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Falcons take fundamental approach to stay unbeaten

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Falcons take fundamental approach to stay unbeaten

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The more Atlanta keeps winning, the more coach Mike Smith keeps tinkering with ways to help the Falcons improve.

Smith's Falcons are 7-0 and the NFL's only unbeaten team, but the fifth-year coach still sees a club that's far from perfect.

``You may not believe this, but you're in a week to week cycle in the National Football League,'' Smith said on Monday. ``It really doesn't matter what happened the week before. It's all about the next game, and that's how you have to approach it.''

Nearly everything seemed to work in Atlanta's favor during a 30-17 victory at Philadelphia on Sunday.

Quarterback Matt Ryan directed scoring drives on the first six possessions. Atlanta's defense kept the Eagles off-balance all afternoon.

But Smith pointed back to a rudimentary practice session last week that played a significant role in helping his team beat Philadelphia.

Despite the league's best record, Smith gave his players an entire week off during the bye before he took them back to the field last Monday to work on the basics of football - blocking, tackling and using proper angles to make the right plays.

Maybe the approach sounds too simple, but Smith said the results were evident against the Eagles.

Smith estimated the Falcons spent 45 minutes of ``remedial, 8th-grade football'' to help everyone restart the season.

Defensive players were retrained to take better angles in pursuit, and Smith believes that's one reason why Atlanta's run defense, which began Sunday with the league's 28th-ranked run defense, had a season-best performance that held Philadelphia to 92 yards rushing.

``We worked on the approach, the fit, where your eyes should be, things that,'' Smith said.

Later in the week, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan installed some hybrid looks that seemed to confuse Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

Reserve defensive end Kroy Biermann, who finished with one sack and seven tackles, lined up at free safety for one play. Nolan also deployed a three-tackle front to start the game in which Jonathan Babineaux, Vance Walker and rookie Travian Robertson were lined up with Biermann - not four-time Pro Bowl selection John Abraham - at end.

``The (previous) two games we didn't play as well as we could have,'' free safety Thomas DeCoud said. ``But now we are starting to hit our stride and it's good to come out after the bye week and get a good solid win under our belts and really play well on all sides of the ball.''

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter gave his reserve players a bigger role.

Drew Davis, who spent last year on the practice squad, had his first career touchdown pass. Running backs Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling took on significant roles to score touchdowns while two-time Pro Bowl pick Michael Turner had a slow day, averaging just 2.4 yards on 24 carries.

During the ``remedial'' practice, offensive linemen worked on combination blocks. The fruits of that work, including the debut of rookie right guard Peter Konz, could be seen on Rodgers' 43-yard run that set up a fourth-quarter field and gave the Falcons a 30-10 lead.

Smith and his staff are mindful, too, that they must keep players fresh, not just for an entire game but for the whole season. Since taking charge of the Falcons in 2008, Smith has routinely given veterans, particularly his ``over-30'' club, as he calls it, a day of rest during the week.

But monitoring snap counts in games helps Atlanta make better use of less experienced players to take a bigger role on offense or defense and not just exclusively on special teams.

``We've got to focus on the game and win the game, but we also have to focus on the entirety of the season. We want our guys to be as fresh as they can possibly be when we get into November and December when you've got to be playing your best football.''

Smith and the Falcons know they will be judged more for their play in January than their play in the regular season. Atlanta is 0-3 in the playoffs.

But there's little argument that Smith is getting his job done in the regular season.

He now 50 career victories to surpass Dan Reeves as the franchise's winningest coach. Smith needed just 71 games to earn 50 wins. Since the 1970 merger, only George Seifert with San Francisco and Chuck Noll with Pittsburgh won 50 games faster.

Joe Gibbs needed 72 games to reach 50 victories with Washington, Bill Cowher (Pittsburgh) and Mike Ditka (Chicago) 73 games.

Smith says he is too immersed in the task at hand to pay attention to his individual success or his team's unbeaten record.

``We've been fortunate to have a very successful season, play some efficient football, and we've made some mistakes,'' Smith said. ``So I've tried not to even think in those terms. Everyone else is going to concern themselves with it. We've got to make sure we're preparing for the next game.''

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Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

With a thrilling double-overtime victory in Game 3, the Capitals are right back in the series. Trailing the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1, the Caps will look to even up the series at 2-games apiece before returning to Washington for Game 5.

As the Caps take the ice for Game 4, you can be certain that Braden Holtby will be the man to lead the team in net. His stellar performance in Game 3 resolidified him as the team' starter and ended whatever goalie tandem there was between him and Philipp Grubauer.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 4

Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 4 on Thursday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Columbus. Columbus currently leads the series 2-1.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME ON?

Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:30 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Blue Jackets
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:30 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 4, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly- Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Chandler Stephenson -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body), Shane Gerisch, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

SEE THE CAPITALS VS. BLUE JACKETS FULL SERIES SCHEDULE HERE

CAPITALS SCHEDULE

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Need to Know: Five players who are wild cards for the 2018 Redskins

Need to Know: Five players who are wild cards for the 2018 Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, April 19, seven days before the 2018 NFL draft.  

Five wild cards for the 2018 Redskins

We know what to expect out of many members of the Redskins. Ryan Kerrigan will register between 10 and 13 sacks. Zach Brown will be among the league leaders in tackles. Jamison Crowder will compile about 800 yards receiving. But we really don’t know what to expect out of a lot of the players expected to play key roles. Here are five of them.

S Montae Nicholson—Although most of the uncertainty surrounding Nicholson is about his health, we really don’t know what he can do over a full season. Sure, he looked good in the six games he played last year but opposing offenses did not have much of a chance to probe his weaknesses. If he stays healthy, his ability to adjust to what the offenses are doing against him will be the next phase of his development. 

CB Fabian Moreau—As a rookie, he was impressive as a punt team gunner, but he got very limited playing time on defense (59 snaps, only seven after Week 5). The Redskins will be counting on him stepping into a bigger role after the departures of Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller. He has the tools but we won’t know how well he can handle the job until he gets extended playing time. 

WR Maurice Harris—Last year he went from spectacular to invisible in a hurry. He made a sensational catch for 36 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings the first time he was targeted. In five games after that, he had just three receptions for 26 yards. Should he have had more playing time (76 snaps)? Or did he just not earn more targets? The real Maurice Harris should come to the forefront in 2018.

NT Phil Taylor—You know the story here. He was looking great in training camp until a quad injury sidelined him for the season. Taylor is healthy enough for the Redskins to give him another chance but this is a player who has not taken the field since November of 2014. We simply don’t know what to expect out of him even if he does make into Week 1 in good health. 

RB Samaje Perine—His play improved as the year went on but he wasn’t good enough to keep both Jay Gruden and Doug Williams from saying that running back is a draft need. Ideally, he shares carries with the probable draft pick with a few going to Chris Thompson and they combine to rush for 1,800 yards. 

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

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Timeline  

Days until:

—OTAs start (5/22) 33
—Training camp starts (7/26) 98
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 143

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