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Team Report - ATLANTA FALCONS


7 hours agoThe SportsXchange

INSIDE SLANT

The Atlanta Falcons were forced to reconfigure their roster over the offseason to make room for quarterback Matt Ryan's hefty contract extension.

After bidding farewell to defensive end John Abraham, right tackle Tyson Clabo, running back Michael Turner and cornerbacks Brent Grimes, Dunta Robinson and Christopher Owens, the Falcons made Ryan the second-highest paid player in the league for the 2013 season with a $103.75 million contract.

After a 1-3 start behind a shaky offensive line and a rash of injuries, the Falcons still believe they made the right moves after winning 13 games, reaching the NFC Championship Game and coming up 10 yards short of the Super Bowl last season.

"I remain very optimistic about the season and what we'll do as a team," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "In the big picture, it means a gut-check for us all in the organization."

That means Ryan, too.

"I know one thing, we've got to be better in the red zone," Ryan said.

The Falcons have scored just seven touchdowns on 18 red zone trips (38.9 percent), 28th in the league. The 18 trips leads the league.

"We've moved the ball really effectively through four games, kind of up and down the field and we've had a lot of opportunities in the red zone, we just haven't scored as many touchdowns as we need to in order to win games," Ryan said. "In my opinion it comes down to a little bit better execution down there."

The Falcons have studied all of the film of the stalls.

"We've had opportunities, but across the board, our execution has not been what it needs to be," Ryan said. "That is something that I think we can continue to work on, continue to improve on. We are not that far away. But it's three or four more plays in those situations that are going to change the outcome."

In the past the Falcons had bruising back Michael Turner, who could power through the wash and get into the end zone. Over the past five seasons, Turner had 51 red zone touchdowns. He had nine last year, nine in 11, 11 in 2010, eight in 2009 and 14 in 2008.

The Falcons, who want to run the ball better in the red zone, were hoping that Steven Jackson would replace Turner's productivity. Jackson suffered a hamstring injury and is out indefinitely.

"Across the board, I think we just need to block a little bit better," Ryan said. "We need to throw it a little bit better. We need to catch it a little bit better and our guys needs to run it a little bit better. If we can all pull our weight just a little bit more, I think we'll be fine."

Tight end Tony Gonzalez, who elected to come back for a 17th season, had a career-high 149 yards receiving in the loss to the Patriots. He has two of the seven red zone scores this season.

"He's playing great," Ryan said. "He seems to continue to get better as he keeps going on. First and foremost, he works his tail off. He really puts in the time on his body and is the consummate professional when it comes to that and having himself prepared out on the practice field. He's great in that respect. And, so it doesn't surprise me that he's playing as good as he is. But it's certainly, incredibly impressive."

Wide receiver Roddy White has been playing through a high right ankle sprain and only has 10 catches for 84 yards this seasons. He's getting closer to 100 percent and made be able to help more in the red zone.

"I think he's continuing to improve," Ryan said. "He's certainly playing more for us and in a bigger role as we continue to progress through the season. Certainly, when he's at full-go he's one of the very best in the league."

The Falcons will have a stiff test against the stout New York Jets' defense.

"Their defense is playing extremely well," Ryan said. "Specifically, their front seven is as physical in the run game and very good against the pass as well. So, we've got our work cut out for us. We know going into it that we're going to prepare for everything that we've seen thus far, but there is going to be something that we have not seen up until this point. I think when you go up against a defense like that, I think it's imperative that you know your game plan inside-out."

SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. The Falcons lead the series 6-4. The Falcons won the last meeting 10-7 in 2009 in New York. The Falcons won the last game played in Atlanta, 27-14, back in 2005.

NOTES, QUOTES

Going back to the playoffs, the Falcons have not scored more than one touchdown in the second half of six straight games.

"In the last game, against the Patriots, we made a good run at the end of the game," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "We weren't able to string two touchdowns back-to-back when we needed it. You know what ... we are working on it. We are working to be more consistent for 60 minutes and we are working on being more efficient in the red zone. Those are the two main focuses for us right now."

--The Falcons, the defending NFC South champions, have struggled to a 1-3 start while the New Orleans Saints, buoyed by the return of their head coach Sean Payton, have raced out to a 4-0 lead.

The Falcons are three games back with 12 to play.

"I don't think you can worry too much about what everybody else is doing," Ryan said. "We have enough on our own plate."

With games against the Jets, Buccaneers, Cardinals and Panthers, the Falcons could go on a roll and be 5-3 heading into a showdown with Seattle.

"We have to focus on our own stuff to figure out how to win this week," Ryan said. "Just chip away at it. We have 12 more games before they decide who is going to be in the playoffs. We've just got to chip away at it, one game at a time."

Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, the longest tenured player on the roster along with wide receiver Roddy White, knows the team is in a tough spot.

"We just want to continue to make sure that everybody is staying on board," Babineaux said. "It's too early in the season to jump ship. We all need to stay together as one and continue to move forward. We'll be all right."

--The Falcons were caught off guard by a "wham" block from New England's tight end on LeGarrette Blount's 47-yard touchdown run.

On a "wham" block the tight end off the ball comes back inside and blocks a player, normally a linebacker, from the blind spot. The block opened a gaping running lane to the outside for Blount.

"It was really just half of a missed fit (in the gap) and a missed tackle," defensive tackle Corey Peters said. "That play should have easily been a 1-yard gain."

The Patriots ran for 132 yards on 31 carries against the defense. The run defense was stout in the three previous games against Miami (90 rushing yards), St. Louis (69) and New Orleans (78).

"We just have to get back to fundamental basics," Babineaux said. "We have to make sure that we understand the blocking schemes."

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Plays of 40 yards or more allowed by the Falcons against the Patriots.

