just not myself, but my teammates as well. We just got to make sure that we keep doing that." Through eight games, Lowery is fifth on the team with 40 combined tackles to go with a fumble recovery, a tackle for loss, and three passes defensed. "I'm not a big statistic guy," Lowery said. "I think the best plays are made when everybody is kind of on the same page and everybody does their job. That's how it all works. There's never an individual that makes a play. There's a lot of different factors that go into it. That's how I look at it." Based on Lewis' words, the Falcons might rely on Lowery even more in the second half the season, at least until strong safety William Moore returns from a shoulder injury. Moore is on injured reserve with a designation to return at the end of the month. "Dwight will continue to work on the communication to make sure he becomes that leader," Lewis said of Lowery. "We're looking for him to become that leader while William is out. And he's done a fantastic job of trying to step up to that role. He's does things week in and week out that make me go, 'Wow, that was pretty good.'" http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons
  24. Falcons have yielded 600-plus yards on just 11 ultra-explosive plays Oct 30 8:55AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com It's one thing to give up a 20-yard gain. It's borderline ridiculous to give up almost half the field on a play in just about every game. Such has been an issue for the 2-6 Atlanta Falcons through the first eight games. They have surrendered 11 plays of 40-plus yards, which is tied for the league lead with the Houston Texans, according to ESPN Statistics and Information. Those 11 plays have totaled 607 yards. "It's been our Achilles' heel," cornerback Desmond Trufant said. "The majority of the game, we could be shutting them down. And it seems like each game, there will be like one or two just big, big plays. If we stop those, we probably win some of those games. We just have to limit those big plays and we'll get a different outcome." The only game the Falcons haven't given up a 40-plus-yard play was in a 56-14 blowout of Tampa Bay in Week 3. Even in that contest, they allowed Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown to connect with rookie Mike Evans for a 35-yard gain. Six of the 11 plays have come on third down, including a 76-yard touchdown from Cincinnati's Andy Dalton to Mohammed Sanu on third-and-6, and this past Sunday's 59-yard touchdown connection from Detroit's Matthew Stafford to Golden Tate on third-and-25. The primary reasons have been a lack of pressure up front and communication breakdowns in the secondary. "On the one the other day, we let (Stafford) out of the pocket, on the 59-yarder," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "He wasn't sitting in the pocket. He was out of the pocket. And that's the same thing that happened with the 74-yarder (against the Bears). "When a quarterback gets out, he extends the play. Everybody sees the back end at the result, and who was there at the point. But what's the quarterback doing out of the pocket to begin with? It does fall on a lot of people's shoulders. ... It is a group effort." Nolan considers an explosive play to be either a 20-yard pass play or 10-yard run. His calculation only emphasizes how absurd it is for the Falcons to have surrendered so many 40-plus-yard plays. "Obviously, you don't want any," Nolan said. "I would say that one of the things explosives lead to is points. If you're a good unit, you get out of bad situations like that without points, and ours have typically led to points. That's the thing with big plays that you don't like: The one statistic that matters the most is points. And that's what big plays lead to. So that's the disturbing thing about them." Those 11 plays have resulted in seven touchdowns and 52 points. The point total would have been more had it not been for an interception in the end zone by Robert McClain against New Orleans and missed field goals by Bengals kicker Mike Nugent and Vikings kicker Blair Walsh. So how do the Falcons correct the problem? The pass rush has improved as of late, but they still rank second-to-last in the league in sacks per pass attempt. Nolan no doubt would admit he made a mistake in not playing Jonathan Massaquoi more snaps against the Lions, considering Massaquoi has shown the most progress of any pass-rusher in recent weeks. Veteran Osi Umenyiora probably earned himself more looks with his strong showing in London. The linebackers have to stop missing tackles. On the back end, the communication and coverage has to improve. Strong safety Kemal Ishmael, known more for his tackling, has had a few coverage hiccups. Maybe newly signed veteran safety Charles Godfrey could help in terms of coverage, or even speedy rookie Dez Southward. Plus, the Falcons should get their defensive leader back if strong safety William Moore (shoulder) returns from short-term injured reserve in late November. Since the start of the 2013 season, the Falcons have allowed 34 plays of at least 40 yards. That is seven more than any other team. It's a trend they need to halt immediately. "It's something that you don't what to give up, but it happens," Ishmael said. "But we're coming together as a team. We're not pointing any fingers at anybody. We're just going to work through it."
  25. Falcons rookie James Stone has to be front and center Oct 19 10:00PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com BALTIMORE -- Atlanta Falcons center Peter Konz suffered what one source called a "bad" knee injury, meaning the team will have to prepare to move forward with undrafted rookie James Stone at the position. Konz was injured in the first half of Sunday's 29-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. He was carted off the field and exited the stadium after the game on crutches. The source said Konz would not make the trip to London for the Falcons' matchup with the Detroit Lions. ESPN Insider Adam Caplan confirmed Konz is scheduled to undergo an MRI on the knee. The worst-case scenario would be a torn ACL, while the best case would be a sprain. Since the Falcons previously lost starting center Joe Hawley to a torn ACL, they'll have to rely on Stone, at least immediately. Harland Gunn would be the backup center. Stone actually played better than expected Sunday in his first extensive action. Offensive line coach Mike Tice has liked Stone's size, quickness, and explosiveness from the outset. "That's what we're here for is to be the next man up," Stone said. "If somebody goes down, you have to step in and try to keep going at the same level of intensity. "I feel like there's definitely going to be some things that I have to do better; just being on the same page with the guys and making sure that everybody is on the same page. I'm going to go watch the film. There's definitely going to be some stuff that I can learn from and get better from." If Konz is lost for the season, he would join Sam Baker (knee), Mike Johnson (foot), Lamar Holmes (foot), and Hawley (ACL) as offensive linemen on injured reserve.
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