Smith gives positive report on injured players


Smith gives positive report on injured players

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Cornerback Dunta Robinson is in the NFL's mandated concussion protocol, and defensive end John Abraham is nursing a sore left ankle.

Another concern for the Atlanta Falcons is that strong safety William Moore has been sidelined by a strained hamstring since late last month.

Even so, Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith expects his team to be nearly at full strength for the playoffs.

Smith says early reports on Abraham and Robinson, both injured in the season finale against Tampa Bay, are positive.

And Smith believes Moore could be ready to return and practice this week.

``I can tell you this,'' Smith said Monday, ``with both of the players that left the game yesterday, I fully anticipate they will be ready to go on Sunday, Jan. 13 at 1 p.m.''

Having two weeks to practice will allow the Falcons to spend Wednesday through Sunday working on fundamentals and timing. When they return to the field next week, the coaching staff will install a game plan for either No. 4 seed Washington, No. 5 seed Seattle or sixth-seeded Minnesota.

The staff will spend Wednesday and Thursday setting game-plan contingencies on Seattle and Minnesota. Because the coaches are already familiar Washington following Atlanta's Week 5 road win, they will wait until Friday to work on the Redskins.

Smith was disappointed with the team's sloppy performance Sunday. Losing 22-17 at home to Tampa Bay showed some of the weaknesses that have been problems this year even though the Falcons tied for the league's best record at 13-3 and earned the NFC's top playoff seed.

Inconsistencies running the ball, defending the run, rushing the passer, protecting quarterback Matt Ryan and creating turnovers have hurt Atlanta this year. Sunday's defeat looked similar to those home games that the Falcons narrowly won against struggling opponents Carolina, Oakland and Arizona.

Atlanta managed just 65 yards rushing while the Buccaneers gained 144. Ryan was sacked twice, hit six times and harassed into escaping the pocket several times.

The offense converted just 3 of 14 third downs. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman was picked off once, by cornerback Asante Samuel, after throwing four interceptions in each of his last two games.

It's no wonder the Bucs snapped a five-game skid.

``You get what you earn in this league, and yesterday we didn't earn the win,'' Smith said. ``But you've got to consider it was the final week of the regular season. And I think we've got to be proud of what we've accomplished in the regular season. As I told the guys yesterday, the new season starts and everybody is 0-0.''

Injury-wise, if Smith's prediction comes true, the Falcons will have dodged a major problem by getting Abraham, Robinson and Moore back in time for the playoffs.

Since losing former Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes for the season in Week 1, Atlanta made it through the regular season without a long-term injury to a starter. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon missed three games and Samuel played just one series in Weeks 14-15, but both returned without missing a proverbial beat.

``It's good to have a week off to get our guys back healthy,'' tight end Tony Gonzalez said. ``Believe it or not, it's an advantage. It's good for us to be at home. We are extremely tough to beat at home. I know the dome will be rocking in our first playoff game. We just have to make sure we match and exceed our opponent's intensity that we've had all season that has got us to this point to be a No. 1 seed.''

Whether the few thousand empty seats and resulting flat atmosphere affected the team is hard to say. But in having their 11-game home winning streak ended, the Falcons were playing essentially a meaningless game with no chance of improving their playoff seed and Tampa Bay already eliminated from the postseason.

``We have a lot of pride about ourselves, so we want to win,'' Samuel said. ``We lost, and it really hurt. We really thought we were going to pull it off, but we have bigger fish to fry.''


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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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