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Atlanta Falcons Team Report


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http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/falcons/home.htm

Atlanta Falcons Team Report

12/4/2008

Defensive end John Abraham is starting to get some help in the sack department.

He has 12.5 of the Falcons 24 sacks. The Falcons are using a defensive line by committee approach, but Jonathan Babineaux has stepped forward. He is second on the team with four sacks. Jamaal Anderson and Chauncey Davis are tied for third with two each.

But if you see someone diving around a quarterback's legs, it's usually Babineaux.

Early this season, he got after Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, who then ran into Grady Jackson for his only sack of the season.

Even on some of defensive end John Abraham's sacks, the quarterback is jumpy because Babineaux is giving chase from up the middle.

"He's using his quickness and his speed," Falcons defensive line coach Ray Hamilton said. "It's too bad for him that sack totals really haven't shown up for him. He's been around the quarterback a lot this year."

Last week, with the San Diego game on the line, Abraham was clawing and scratching at Philip Rivers and Babineaux came in and finished him off.

"What I do is try to be the best at what I can do, being disruptive," Babineaux said.

The Falcons defense is designed for the tackles to get penetration into the opponent's backfield.

"Jonathan is a very quick and sudden guy," Hamilton said. "He's our Iron Man. He comes to work. He's really our warrior in there. We can always count on him. He usually has the most snaps."

All of the rest of the starters - Jamaal Anderson, Jackson and Abraham - are rotated out.

Smith has a little philosophy behind the rotation.

Babineaux gets some rest, but is usually left in the game to help keep things together, when defensive ends Chauncey Davis and Kroy Biermann or defensive tackles Jason Jefferson or Kindal Moorehead are in the game.

"We've got eight guys that dress on Sunday," Hamilton said. "They all get into the rotation and they all play. Which is good. You don't want to have a guy just hanging around and not playing."

The rotation is starting to pay off with improved play and some help for Abraham.

SERIES HISTORY: 79th regular-season meeting. The Falcons lead the series 44-34, but they had dropped the last four contests before downing the Saints 34-20 on Nov. 9 at the Georgia Dome. The two teams have played each other once in the playoffs with the Falcons winning a 1991 Wildcard game 27-20. The Saints fell behind in the last meeting and nearly rallied back behind quarterback Drew Brees, who passed for 294 yards in the fourth quarter.

NOTES, QUOTES

—Sam Baker said after Sunday's game in San Diego that he was gearing up to return this week against New Orleans. The rookie left tackle has missed six games due to hip problems, which led to surgery for a herniated disc.

Baker had surgery on Oct. 30 and would be in only his fifth week of recovery. Typically recovery takes 8-10 weeks, or six weeks best-case.

Falcons coach Mike Smith wasn't quite ready to declare Baker set to go, but he acknowledged that Baker has been doing more in practice and that his progress will be monitored throughout the week.

"I know that he progressed quite a bit last week," Smith said. "I really think it's going to be a matter of how he gets out there, how he feels and how he moves around as the week progresses."

Baker missed one game and parts of two others in September because of a concussion, so he's seen action in only three full games this season. The Falcons are eager to get their first-round pick back, not only to help them on this playoff push, but also to get him more repetitions at the NFL level.

Veteran Todd Weiner has been starting at left tackle in his place.

"It would be best for Sam to play as many games as he can for us because this is a long-term process for the Atlanta Falcons and Sam Baker, and we want to give Sam as much experience as we can," Smith said. "We're not just looking in terms of 2008. We're looking to 2009 and beyond."

—Harry Douglas got an earful from Smith after he muffed a punt in the first quarter to set up the Chargers' opening touchdown. He had been indecisive on the play, first letting the ball bounce, then fielding it at the last second when he should have left it alone.

But it was how he responded to that miscue in his fifth game as the Falcons' punt returner that made the bigger impact ultimately.

On the next Chargers punt, Douglas returned the ball 32 yards to the Chargers' 46-yard line. That set up an 18-yard touchdown catch by Justin Peelle to give the Falcons their first lead, one they wouldn't lose.

"It's a learning process for Harry," Smith said. "And I know that Harry took a big step yesterday."

