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ESPN: Struggling Atlanta CBs face huge test against Brees


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"Struggling Atlanta CBs face huge test against Brees

October 31, 2009 4:00 PM

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

On paper, it might be the biggest mismatch of the NFL season.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and his army of receivers, which just might be the deepest stable in the league, vs. Atlanta’s much-maligned secondary.

You could say this one is Goliath going against David again. But that one doesn’t quite fit because David also had a bit of a pass rush to compensate for his lack of size.

The Falcons simply don’t have a lot going for them in the secondary right now, and that could end up costing them any shot at the NFC South title. At 4-2, they’re already on the verge of playing only for a wild-card spot as they head into the Superdome to play the undefeated Saints on "Monday Night Football."

The Saints have Brees, Marques Colston, Jeremy Shockey and a whole bunch of other guys who can catch the ball all over the field. They’ve also got the tape of last week’s Atlanta loss to Dallas -- a game in which the shortcomings of the Falcons’ secondary were exposed repeatedly.

“They got hit in a couple of pressures when they weren’t able to get to the quarterback so they had receivers with a lot of time to work downfield and the Cowboys did a good job of taking advantage of some of those,’’ Brees said.

That’s just Brees being politically correct, as he always is. But, you have to figure that Brees and coach Sean Payton have spent the week watching the Atlanta-Dallas film and getting more than a little excited about the possibilities. If Tony Romo and Miles Austin can batter the Atlanta secondary, Brees, Colston and company could absolutely shred it.

The Falcons don’t have anything close to a shutdown corner, and two of their top three cornerbacks wouldn’t be among top three cornerbacks on any other team. Although Atlanta coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have done a great job since taking over a franchise in total disarray, cornerback might be the one spot they’re not better off than they were when they took charge in 2008.

Part of it is bad luck. The Falcons lost veteran cornerback Brian Williams to a season-ending injury. But part of it is that the Falcons largely have ignored this position. That’s been showing up recently and it could be completely exploited by the Saints. If that happens, Dimitroff and Smith have no one to blame but themselves.

They didn’t have a strong stable of cornerbacks last year, but they were able to hide that. They had an entire offseason to get better and they didn’t. They let Domonique Foxworth go in free agency and decided to stick with Chris Houston, Chevis Jackson and Brent Grimes -- and that’s a little scary.

Houston’s the best of the bunch, but he’s a decent No. 2 cornerback being asked to be a shutdown guy. Grimes is athletic, but woefully undersized. Jackson showed some big promise as a rookie, but hasn’t been able to cover anyone this year.

The problems became apparent in the preseason and training camp and that’s why the Falcons went out and signed Williams and traded for Tye Hill at the last minute. Williams was decent before his injury, but Hill hasn’t shown anything to convince the coaching staff to let him on the field.

The Falcons also have rookie Christopher Owens and there are hopes that he could be an impact player down the road. Don’t be surprised if Owens gets some playing time against the Saints because his size might allow him to match up better than Grimes against the New Orleans receivers, but Owens isn’t going to fix all of the problems in one game.

If there is any hope for the Atlanta cornerbacks to at least slow down Brees and the passing game, they’ll have to have help -- lots of it -- and there haven’t been many signs that anyone is ready to come to the rescue.

The Falcons were able to hide their deficiencies in coverage last year mainly by putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That came almost entirely from veteran pass-rush specialist John Abraham, but he’s been relatively quiet this season.

At times in the Dallas game, Abraham was seen dropping into pass coverage, which makes about as much sense as putting Brees in the Wildcat formation. You have to let your best players do what they do best and the Falcons need to let Abraham focus solely on getting to Brees. They also need some help from their other starting defensive end, Kroy Biermann, who started the season fast, but has cooled off recently.

Smith and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder tried to give the pass rush some help against Dallas by blitzing frequently, but that didn’t really work out. The blitzers seldom got close to Romo and he was able to find the weak spots in the secondary.

“You live by the pressure and you die by the pressure,’’ Brees said. “You might make a few plays when you pressure, but you’re leaving yourself open to giving up some big plays. That’s the pros and cons on a pressure defense.’’

Those are the pros and cons facing Smith and VanGorder. They have to generate a pass rush to keep their cornerbacks from being stuck in coverage too long. But Brees and the Saints are pretty good at handling pressure. Brees gets rid of the ball quickly and doesn’t take many sacks.

“I figure, with these guys, they’ve shown to pressure a lot at times and do some things that they haven’t done in the past,’’ Brees said.

Maybe that’s the key for the Falcons. Maybe they need to do something they haven’t done in the past -- like have their cornerbacks actually cover some receivers."

http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcsouth/post/_/id/4536/struggling-atlanta-cbs-face-huge-test-against-brees

Ouch, Houston the only corner on our team that would be in the top three corners on any other team?

I'm really interested to see how BVG and Smitty plan on dealing with New Orleans. You know, as long as it's not sit back and play zone all game. Then I'm not interested in their game plan.

