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Falcons Team Report


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Falcons Team Report

Yahoo! Sports 4 hours, 2 minutes ago

INSIDE SLANT

The Falcons have revamped their defensive line.

Defensive end John Abraham(notes) is the only returning starter that will open the season in Pittsburgh. Jonathan Babineaux(notes) will miss the game because he’s serving a one-game suspension.

Defensive end Kroy Biermann(notes) replaces Jamaal Anderson(notes). Peria Jerry(notes), the team’s top draft pick in 2008, replaces Thomas Johnson(notes), who was released. Defensive tackle Trey Lewis(notes) will start for Babineaux.

The Falcons are hoping that Biermann will be the bookend pass rusher they thought Anderson, the No. 8 overall pick in 2007, would develop into.

Jerry was drafted to be a disruptive force in the middle.

“We look good,” Abraham said. “A lot of the younger guys are stepping up and becoming leaders of the team.”

Abraham believes improvement can be achieved by the entire unit just because they are playing the same defense for the third season.

“We are clicking a lot of better,” Abraham said.

He has been particularly pleased with Biermann, who destroyed tackles in the preseason when he had three sacks and two forced fumbles. He was third on the team with five sacks last season.

Biermann, a third year player, was a fifth-round pick from Montana. He weighed 248 pounds when he was drafted, but has developed his strength, power and explosiveness. He’s now listed at 260 pounds.

“He’s worked his butt off to become a better defensive end,” Abraham said. “He’s pretty much an all-around player now.”

The Steelers, from left tackle to right tackle, weigh 345, 344, 304, 324 and 330. The Falcons’ defensive line weighs 263, 316, 294 and 260. They will be giving up an average of 76 pounds.

The Falcons will try to use their speed and quickness to penetrate the gaps and disrupt the Steelers’ attack.

“The size doesn’t really scare me too much,” defensive tackle Trey Lewis said. “I’m not exactly small either. I think I can handle myself.”

• Falcons’ tight end Tony Gonzalez(notes) is closing in on another milestone.

He needs just one catch to join the exclusive 1,000-catch club.

Jerry Rice (1,549), Marvin Harrison(notes) (1,102), Cris Carter (1,101), Tim Brown(notes) (1,094) and Isaac Bruce(notes) (1,024) are the other members of the 1,000-catch club.

“That’s going to be great,” Gonzalez said. “If you look at the players in that group, it is very humbling.”

With each reception, Gonzalez, who is entering his 14th season in the NFL, is setting a new standard for tight ends.

He’s already blown past Shannon Sharpe’s 815 receptions and the previous tight end standard of 662, which was set by the great Ozzie Newsome.

“I’ve never ever thought about that during my career,” Gonzalez said about setting records. “I guess that’s a good thing because that means I wasn’t thinking ahead.”

Gonzalez is holding a contest on twitter.com—@TonyGonzalez88—for fans to celebrate the catch. The winner will receive the gloves he wears in the game, an autographed football and tickets to a Falcons game.

“I wanted to do that so I can share that with the fans,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez, 34, was acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009 for a second-round draft pick.

The Falcons quickly incorporated him into the offense.

Last season, he was second on the team with 83 catches for 867 yards and six touchdowns.

He’s expecting to be even more effective this season.

“I’m right where I want to be health-wise,” Gonzalez said. “Really, the big advantage that I have this year is that I understand the whole offense.”

After 12 seasons with the Chiefs, Gonzalez said he was basically learning a new language. He has not fully translated his engrained Chiefs plays into Falcons-speak.

While the records continue to pile up for Gonzalez, he’d trade them in a second for a playoff win or a Super Bowl ring.

He has been vocal about his goals and desires.

Gonzalez played on some pretty successful Kansas City teams, but they never won a playoff game during his tenure.

But all of the preseason playoff talk and Super Bowl aspirations will not matter when the Falcons face Pittsburgh on Sunday.

“I feel like this is the most talented team that I’ve ever played on, but it doesn’t mean anything,” Gonzalez said. “We still have to go out there and play the games.”

Gonzalez is under contract through 2012. But with the unsettled labor situation, he’s not sure if this will be his last season. During training camp he said that it was about 50-50 that he’d retire.

“When I said that, it was in jest,” Gonzalez said. “I really don’t know. … It might cross my mind every once in a while, but I’m not focusing on it.”

He concluded that he was leaving the door open to playing in 2012.

“I feel good right now and that’s something that I’m really going to have to figure out in the offseason,” Gonzalez said.

Series History: 15th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 11-2-1. This week’s contest marks the first time the two teams have met since 2006, a 41-38 Falcons win at the Georgia Dome. The last meeting in Pittsburgh was in 2002, a 34-34 tie at Heinz Field.

NOTES, QUOTES

• Defensive end Kroy Biermann and rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon(notes) have won first-string assignments, according to the “unofficial” depth chart released by the team on Tuesday.

