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Falcons INSIDE SLANT


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INSIDE SLANT

The Falcons set out to improve their defense this offseason and have received some mixed results.

While they are giving up yards, they are not hemorrhaging points. They are allowing an average of 18.7 points, which is seventh in the league.

However, the run defense has been weak at the edges.

“Typical of when you play bad run defense usually a misfit and/or poor tackling is involved,” defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said. “That’s really the case the last couple of games. In Tampa we didn’t tackle well. We have a couple of fit issues.”

The Falcons have been able to create turnovers on defense, as they are tied for sixth in the league with 16 interceptions.

“We’ve been better in that particular area,” VanGorder said. “We’d still like to be a little bit more stubborn. We’ve had some big red-zone plays and some takeaways that have allowed us to play some good scoring defense.”

There is some hope that rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon(notes) can return to health and perhaps help shut down the run.

“He’s still trying to get back to 100 percent, both physically and back into the speed of the game,” VanGorder said. “He hasn’t impacted the games like he was earlier, but I see signs of improvement. We are getting him closer to where we want to get him.”

The Falcons could replace their smallish ends—Kroy Biermann(notes) and John Abraham(notes)—with the stout ones—Jamaal Anderson(notes) and Chauncey Davis(notes)—in obvious running situation.

On the back end, the secondary has been a little bit more firm with the improving play of Brent Grimes(notes), the former undrafted free agent from Shippensburg University, and safety William Moore(notes).

“William Moore, for being thrown into the starting position after the season had begun, has held up very well,” VanGorder said. “He’s still learning the game, so there are mistakes from him, but with the physical traits that he has, he can impact the game. We just look for him to keep getting better.”

Series History: 12th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 8-3. In the last meeting, the Falcons won 44-41 under interim head coach Emmitt Thomas.

NOTES, QUOTES

• Running back Jason Snelling(notes), who’s missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, returned to practice Wednesday.

The hard-charging Snelling, the team’s second-leading rusher with 300 yards on 74 carries, was injured against Green Bay on Nov. 28.

Getting Snelling back would boost the Falcons’ rushing attack and take some of the load off Michael Turner(notes), who’s rushed 52 times for 200 yards and four touchdowns over the last two games.

In addition to being the second-leading rusher, Snelling has caught 35 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns.

Seattle’s run defense gives up 119.2 yards per game, which ranks 20th in the league.

• Cornerback Christopher Owens(notes) was named the Falcons’ man of the year on Monday, and he will be considered for the Walter Payton NFL man of the year award, which will be announced during halftime of Super Bowl XLV in Dallas.

Owens was recognized for his community service. He has participated in more than 20 events in 2010.

“It feels good to be honored for something that I want to do and I like to do,” Owens said. “I came from the inner city of Los Angles, and a lot of my peers grew up and didn’t have that much guidance. I feel like I’m in a position to help others. It’s almost an obligation to help others.”

• Rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who is battling back from a knee injury, is hoping a new tape job will give him more flexibility and explosiveness.

“He’s still trying to get back to 100 percent, both physically and back into the speed of the game,” defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said. “He hasn’t impacted the games like he was earlier, but I see signs of improvement.”

Weatherspoon opened the season as a starter, but he is now just being used in the nickel defense.

“It’s been tough, but when you’ve got a successful team and you’re winning games, that overrides everything,” said Weatherspoon, the team’s first-round pick in the 2010 draft. “I’m just staying in the training room, fighting and working hard.”

• Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey made it clear that his focus is on the team’s playoff march and not landing a head coaching job when talking with the media Tuesday.

He was unaware of an ESPN report that he was a candidate for the Denver Broncos’ top job.

He did state that he wanted to be a head coach again. That was news because it was not clear if his experience in Buffalo had soured him on being the head guy again.

Mularkey said he’ll worry about his head coaching aspirations later.

“I don’t know anything about it,” Mularkey said. “I’ve got so many other things to deal with. I literally take it day-by-day. That’s just the way this business is, especially with the travel that we’ve got coming and the games that we have coming. There is no room for it.”

Mularkey, 49, was the head coach of the Bills in 2004 and 2005. He posted a 14-18 record. His team went 9-7 in 2004, Buffalo’s last winning season, and then 5-11 in 2005.

Under Mularkey, Buffalo finished sixth in total offense (361.2 yards) in 2008 and 16th (340.4) in 2009. This season, Atlanta’s offense is ranked ninth (355.8).