—Despite arriving back at Flowery Branch at 2:45 a.m. from San Diego, 41 players reported Monday morning for voluntary workouts and film sessions. "To have those guys in here today is a tribute to how hard these guys are working," Smith said.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1,208 — RB Michael Turner's rushing total after 12 games.

331 — RB Michael Turner's fourth-quarter fumble against San Diego broke a streak of 331 carries without losing a fumble. It was his first fumble lost as a Falcon.

108 — C Todd McClure consecutive regular season games started, dating back to 2001.

105.7 — Falcons average yards rushing per game, second in the league.

20 — P Michael Koenen has dropped 20 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

12.5 — DE John Abraham's sack total.

6 — QB Matt Ryan is 6-0 when he leads the Falcons in for a score on their opening drive of the game.

3 — WR Harry Douglas' touchdown totals over the past two games. He has run for a score, caught a touchdown pass and returned a punt for a TD.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Jonathan I think had his best game of the year statistically with the 1 1/2 sacks, pass deflection and pass defense and I think he had a (tackle) for a loss. He was very disruptive and it was good to see him have that type of game." — Falcons coach Mike Smith on the improved play of DT Jonathan Babineaux.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Teams might want to stop blitzing rookie quarterback Matt Ryan.

He's showing that he's true to his nickname "Matty Ice" when staring down the pressure teams are throwing his way.

According to Stats Pass, entering the San Diego game Ryan had been blitzed 80 times. Against those 80 blitzes, he completed 50 passes (60.2 percent) for 647 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions. He was sacked twice and had a passer rating of 81.8.

Ryan has completed 203 of 333 passes for 2,625, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. He has a quarterback rating of 91.2, which is tied for eighth in the league.

It helps that the offensive line has done a good job of picking up and handling stunts much better than last season when they gave up 47 sacks.

When a blitz did get on top of Ryan against San Diego, he was able to notice it, roll outside of the pocket and throw the ball away. He doesn't get greedy and lives for another play.

PLAYER NOTES

—RB Michael Turner is on pace to rush for 1,611 yards, which would be the third best total in franchise history. Jamal Anderson ran for 1,846 yards in 1998 and Gerald Riggs ran for 1,719 in 1985.

—WR Roddy White has 68 receptions for 1,085 yards and six touchdowns. White had 5 catches for 68 yards and a touchdown in the last meeting against the Saints.

—WR Michael Jenkins has 34 catches for 520 yards and three touchdowns, which includes a 62-yard touchdown. He had six catches for 72 yards against the Saints earlier this season.

—RB Jerious Norwood is a triple threat. He has 1,514 all-purpose yards. Norwood has 412 rushing yards, 261 receiving yards and 841 yards on kickoff returns

—FS Erik Colman has 70 tackles, including 58 solo, and two fumble recoveries.

—DT Jonathan Babineaux has four sacks, 27 tackles and one fumble recovery.

GAME PLAN: The Falcons will have to keep Saints quarterback Drew Brees under check like they did for three quarters in their 34-20 victory on Nov. 9.

The Falcons batted down 15 of his passes and had three interceptions, four quarterback hits and one sack.

Brees is playing at an MVP level this year but is coming off his worst performance of the year at Tampa Bay. He threw three interceptions in the final 20 minutes and a fourth that was called back due to a penalty. Brees has thrown eight of his 14 interceptions against NFC South opponents.

In his previous outing at the Superdome, he threw four touchdown passes and led the Saints to 51 points against Green Bay.

Atlanta's pass defense benefited from consistent pressure up front led by defensive end John Abraham.

The linebackers and defensive backs did a good job of jamming receivers and contesting routes.

Playing from behind, Brees threw for an amazing 294 yards in the fourth quarter during a frantic comeback attempt.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Falcons WLB Keith Brooking vs. Saints RB Reggie Bush — Bush played last week for the first time since tearing the meniscus in his left knee on Oct. 19 and having arthroscopic surgery. He finished with zero yards rushing on three carries and five receptions for 32 yards against Tampa Bay. He didn't play in the first meeting with the Falcons. Brooking has had a tough time covering running backs out of the backfield and will be hard pressed to keep up with the recovering Bush in his second game back. Bush is the Saints second leading receiver with 47 catches for 398 yards and three touchdowns.