Also, defensive tackle Trey Lewis will open the 2010 season as a starter in Jonathan Babineaux’s position. Babineaux is serving a one-game suspension.

Biermann, who was the defensive MVP of the preseason with three sacks, beat out Jamaal Anderson, who’s started at the spot for the last three years. He’s listed as the No. 2 left defensive end.

• Cornerback Dunta Robinson(notes) will make his Atlanta debut on Sunday against Pittsburgh. He did not play in the preseason.

Robinson would have much rather seen the stationary Charlie Batch(notes) as opposed to the athletic Dennis Dixon(notes) at quarterback for the Steelers.

“Dennis Dixon, in his start last year, looked real good,” Robinson said. “Everybody gives you something different. With Dixon, you have a versatile quarterback. You hate playing against quarterbacks that can get out of the pocket. That’s one of the things that defenses hate the most.”

• CB Dunta Robinson had some advice for the rookies who will be making their debut on the road in Pittsburgh.

“One thing that Lou Holtz used to tell me in college all the time, he would always say, ‘Guys, don’t worry about the fans, they can’t come out of the stands,’” Robinson said.”That helped me as a freshman in college. He would always say that it’s going to be 11-on-11. You can’t worry about the fans because they can’t come out of the stands. That would be the one thing that I would tell these young guys.”

By The Numbers: 128—Consecutive starts for center Todd McClure(notes).

Quote To Note: “I think this team is better than it was a year ago. There is no question about that. I think that starting with the fact that this was our third draft with (general manager) Thomas Dimitroff and Smitty (coach Mike Smith(notes)) at the helm. From a football prospective, they’ve done an excellent job again. … I feel good about where we are… There is no reason why this team shouldn’t be better than it was a year ago. How that will translate into a record, I really don’t know.”—Falcons owner Arthur Blank.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Kroy Biermann’s insertion into the starting lineup signals the end of the Jamaal Anderson era. The former No. 8 pick never blossomed into a pass rusher. The hope is that Biermann will be a double-digit sack playing opposite of John Abraham.

Biermann, a former fifth-round pick from Montana, has made incremental strides. He’s flashed explosiveness and techniques in the offseason and the team rewarded his production.

Player Notes

• WR Michael Jenkins(notes) (shoulder) has not practiced this week and will not likely play in the season opener. Look for Brian Finneran(notes) to get the start.

• C/G Joe Hawley(notes) (hip) has not practiced this week.

• RDE John Abraham had 5.5 sacks last season and now has 89.5 career sacks.

• DT Trey Lewis in three seasons with the Falcons has totaled 33 tackles (18 solo) and one interception. He made one start last season.

• DT Peria Jerry was selected in the first round (24th pick overall) of the 2009 draft and played in two games before his rookie season was cut short due to a knee injury.

• LDE Kroy Biermann played in all 16 games in 2009, including two starts. He ranked third on the team with 5.0 sacks and recorded his first touchdown on a fumble recovery against the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 2.

• RG Harvey Dahl(notes) is coming back from offseason ankle surgery.

• TE Tony Gonzalez ranked second on the team in receiving yards with 867 on 83 receptions with six touchdowns.

• WR Roddy White(notes) led the team in receiving yards with 1,153 on 85 receptions (13.6 avg.). He also recorded 11 touchdowns, which set a new career-high. He became the second receiver in franchise history to record three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

• QB Matt Ryan(notes) last season in 14 games completed 263 of 451 passes for 2,916 yards and 22 touchdowns for an 80.9 passer rating.

• RB Michael Turner(notes) led the team in rushing with 178 carries for 871 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Game Plan: The Falcons must figure out a way to run the ball against a 3-4 defense and will face one of the best in **** LeBeau’s unit. Last season, the Falcons struggled running the ball against 3-4 teams.

The defense is receiving a break and will face the Steelers third string quarterback in Dennis Dixon. Ben Roethlisberger(notes) is out serving the first game of his suspension.

Matchups To Watch: Steelers LB James Harrison(notes), who finished with 10 sacks last season, vs. Falcons LT Sam Baker(notes), who has struggled against 3-4 fronts—Baker is entering his third season and may get some help against Harrison when he comes on the rush. If Harrison is a disruptive force, it could be a long day in the pocket for quarterback Matt Ryan.

• Steelers SS Troy Polamalu(notes) vs. Falcons RB Michael Turner—There should be some good collisions here. Turner is looking to get off to a good start after injuries ravaged his 2009 season. Polamalu is also coming back from injury and will be seeking to re-establish his greatness.

Injury Impact: WR Michael Jenkins (shoulder) did not practice and is not likely to play against Pittsburgh. The Falcons will likely start Brian Finneran and have Harry Douglas(notes) and Eric Weems(notes) at their disposal.

• C Joe Hawley (hip) did not practice.

• CB Brent Grimes(notes) (hip) was limited in practice. If he’s not able to go, look for Christopher Owens(notes) to start in his spot opposite Dunta Robinson.

• DT Corey Peters(notes) (knee strain) was limited in practice.

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