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Falcons Team Report


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http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/atl/report

Falcons Team Report

Yahoo! Sports - Jan 4, 12:16 am EST

Inside Slant

Notes, Quotes

Strategy and Personnel

Turner fresh heading to playoffs

Running back Michael Turner is much fresher heading into the playoffs this season.

Turner has carried the ball 222 times, well below his 301 total of last season, which was second-most in the NFL. That leaves him feeling that much fresher as the Falcons enter the divisional round of the playoffs on Jan. 13.

Entering the Falcons' previous three playoffs trips, in 2008, 2010 and 2012, Turner had 376, 334 and 301 carries in the regular season, respectively. He led the NFL in that category in 2008 and 2010. In each of those three ensuing playoff losses, Turner had no more than 42 yards rushing.

Turner rushed 18 times for 42 yards in 2008 against Arizona, 10 times for 39 yards in 2010 against Green Bay and 15 times for 41 years in 2011 against the Giants.

In first-year coordinator Dirk Koetter's offense, the Falcons don't use the power run game like they have in the past. But that means Turner is fresher, both by circumstances and by design.

"I tore my groin the last two years, one side one year, the other side the next year," Turner said. "So I don't have those problems coming into this year. I'm good."

The Falcons finished the regular season ranked 29th out of 32 teams in the NFL with only 87.3 yards rushing per game. But the three teams they could match up with next week, Washington (169.3), Minnesota (164.6) and Seattle (161.2) rank first, second and third respectively. The Falcons know they're not in that conversation anymore, but still see the importance of running the ball with success in the playoffs, using Turner up the middle and Jacquizz Rogers on the edge.

"I think we're our best when the run is working," offensive tackle Tyson Clabo said. "Now whether or not we're leaning on it, and running it every play, that's probably not going to happen. But when our run game is successful, four or five yards a carry, I think we're at our best at that point."

--A key component of the Falcons offense in 2012 was the screen pass.

It was used to help slow down the opposition's pass rush and to bolster a stagnant rushing attack.

"Our philosophy is to try to turn it into a punt return," first-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "The screen game is good when you've got good guys to throw it to. We've got good guys who can make plays. Our linemen have bought into it."

Matt Ryan enjoys his new weapon.

"The screen game for us is an extension of our run game," Ryan said. "It's putting the ball in our backs' hands and our wideouts' hands in space with short, quick throws."

Koetter has used screen passes as a big part of his game plans. The results have been overwhelmingly positive.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, before the Falcons played the Lions on Dec. 22, Ryan had completed 50 of 57 screen-pass attempts for 374 yards and five touchdowns. The completion and attempt numbers on screens were second in the NFL at the time, and the touchdown passes led the league.

Ryan finished the season 62-of-69 for 495 yards and six touchdowns on screen plays. That's 7.2 yards per attempt and a touchdown every 11.5 screen plays.

Contrast that with the Falcons' rushing numbers: 1,397 yards on 378 attempts and 12 touchdowns. That's 3.7 yards per play and a touchdown every 31.5 rushing plays

.

The Falcons' embrace of screen passes has been a major difference between Koetter and his predecessor, Mike Mularkey. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Ryan completed 16 screens for a total of 68 yards with no touchdowns last season.

Atlanta's power running game, once a staple, has floundered. Rather than force the issue, the Falcons have supplanted their rushes with screen passes.

Ryan has thrown screen passes to running backs Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling. Those typically have been traditional screen plays to the short flat with Ryan and multiple linemen selling a drop-back pass before setting up the screen.

But Ryan also has thrown screen passes to wide receivers Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas; even tight end Tony Gonzalez has been a target. Those usually have been quick passes to the outside with wide receivers and one lineman blocking.

The Falcons didn't score a touchdown on a screen pass Sunday against the Buccaneers, but as usual, those plays were more effective than running plays.

The Falcons rushed for only 65 yards on 16 attempts against Tampa Bay, but Ryan completed all six of his screen passes for 66 yards. Jones' 28-yard reception on a screen pass was Atlanta's longest play of the day.

Normally the drawback to passing frequently is the potential for interceptions, and when time management is the goal, stopping the clock with incomplete passes. Screen passes eliminate those risks for the most part, making them about as safe as running the ball.

"You could make that case," Koetter said. "I don't think we look at it that way."

Instead, Koetter said he likes that screen plays force defensive linemen to run more than usual when they react to them. They also can slow down an aggressive pass rush.

"Normally on a screen play, if you can just get it started and get it blocked at the point of attack, you are going to make yards," Koetter said. "And when you have good players, they can turn into explosive plays.

Notes, Quotes

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has withdrawn his name for consideration for any head coaching vacancies, the team confirmed on Wednesday. Koetter has signed a contract extension that runs through 2013.

Koetter infused new life in the Falcons offense, scrapping the power-run attack for a more pass-friendly attack. The Falcons finished with two 1,000-yard receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones, as quarterback Matt Ryan put up several career highs.