Mularkey, who’s in his third season with the Falcons, and assistant head coach/quarterbacks Bill Musgrave have been credited with the development of third-year quarterback Matt Ryan(notes) and with helping head coach Mike Smith(notes) guide the Falcons to three consecutive winning seasons.

By The Numbers: 90.7—QB Matt Ryan’s passer rating, which is fourth in the NFC.

99—Wr R oddy White’s reception total, which leads the league.

22—Wr R oddy White games with 100 or more yards receiving.

29—T ouchdowns scored on 47 red-zone trips.

124.5 —The Falcons’ per game rushing average, which is eighth in the league.

16—I nterceptions by the Falcons, which is tied for sixth in the league.

81.9—The Falcons’ fourth-down conversion rate (nine of 11), which ranks second in the NFL.

Quote To Note: “I don’t think anybody can check me. Every time I step on that field, I’m trying to be the best player out there.”—Falcons WR Roddy White(notes), who leads the league in catches (99) and receiving yards (1,219).

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Falcons have a 3,000-yard passer, Matt Ryan (3,147 yards), a 1,000-yard running back, Michael Turner (1,174), and a 1,000-yard receiver, Roddy White (1,219).

That doesn’t even include tight end Tony Gonzalez(notes), who has 68 catches for 565 yards.

The balanced attack makes them difficult to defend.

Player Notes

• QB Matt Ryan has posted a 100-plus passer rating 15 times in his career, and the team is 15-0 in those games.

• RB Michael Turner rushed for 112 yards and scored three touchdowns against Carolina. He has four games with three or more touchdowns in his Falcons career.

• WR Roddy White leads NFL with a career-high 99 receptions. He also leads the league with 1,219 receiving yards. He is the first Falcon three 1,200-yard seasons.

• TE Tony Gonzalez caught his fifth touchdown pass of the season and the 87th of his career, tying Andre Reed for 11th on the NFL’s all-time receiving touchdown list.

• DE John Abraham has 11 sacks on the season, which is third in the league. He has nine sacks in his last eight games and 100.5 for his career.

• LB Stephen Nicholas(notes) had a sack in the last meeting with Seattle to close out the 2007 season.

Game Plan: With Jason Snelling back, look for the Falcons to lean having on the Michael Turner and Snelling combination. They want to run the ball early and often.

Former Falcons safety Lawyer Milloy(notes) plays for the Seahawks and will have them fired up to play against his former team.

But a steady dose of Snelling and Turner just might be too much for the Seahawks.

Matchups To Watch: Falcons RB Michael Turner, who’s rushed for more than 100 yards in five of the last seven games, vs. Seahawks SS Lawyer Milloy, who has 74 tackles. Turner has went over 1,000 yards for the second time in three seasons and is running with authority down the stretch. Milloy, as he did for three seasons with the Falcons from 2006 to 2008, will drop down in the box to help out against the run game. This season he became the 11th player in NFL history with 20 or more sacks and 20 or more interceptions.

Falcons FS Thomas DeCoud(notes), who is second on the team with 88 tackles and has one interception, vs. Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck(notes), who tossed four interceptions last week. Hasselbeck is 3-1 against the Falcons and has completed 78 of 114 (64.4 percent) of his passes for 917 yards and six touchdowns in those games. He has a 106.4 passer rating in those games. He needs just 94 yards for his seventh career 3,000-yard season, the most in franchise history. DeCoud will get to play some center field and attack the ball in Seattle’s passing game.

Falcons RT Tyson Clabo(notes), who gave up one sack last week to Charles Johnson(notes), vs. Chris Clemons, who has 9.5 sacks, tied for fourth in the NFC. He was acquired over the offseason in a trade with Philadelphia and has excelled in head coach Pete Carroll’s system. Before giving up a sack last week, Clabo had not given up a sack since the Cleveland game on Oct. 10.

Injury Impact:

• MLB Curtis Lofton(notes) (knee) did practice Wednesday, but he is expected to play Sunday.

• DE John Abraham (groin) did not practice Wednesday, but he is expected to play Sunday.

• WR Roddy White (knee) did not practice Wednesday, but he is expected to play Sunday.

• RB Jason Snelling (hamstring) was limited in practice Wednesday.

• LB Coy Wire(notes) (head) was limited in practice Wednesday.

• DT Jonathan Babineaux(notes) (shoulder) was limited Wednesday, but he is expected to play Sunday.

• LB Stephen Nicholas (knee) was limited in practice Wednesday, but he is expected to play Sunday.

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