Falcons say 49ers' Kaepernick poses new challenge


Falcons say 49ers' Kaepernick poses new challenge

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Michael Turner's trademark high-pitched laugh filled the Falcons' locker room.

Asked about San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Turner grinned Thursday and said ``I'm glad I'm not on defense.''

Turner, the big running back, and the Falcons' offense want to hold the ball and limit Kaepernick's time on the field in Sunday's NFC championship game.

The Falcons have seen enough in Kaepernick's eight starts to respect the versatile quarterback with the long stride and strong right arm.

Kaepernick comes to Atlanta after running for 181 yards - an NFL record for a quarterback - with two touchdowns in last week's win over Green Bay. Kaepernick also threw for 263 yards with two touchdowns. He became only the third quarterback, after Otto Graham and Jay Cutler, to run and throw for at least two touchdowns in a postseason game.

It's little wonder the Falcons are impressed, even after facing such other dual-threat quarterbacks as Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson this season.

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon says the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Kaepernick is unique.

``I think he's just a different guy altogether,'' Weatherspoon said. ``He's a taller guy, obviously. He broke the record last week, so that makes him special and different. I think he has a lot more speed. Russell is more of a quick guy. Colin is a faster guy.''

Wilson and Griffin are scramblers. Kaepernick looks more like a 200-meter sprinter with his unusually long stride.

``That's the thing,'' Weatherspoon said. ``You look at him and you think long striders are not fast, but then you look and he's covering a lot of ground and passing a lot of people. You can tell he can run. Speed won't be a surprise to us. We've watched the tape. We'll be ready to go.''

The 49ers don't have to be told they'll bring an unusually gifted quarterback to the Georgia Dome. In only half of a season, Kaepernick has given the San Francisco offense a facelift.

``He's super-fast, athletic and he can throw the ball,'' said 49ers running back LaMichael James. ``Once he breaks the pocket he's always looking downfield. He's looking to throw the ball more than run the ball. But once he takes off, he's faster than a lot of running backs and linebackers. He's an incredible athlete.''

Kaepernick has avoided the big hits that have made it difficult for such other running quarterbacks as Griffin and Michael Vick to avoid injuries.

He said his strategy is ``Run where they're not.''

``You want to run away from where the defensive players are,'' Kaepernick said. ``When they get close, get down.''

The Falcons' defense has reason to worry about the matchup. Atlanta survived its 30-28 divisional playoff win over Seattle last week despite Wilson's fourth-quarter dominance. The Falcons led 27-7 at the start of the quarter but trailed 28-27 before winning on Matt Bryant's late 49-yard field goal.

Wilson passed for 385 yards with two touchdowns and led Seattle with 60 yards rushing and a touchdown.

Falcons coach Mike Smith said he is preparing for the 49ers' ``traditional offense that we're used to seeing'' as well as the pistol formation with read-option plays that Kaepernick ran in college at Nevada.

``We're going to have to be prepared to stop him,'' Smith said. ``We're going to see things we haven't seen in terms of what they'll do with their formations.''

Wilson found open room when he took off on long runs after first looking to pass. Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said Kaepernick shows more determination to run.

``With Kaepernick, I think once he tucks the ball he's looking to run,'' DeCoud said. ``There will be a few rare instances where he has his eyes looking downfield. More times than not, if he's dropping back and tucks the ball, he's taking off to run where Russell, he had his head up looking downfield and wasn't really looking to cross the line of scrimmage. He was just trying to buy time for his guys to get open.''

Kaepernick's big game last week earned him the promise of more attention from the Falcons defense.

``We definitely have to have somebody accounting for him,'' DeCoud said, adding defensive backs have to be ready to leave their assignments to help contain Kaepernick's runs.

``Last week we kind of bought into plastering the receivers if (Wilson) broke containment because of the fact he likes to find the open receivers,'' DeCoud said. ``This week, we'll have to be cognizant of maybe coming off coverage if he crosses the line of scrimmage to thwart him making a big play on us.''

Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson said the one obstacle Kaepernick can't dodge with his speed is inexperience. Sunday's game will be Kaepernick's first playoff game on the road.

``You've got to get in his mind and change the looks up on him,'' Peterson said. ``He's a great quarterback, doing a lot of good things for his team, but the common denominator is that he's still a young quarterback.

``He can't run from that.''

NOTES: Smith said CB Christopher Owens (hamstring), who hasn't played since Dec. 22, ``looked well-rested and recovered from his injury'' in practice. ... DT Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder) and DE John Abraham (left ankle) had limited participation in practice for the second straight day.

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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018 projection: Still too close to call in the Metropolitan Division


Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018 projection: Still too close to call in the Metropolitan Division

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are right around the corner and there is still a lot to be decided.