White finished the season with 92 receptions for 1,351 yards and seven touchdowns. He has posted 1,300-plus yards in two of the last three seasons. Jones, who was selected to his first Pro Bowl, finished with 79 catches for 1,198 yards and a team-high 10 touchdown receptions.

Also, 13-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez caught a team-high 93 receptions for 930 yards with eight touchdowns. Gonzalez posted the best season by any tight end in Falcons history. His receptions and yardage total both set franchise records for the tight-end position.

In Koetter's offense, Gonzalez had his best season since 2008 in terms of catches, yards, and touchdowns.

The attack also allowed quarterback Matt Ryan to flourish as a passer. Ryan finished the season completing 422 of 615 pass attempts (68.9 percent) for 4,719 yards with 32 touchdowns and a 99.1 passer rating. Ryan set franchise records for attempts, completions, completion percentage, yards, and touchdowns.

Cornerback Dunta Robinson is in the league's concussion protocol after taking a blow to the head Sunday against Tampa, but he was encouraged Wednesday by his progress and thinks he'll be back by the Jan. 13 playoff game.

"Nothing too serious," Robinson said. "I've had a lot worse before, in 2010 (against the Eagles), when they had to help me walk off the field. So I'm pretty good. I should be back by next week, ready to practice and ready to roll. I won't be out long at all."

Robinson was injured in the first quarter on Sunday after lowering his head to tackle Bucs running back Doug Martin, but he was able to walk off the field on his own.

Falcons coach Mike Smith did not want to talk specifically about any injuries but had said Monday he thinks both Robinson and defensive end John Abraham (ankle sprain) would be available on Jan. 13. The Falcons are also hoping safety William Moore can return after missing four games with a hamstring injury but he has not yet returned to practice.

In order for the Falcons to advance past the divisional round, they must stop one of the league's top rushers. They could face Minnesota and Adrian Peterson (2,091 yards, first in the league), Washington and running back Alfred Morris (1,413 yards, fourth) or Seattle and running back Marshawn Lynch (1,590 yards, second)

.

The Falcons gave up 123.2 yards per game during the regular season, which ranked 21st in the league. They held five teams - Philadelphia (92), Dallas (65), Tampa Bay (50), New York Giants (97) and Detroit (79) - to less than 100 yards and won all five of those games.

By The Numbers:

55—With two accepted penalties in Sunday's season finale, the Falcons finished the 2012 regular season with an NFL-low 55 accepted penalties. Atlanta also broke a club record for fewest penalties in a single season, bettering the 2010 team's record of 58 accepted penalties.

Quote To Note:

"We probably thought back then like we arrived. We thought we were better than we were. We didn't approach the week like we should have, looking back on it. Hopefully we learn from that mistake and will be ready to roll."

—Running back Michael Turner on the Falcons' bye-week approach in 2010, when they were also the No. 1 seed but were routed by Green Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs

Strategy and Personnel

With defensive end John Abraham not expected to be at 100 percent for the playoff game, the Falcons will essentially be without their pass rush.

Abraham, who led the team with 10 sacks, suffered an ankle injury in the fourth quarter against Tampa Bay when Falcons coach Mike Smith elected to play his starters despite having the No. 1 seed wrapped up.

The Falcons amassed just 29 sacks, which ranked 24th in the league.

Defensive end Kroy Biermann, who has four sacks, will have to pick up the slack. Tackles Vance Walker (three sacks) and Jonathan Babineaux (3.5 sacks) are the only other linemen with sacks. The rest of the sacks came off of blitzes and were accomplished by linebackers or defensive backs.

Player Notes

DE Kroy Biermann could be on the spot if John Abraham, the Falcons' leading pass rusher is not 100 percent or able to play as many snaps as usual. Biermann finished second on the team in sacks this season with four behind Abraham's 10. Biermann has a career-high 52 tackles this season, and his four sacks are the most since his five in 2009. "Numbers don't always tell things," Biermann said. "Obviously every guy wants those numbers. But that's not always the full story of a guy's play. But personally, I want to step that area up."

FS Thomas DeCoud led the Falcons with six interceptions. He helped the Falcons post a plus-13 turnover ratio, which ranked tied for fifth in league

.

CB Asante Samuel was second on the team with five interceptions.

DTs Jonathan Babineaux (3.5 sacks) and DT Vance Walker (3.0 sacks) have provided an interior pass rush for the Falcons.

RB Jacquizz Rodgers accounted for 1,356 all-purpose yards. He had 362 yards rushing on 94 carries, 402 yards receiving on 53 catches and 592 yards on 23 kickoff returns.

LB Sean Weatherspoon led the team with 11 tackles last week against Washington.

Injury Impact

DE John Abraham (sprained ankle) did not practice on Thursday. Coach Mike Smith has said that he expects Abraham to be ready for the playoff game on Jan. 13.

CB Dunta Robinson (concussion) did not practice. Coach Mike Smith has said that he expects Robinson to be ready for the playoff game on Jan. 13.

SS William Moore (hamstring) did not practice. He has not played since suffering his injury against November 29.

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