110-47 -- Second-half scoring margin by the Falcons in the past six games (including playoffs).

38 -- Percentage of touchdowns scored by the Falcons in 18 red-zone possessions, ranked 28th out of 32 teams.

15 -- Combined quarterback hurries allowed by Falcons against the Patriots, according to Pro Football Focus.

199 -- Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez has caught at least one pass in 198 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL.

33 -- Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones posted his third straight 100-yard game, catching six passes for 108 yards. This season, Jones has 33 receptions for 481 yards with two touchdowns. His 481 receiving yards leads the league after three games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think you have to be brutally honest with one another, and I believe this -- when you win, the quarterback and the head coach probably get too much credit. When you lose, they get the lion's share of the blame. I know that Matt and I are very aware of that, and we have to do what we've always done, to put the previous game behind us and move on." --Falcons coach Mike Smith on the team's 1-3 start.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Jeremy Trueblood is listed as the No. 1 right tackle on the team's depth chart for the first time this season. The team released its depth chart Wednesday for the Monday night game against the New York Jets.

After offensive tackle Lamar Holmes faltered in three regular-season games, the Falcons finally saw enough. Trueblood replaced Holmes as the starter at right tackle Sunday night against New England in the Georgia Dome.

The Falcons entered training camp short on experienced offensive linemen. Holmes struggled at right tackle during the exhibition season, but the Falcons waited until the eve of the regular season to sign Trueblood.

Holmes ended up playing most of the game at left tackle after Sam Baker suffered a knee injury in the second quarter and didn't return. Holmes played left tackle last week at Miami when Baker missed the game with knee and foot injuries.

Holmes could start against the Jets as Baker is recovering.

Trueblood started 84 of 101 games at right tackle for Tampa Bay from 2006-12. The Redskins cut Trueblood on the first roster reduction during training camp this summer, a week before the Falcons signed him.

Holmes played just seven snaps as a rookie after he was slowed by a foot injury. Holmes inherited the right tackle position this season when Mike Johnson suffered a season-ending injury early in training camp.

INJURY IMPACT

--LT Sam Baker (knee/right foot) did not practice on Tuesday. There was no practice on Wednesday. Baker is not expected to play against the Jets and Lamar Holmes will replace him.

--WR Julio Jones (knee) was limited in practice.

--MLB Akeem Dent (sprained right ankle) did not practice on Tuesday.

PLAYER NOTES

--TE Tony Gonzalez caught 12 passes for a career-high 149 yards with two touchdowns vs. New England. He has posted 31 100-yard games and 18 multi-touchdown games in his career.

--WR Harry Douglas posted five receptions for 68 yards (13.6 yards per reception), including a 40-yard long gain vs. New England.

--WR Julio Jones recorded his third consecutive 100-yard game vs. New England as he caught six passes for 108 yards, including three receptions for 86 yards in the fourth quarter.

--QB Matt Ryan threw for a career-high 421 yards, completing 34 of 54 (62.9 percent) passes with two touchdowns, one interception and a 91.7 passer rating vs. New England.

--WR Roddy White caught a season-high three passes for 28 yards vs. New England. He has caught at least one pass in 104 straight games, breaking WR Alfred Jenkins' franchise record for the longest streak in team history.

--DT Jonathan Babineaux recorded four total tackles (one solo) with six quarterback hits vs. New England.

GAME PLAN: The Falcons must shake loose from Antonio Cromartie's vice grip-like coverage

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones is off to a great start and Roddy White is getting close to being fully recovered from his high right ankle sprain that he suffered on Aug. 15 against the Ravens in an exhibition game.

Quarterback Matt Ryan is expecting to see Cromartie on both of his receivers on Monday night.

"He's playing at really high level," Ryan said of Cromartie. "He's a big guy. A big corner. Very long and very physical. He does a great job with his hands and re-routing wide receivers."

White has just 10 catches for 84 yards, but played 97 percent of the snaps against the Patriots.

"I think (Cromartie) benefits from playing in that scheme, too," Ryan said. "He's a talented player and can play aggressive because he understands that he has a really good pass rush in front of him and a really good scheme in terms of creating a lot of one-on-ones and unblocked linebackers as well. I think he's playing at a high level and playing really well for the Jets."

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Jets TE Kellen Winslow, who leads the team in catches with 16, vs. Falcons FS Thomas DeCoud, who help to shut downs St. Louis tight end Jared Cook: Winslow appears to have revived his career with the Jets. He is second on the team with 168 receiving yards. DeCoud, a Pro Bowler, has been a big part of helping the Falcons defense to slow down some tight ends this season as he has been staying over the top with underneath help from the linebackers.

--Jets RB Bilal Powell, who leads the team with 292 yards rushing, vs. Falcons LB Paul Worrilow or Omar Gaither, who could replace Akeem Dent in the starting lineup: Powell is also a threat out of the backfield with 11 catches for 108 yards. The Falcons have to clamp back down against the run after allowing New England to rush for 132 yards on 31 carries. They were the first team to break the 100-yard mark against the Falcons this season.

--Jets CB Antonio Cromartie, a two-time Pro Bowler, vs. Falcons WR Julio Jones, who leads the league in receiving yards (481) and the NFC in receptions (33): Cromartie, the former Florida State standout, is highly respected by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Jones is off to a great start this season and was able to get open deep last week against New England.

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Since i can't make threads yet, a couple of tweets from Vaughn McClure. Dont know if they've been posted

"Falcons OC Dirk Koetter said there were a couple red-zone plays that won't be in the game plan anymore. He took blame for some calls."

"``Not every single thing we did in the red zone the other night was a good play call,'' Koetter said."

At least he knows. Lets see if he actually changes things

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