The Metropolitan Division is going to come right down to the wire as each team seemingly continues to win and put the pressure on the first place Capitals.

With just over two weeks remaining in the regular season, the playoff matchups for the first round of the NHL playoffs are still up in the air with only five points separating the top four teams in the Metro. Washington is in good position with a four-point cushion between themselves and the second place Pittsburgh Penguins. With both teams meeting on April 1, however, the Caps are still a long way off from clinching the division and earning home ice in the first round.


Metropolitan Division
1. Washington (93 points, 74 GP, 40 ROW)
W1. Philadelphia (88 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW)

2. Pittsburgh (89 points, 74 GP, 40 ROW)
3. Columbus (89 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW)

Atlantic Division
1. Tampa Bay (106 points, 74 GP, 45 ROW)
W2. New Jersey (82 points, 73 GP, 32 ROW)

2. Boston (100 points, 72 GP, 42 ROW)
3. Toronto (95 points, 74 GP, 37 ROW)

Still in the hunt:
Florida (81points, 72 GP, 34 ROW)


Washington has won only one out of four games against the Philadelphia Flyers this season. That's not an ideal first-round matchup for Washington, but there is still time for the Flyers to climb and overtake Columbus or Pittsburgh in the standings..

What seems unlikely to happen is for New Jersey or Florida to pass Philadelphia. While things remain close near the top of the standings, there seems to be a growing divide between the top-four teams in the Metropolitan Division and the two teams battling for the final remaining spot in the playoffs.

The Flyers may be in fourth place in the division, but they still boast a healthy six-point lead over the Devils who sit in the second wild card.

If we assume New Jersey and Florida will not be able to climb to any postseason position, but the second wild card, that makes the three most likely candidates to face Washington in the first round Pittsburgh, Columbus and Philadelphia.

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Need to Know: Redskins likely to return at least 16 of their 22 starters from last year

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Need to Know: Redskins likely to return at least 16 of their 22 starters from last year

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, March 23, 34 days before the NFL draft.  

Stability at the top of the depth chart

A Redskins defense that ranked 27th in total defense and was dead last against the run is likely to return nine or 10 of the players who were the primary starters in 2017. The Washington defense, which was 16th overall and 27th running the ball, will certainly return seven starters and could have eight the same as last year.

I’m sure that this will alarm many Redskins fans, but it shouldn’t. Before getting into that, let’s look at the changes.

On defense, the nine starters who are assured of returning are DE Stacy McGee, DL Jonathan Allen, OLB Preston Smith, OLB Ryan Kerrigan, ILB Zach Brown, ILB Mason Foster, CB Josh Norman, S Montae Nicholson, and S D.J. Swearinger.

As of right now, a tenth returning starter has to be penciled in at nose tackle. Yes, if the season started today it would be Ziggy Hood at nose tackle again. More on that in a minute.

The only starting spot that is certain to turn over is the cornerback opposite Norman. Even though Bashaud Breeland’s contract agreement with the Panthers fell through due to a failed physical, he is much more likely to land on another NFL team than he is to return to the Redskins.

It is impossible to think that the Redskins will not do something to address the nose tackle position, whether it’s in the draft or in free agency. Then again, it’s impossible to believe they have run the 3-4 defense since 2010 without coming up with a long-term solution at the nose.

On offense, the seven starters certain to return are WR Josh Doctson, WR Jamison Crowder, OT Trent Williams, C Chase Roullier, RG Brandon Scherff, RT Morgan Moses, and TE Jordan Reed. RB Samaje Perine could be an eighth returning starter depending on if the Redskins take a running back early in the draft.

The new starters will be QB Alex Smith, WR Paul Richardson, and someone at left guard.

Having between 16 and 18 returning starters from a team that went 7-9 in 2017 may not be enough turnover for some fans. That’s not a completely unreasonable point of view. However, there is such thing as having too much churn in your starting lineup and some stability for the Redskins may be a good thing this year.

They had five new starters on defense last year and a new defensive coordinator. They also had a new coordinator on offense along with two new wide receivers and, by midseason, changes in the starters at running back and center. This is not counting all of the on-the-fly changes that had to be made due to injuries.

Continuing to make changes in the starting lineup is not always a recipe for success. Sometimes you just need to pick a group of players and, to the extent that you can in the free agency-salary cap world of the NFL, stick with them. Sure, you have to address weakness like nose tackle and possibly running back and fill holes created by free agency departures. However, it is often better to give a player time to acclimate to a system and, especially with a rookie, time to learn the fine points of the game.

Tearing things down and starting over again after a mediocre season is a recipe for, well, more mediocre seasons.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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In response to a tweet about this article that said that the Redskins led the league in losing important players in injuries:


Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 25
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 127
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 171

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