Saints WR Marques Colston vs. Falcons CB Chris Houston: Colston had seven catches for 140 yards in the previous matchup, including a 48-yard reception. Since coming into the league, Colston has been a thorn in the Falcons' side. Houston played much tougher against the Chargers after having a rough outing against Carolina's Steve Smith. Houston has two interceptions this season with one coming against the Saints. He has to get physical with Colston and try to re-direct him off the line scrimmage.

Saints RB Pierre Thomas vs. Falcons MLB Curtis Lofton: The Falcons held the Saints to 105 yards rushing. If Devery Henderson doesn't pick up 30 yards on a reverse, the rushing totals look rather bleak. However, Thomas ran six times for 26 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and has come on since. He had a big game against Green Bay. The Saints have to figure out that quarterback Drew Brees throwing the ball 58 times — like in the last matchup - is not a winning formula. However, the Falcons with Lofton leading the way, are coming off a game in which they held LaDainian Tomlinson to 24 yards rushing.

INJURY IMPACT: LT Sam Baker (hip) is recovering from surgery on his lower back to alleviate hip pain. He returned to practice and may be available.

—WR Laurent Robinson (hamstring) was limited in practice and may be available to play.

—FS Erik Coleman suffered a contusion in his quadriceps and didn't practice. He may be available this week.

—CB Brent Grimes did not practice with a knee/quadriceps injury and may not be available.

—LT Todd Weiner, who had major reconstructive surgery on his left knee, did not practice but is expected to play.

—NT Grady Jackson was limited in practice, but is expected to play if a decision is not rendered in his appeal of his four-game suspension.

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Brooking has had a tough time covering running backs out of the backfield and will be hard pressed to keep up...

And that's been Brooking's major weakness for the past 5 years. He's lost a step in pass coverage. Its really noticeable when he has to cover passes out in the flats or TEs coming into his area.

I just hope he makes better reads this week.

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Playing from behind, Brees threw for an amazing 294 yards in the fourth quarter during a frantic comeback attempt.

Geez is that how he gets all his yards? Seems like we hear the same story every week: Brees still chucking the ball deep in the 4th quarter just to try to break the record.

If he breaks it, what a meaningless record...

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Geez is that how he gets all his yards? Seems like we hear the same story every week: Brees still chucking the ball deep in the 4th quarter just to try to break the record.

If he breaks it, what a meaningless record...

Did you happen to read the quotes from the Bucs defense? They actually wanted Brees to throw alot and, in a way, so do I. If you've ever noticed with him, Brees, while under pressure, likes to throw long for the big play. If our coverage is set up as like the last game, and with Babs getting pressure up the middle, I expect him to throw more INTs like he did the last time.

He's very predictable.

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Geez is that how he gets all his yards? Seems like we hear the same story every week: Brees still chucking the ball deep in the 4th quarter just to try to break the record.

If he breaks it, what a meaningless record...

basically. he's the king of garbage yards.

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Bush is the Saints second leading receiver with 47 catches for 398 yards and three touchdowns.

So he is averaging 8.4 yards a catch and that is good? I mean really when is the world going to wake up and see what kind of a bust this guy is? Why does he continue to get a free pass from everyone?

3 year career stats:

Rushing 402 1440 12td 3.6ypc

Receiving 208 1557 7td 7.5ypc

He's done well returning punts 3td's in 15 returns but with his hype and the #2 spot in the draft you would think he could do a lot better.

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Geez is that how he gets all his yards? Seems like we hear the same story every week: Brees still chucking the ball deep in the 4th quarter just to try to break the record.

If he breaks it, what a meaningless record...

Yea and he acts all concerned and says it wont mean anything if they dont have a winning season but he still keeps bombing it

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Did you happen to read the quotes from the Bucs defense? They actually wanted Brees to throw alot and, in a way, so do I. If you've ever noticed with him, Brees, while under pressure, likes to throw long for the big play. If our coverage is set up as like the last game, and with Babs getting pressure up the middle, I expect him to throw more INTs like he did the last time.

He's very predictable.

Brees is so overrated. More than half his stats, are meaningless garbage stats. Hes a stat padder.

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