Falcons still looking to improve at stopping the run
By D. ORLANDO LEDBETTER
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/15/06
Flowery Branch â€” That old nemesis from last season â€” stopping the run â€” reared its head in the Falcons' exhibition opener when the revamped first-team defense was on the field.
After allowing 128.9 yards rushing per game (26th in the 32-team NFL) last season, stopping the run was a top priority.
"Don't think we are not stressing stopping the run," defensive line coach Bill Johnson said. "That is a major emphasis for us. I didn't leave the stadium feeling real good about it. After watching the tape, I felt real confident that we're going to be a good run-stop defense."
The Falcons added safeties Chris Crocker and Lawyer Milloy, traded for defensive end John Abraham and drafted cornerback Jimmy Williams. Middle linebacker Ed Hartwell also is returning from injury.
The first-team defense allowed New England's Corey Dillon and rookie Laurence Maroney 66 yards on eight carries.
"You can't get too high or too low over that," defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said. "We want to play better. We want to tackle better. But our guys came back really strong right after that drive."
Here are five factors that the Falcons must address to improve on stopping the run:
1. LACK OF LIVE TACKLING
The Falcons, like most teams in the salary-cap era, don't practice live tackling. The risk of injury is too great.
"You certainly don't want Ed Hartwell putting his chest on Warrick Dunn on every play," Falcons coach Jim Mora said. "It's going to wear both of them out, especially Warrick."
Hartwell doesn't buy it: "I've been tackling people since I was 7 years old. We know how to tackle. That's not an issue."
2. TRANSITION PERIOD
With all of the new additions, especially in the secondary, the Falcons contend that they need a transition period to get used to each other.
"We are jelling; it's preseason," Hartwell said. "In the preseason, you might get that. You've got a group of 11 guys; a lot of guys are coming from some different places, playing together for the first time. So you might get that. But I guarantee you that we'll fix that."
3. GETTING OFF THE BLOCKS
Against the Patriots, the Falcons did not appear to get off their blocks and flow to the ball quickly.
"Sometimes we got on the wrong side of a block," Mora said. "We didn't necessarily come off blocks and punish people like we will."
Johnson said, "To me, it was more execution than it was the performance, you know what I mean? I think it had a lot to do with some misalignments and things like that."
4. UP THE MIDDLE
Stopping the run starts with your players up the middle. The Falcons have Pro Bowl player Rod Coleman and started Darrell Shropshire at defensive tackle against New England. They are backed by Hartwell at middle linebacker.
They must be stout against the run, or teams will plow through the heart of the defense. Coleman and Shropshire have to get a push and attract blockers to free Hartwell to get to the ball.
5. WHO'S THE ENFORCER?
The top NFL defenses all have an enforcer. In Baltimore, it's Ray Lewis. In Carolina, it's Julius Peppers. In Tampa Bay, it's Derrick Brooks.
The Falcons have several candidates in Hartwell, Coleman, Abraham, Milloy and linebacker Keith Brooking.
Donatell is sure someone will step up.
"The main thing is to do the balancing act and have everybody ready when it's time to play against Carolina," Donatell said.