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I agree on Houston. He is great man-to-man but since we run a lot of zone he can't make his decisions quick enough.

But I wouldn't say we've ignored that position. We drafted a CB last year, drafted 2 this year, traded for 1, and signed one from free agency.

I agree in part. We didn't ignore the position, but we didn't really go out and get someone who can start. Except Williams at the last minute. Now we have the same starters we had last year. Our slew of corners are filled with raw guys with potential, but none that aren't a liability. Had we signed a big FA guy or drafted one highly it would be different I guess.

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The Falcons dont have anything close to a shutdown corner, and two of their top three cornerbacks wouldnt be among top three cornerbacks on any other team. Although Atlanta coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have done a great job since taking over a franchise in total disarray, cornerback might be the one spot they're not better off than they were when they took charge in 2008.

ANY? I know we have our issues at CB, but that is a reach.

Part of it is bad luck. The Falcons lost veteran cornerback Brian Williams to a season-ending injury. But part of it is that the Falcons largely have ignored this position. Thats been showing up recently and it could be completely exploited by the Saints. If that happens, Dimitroff and Smith have no one to blame but themselves.

Largely ignored the position? We drafted Houston in the 2nd round 3 years ago, Jackson in the 3rd round last year and Owens in the 3rd this year. When you add the late picks weve used at CB, the wasted 2nd rounder on Jimmy Williams, and the additions of Brian Williams and Von Huthcins in free agency in thelast 2 years, and it clear that we have triedhard to upgrade the position.

We could have added a big name FA, but we'd have had to make sacrifices elsewhere to do so. We probably should have added another mid-level veteran FA this year though...

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I agree on Houston. He is great man-to-man but since we run a lot of zone he can't make his decisions quick enough.

But I wouldn't say we've ignored that position. We drafted a CB last year, drafted 2 this year, traded for 1, and signed one from free agency.

For sure, we just haven't been able to hit as of yet. Who knows, maybe Owens is a stud waiting for his shot. Tough game to come into off the bench as a rookie though.

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At times in the Dallas game, Abraham was seen dropping into pass coverage, which makes about as much sense as putting Brees in the Wildcat formation. You have to let your best players do what they do best and the Falcons need to let Abraham focus solely on getting to Brees. They also need some help from their other starting defensive end, Kroy Biermann, who started the season fast, but has cooled off recently.

THIS IS TRUE

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“They got hit in a couple of pressures when they weren’t able to get to the quarterback so they had receivers with a lot of time to work downfield and the Cowboys did a good job of taking advantage of some of those,’’ Brees said.

That’s just Brees being politically correct, as he always is.

I stopped reading here.

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At times in the Dallas game, Abraham was seen dropping into pass coverage, which makes about as much sense as putting Brees in the Wildcat formation. You have to let your best players do what they do best and the Falcons need to let Abraham focus solely on getting to Brees. They also need some help from their other starting defensive end, Kroy Biermann, who started the season fast, but has cooled off recently.

THIS IS TRUE

Not if he is triple teamed.

BVG does this a lot on third downs.

Not just with Abe ... JA98 ... Johnson ... not uncommon and at times makes schematic sense.

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ANY? I know we have our issues at CB, but that is a reach.

Largely ignored the position? We drafted Houston in the 2nd round 3 years ago, Jackson in the 3rd round last year and Owens in the 3rd this year. When you add the late picks weve used at CB, the wasted 2nd rounder on Jimmy Williams, and the additions of Brian Williams and Von Huthcins in free agency in thelast 2 years, and it clear that we have triedhard to upgrade the position.

We could have added a big name FA, but we'd have had to make sacrifices elsewhere to do so. We probably should have added another mid-level veteran FA this year though...

I dunno, I kinda agree, and I've said it before that we have a stable of guys who would be no more than nickle backs at best on any other team in the NFL. Houston is MAYBE a #2 on a desperate team that has someone solid n the other side.

We did not try hard to upgrade the position at all. We tried to fill the position, but not upgrade it. Signing or trading for a legit young starting NFL CB would be an upgrade. We have not done that. We've tried to fill a million dollar hole with bargain basement pawn shop players.

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man pat is hatin hard. he doesn't know for sure what the coaches think about tye hill :angry:

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. Houston and Grimes blow. That is a fact. If Hill was even remotely decent, he's be in at the very least as a nickle or dime CB by now. As it stands, he hasn't been able to beat out two guys that blow, a second year player who's pretty much handing his position to anyone that wants it, and a rookie who's just been on ST so far. The guy was a 1st rounder that the sorry azz Rams were willing to give away for peanuts.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, talks like a duck... it's probably a duck.

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I dunno, I kinda agree, and I've said it before that we have a stable of guys who would be no more than nickle backs at best on any other team in the NFL. Houston is MAYBE a #2 on a desperate team that has someone solid n the other side.

We did not try hard to upgrade the position at all. We tried to fill the position, but not upgrade it. Signing or trading for a legit young starting NFL CB would be an upgrade. We have not done that. We've tried to fill a million dollar hole with bargain basement pawn shop players.

With a limited amount of draft picks and cap space, and a lot of positions to fill, there is only so much that you can do to upgrade one position. 2nd and 3rd round picks are very valuable picks -so I'd hardly say that we've tried tofill it with "bargain basement players". If anything, investing 3 such high picks on a position in 3 years (4 in 4 yrs if you including Jimmy Williams) is overinvesting in that position.

We could have drafted yet another CB high in the draft instead of Lofton, Baker, DeCoud, Ryan, Jerry or Moore. We could have traded several of the picks used to get those players and bust the bank to a trade for an elite CB like Aso, or wecould have let Roddy walk and used the $ to lure an elite CB in Free agency. Had we done so, the chances are that we'd be complaining about the other position(s) that will not have been addressed because we overspent on the CB position.

If anything, we ought to be questioning why the guys we've drafted early over the last 3 years haven't performed better. Why is Houston still giving up needless PI flags? Why isn't Chevis Jackson showing any significant sign of improvement in his 2nd year? If we are as bad as everyone claims, why don't we use the opportunity to 'blood' Chris Owens?

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THIS MAY SHOCK

A. The Falcons are going to do something to shock us Monday Night!

B. The Falcons are going to perform better than we've seen them this year!

C. Our coaching staff is planning to do something that we have not seen either!

Look, Drew Brees has gained some type of new enlightened atonement and realized last week that he cant make a team DO what he wants, but he CAN take advantage of what they give him. He tried to control the game last week and it took him about a half to realize "Man, they seriously have everybody comin after me". He then changed his game plan to timing rather than whos open.

Question:

How many QBs have we ever seen start the game completely fresh, trash the team completely within 1.5 qtrs and then put up 46 points at the end of the game?

Answer:

Maybe one or two within the last five years.

My small, mini, minute take on the sit is that SMITH and VANGORDER know they risk the threat of being exposed and giving every team some insight of their massive weakness ON LIVE, NATION SEEN MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL. They will come up with something we havent seen from them but it will take our defense working as a team to do it. LOTS OF ZONE BLITZES.

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I think the article is dead on point...

I agree, and I agree that we totally did ignore the CB position. Losing Fox in FA, and not bringing in any real experienced talent when it was out there, until late into preseason when it was obvious we had nothing (which was obvious last year to me), says to me clearly we ignored the CB position and it will probably cost us the playoffs this year. There are some CBs from this years draft starting and playing very well, while our top 2 draft choices had injury historys and are out for the season.

Can't give TD a pass for this. His offseason got an A+ last year, this year he is working on a D. imho.

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He resigned Babs & Roddy. Williams was a great signing but done in by injury. Not resigning Foxworth was a great move because he has stunk this year and is making 7million per. Jerry, Moore, Sid, and Owens could all become valuable starters. I agree that we should have brought in another mid level cb like Greer, Bodden, etc. But TD's grade for the offseason still hinges on our draft picks. Also, we are set to recieve a comp pick for Foxy, probably a 4th, so who ever we would have signed would have cost us that pick as well.

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He resigned Babs & Roddy. Williams was a great signing but done in by injury. Not resigning Foxworth was a great move because he has stunk this year and is making 7million per. Jerry, Moore, Sid, and Owens could all become valuable starters. I agree that we should have brought in another mid level cb like Greer, Bodden, etc. But TD's grade for the offseason still hinges on our draft picks. Also, we are set to recieve a comp pick for Foxy, probably a 4th, so who ever we would have signed would have cost us that pick as well.

Even before reading your post but after re-reading mine, I realized I was being too harsh on grading TD's offseason as a D, I must raise it becaues of getting Gonzo for a 2nd. That's the move that is paying off well so far anyways.

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regardless of whatever its going to take all 3 phases to be clicking for the falcons to win tomarrow..you can put it all on the secondary if you all want but its also up to the o to keep brees azz of the field with the run game something weve sorely lacked..and dont forget winning on special teams and the coaches making the right calls.if we play atlanta football like we can then the saints are in for a game.

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Pat Y. is way off stating we have ignored the position. But he is correct that we haven't done anything right other than B. Williams so far, and the curse took care of that.

He is telling the truth about ignoring the position, Owens was a stretch he could have been picked much later. Also Perry and our second round pick were also stretches, they were both injury prone and neither of them are here now because of injury. You have to look at what was available at both positions during our 1st and 2nd picks and ask yourself were those the best two picks now and then. And the answer is no on both.

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He is telling the truth about ignoring the position, Owens was a stretch he could have been picked much later. Also Perry and our second round pick were also stretches, they were both injury prone and neither of them are here now because of injury. You have to look at what was available at both positions during our 1st and 2nd picks and ask yourself were those the best two picks now and then. And the answer is no on both.

You can't write off a couple of picks just becase they happen to get injured in their rookie years. As I recall, Jerry and Moore were both widely regarded as good value selections - and DT and S were considered bigger needs that CB at the time.

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