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Coordinators Nolan, Koetter giving Falcons balance

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Coordinators Nolan, Koetter giving Falcons balance

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Last year's playoff disappointment hit so hard that Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith needed to change his staff from the top.

It seems Smith made the right decisions when he hired Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator and Dirk Koetter to run the offense.

``In my mind we have the best coaching staff in the NFL,'' Smith said.

How long he can keep it together is unclear.

The Falcons' success this season helped Koetter earn a head coaching interview last week with Kansas City. Nolan, the former head coach in San Francisco, interviewed for the same job with Philadelphia.

And Keith Armstrong, the Falcons' special teams coordinator since Smith put his first Atlanta staff together in 2008, interviewed for head coaching vacancies with Kansas City, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Koetter withdrew his name from consideration after signing a new contract with the Falcons through 2014. Nolan and Armstrong both sidestepped on Tuesday night whether they hope to meet again with other teams after Atlanta's season ends.

They could be available to do so as early as next week if the Falcons (13-3) lose Sunday at home to Seattle (12-5) in the second round of the playoffs.

``Hopefully we're still playing,'' Nolan said.

Though it's not Smith's style to say so publicly, the Falcons were considered a team that had gone soft and predictable offensively and defensively after last year's 24-2 playoff loss at the New York Giants.

So perhaps Jacksonville did Smith a favor when it hired Koetter's predecessor, Mike Mularkey, as head coach. Auburn did the same by hiring Brian VanGorder as defensive coordinator.

Atlanta earned the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed for the second time in three years, thanks in part to Koetter helping quarterback Matt Ryan enjoy a career-best season, and Nolan putting his players in position to earn 31 takeaways.

But Nolan and Koetter both caution that the Falcons will face their toughest opponent this season when Seattle visits the Georgia Dome.

While the Seahawks are coming off a dominant victory at Washington last week in a wild-card game, Nolan hopes to disguise coverages well enough to force rookie quarterback Russell Wilson into making mistakes.

That has hardly been the case this year for Wilson, who is ranked No. 4 in NFL passer rating and is the Seahawks' second-leading rusher behind star running back Marshawn Lynch.

Nolan considers the elusive Wilson a dangerous scrambler because he usually doesn't extend plays to run for yardage as much as he keeps his eyes downfield to find an open receiver.

``You have to keep covering guys for a long time on the back end,'' Nolan said. ``That's hard to do. That's one of the tougher things about him because when he's running around, you'd better stay with your man.''

Koetter's job will be to design a game plan that improves the pass protection of Ryan and helps Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez create separation from the defense.

The Falcons caught a break after defensive end Chris Clemons, Seattle's leader with 11.5 sacks, was lost for the season at Washington because of a knee injury. But the Seahawks didn't rank No. 1 in scoring defense this year because they relied solely on one player.

In the regular season, Richard Sherman had eight interceptions, and Bruce Irvin had eight sacks for a defense that ranked fourth overall and tied Atlanta with 31 takeaways.

But the Falcons were seventh in scoring, sixth in passing, second in third-down efficiency and seventh in scoring.

Koetter likes how Atlanta matches up against Seattle in the red zone.

``I might be in the minority, but I look at it as strength on strength,'' Koetter said. ``Heck, let's go. They've got a good defense, and we have a good offense. I know their team is running hot right now, and I know our guys are looking forward to the challenge.''

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The case for - and against - the Redskins signing Colin Kaepernick

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The case for - and against - the Redskins signing Colin Kaepernick

Don't look in this space for an argument that the Redskins - who are reportedly signing Mark Sanchez as Colt McCoy's backup - should, or should not, sign Colin Kaepernick.

This space will lay out reasons why the Redskins should, and should not, consider signing Colin Kaepernick. 

It's not a binary decision. In fact, it's just about the opposite. 

Any debate about Kaepernick often gets bogged down in differing political view points. This is not the place for that. Rather, here is an attempt to make the case for or against Kaepernick from a football perspective. 

The case to sign Colin Kaepernick

  • The Redskins need a quarterback. Alex Smith broke his leg and Colt McCoy needs a backup. Of the available free agents out there, Kaepernick has by far the best stats and resume. As Chris Thompson explained of Kaepernick, "He made it to a Super Bowl." When he last played in 2016, Kaepernick had 16 TDs against just four INTs in 12 starts. 
  • Kaepernick has familiarity in the West Coast offense, and once backed up Alex Smith and played with Vernon Davis. 
  • Redskins QB coach and passing game coordinator Kevin O'Connell worked on the 49ers staff with Kaepernick.
  • Multiple Redskins players, including Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson, said that the Nike pitchman deserves another chance in the NFL. 

The case not to sign Colin Kaepernick

  • Kaepernick hasn't played in the NFL for nearly two full seasons. He hasn't practiced in a professional setting for more than a year. The Redskins are competing for the NFC East title. If they have to go to a backup QB, they want somebody that is game ready. It's hard to think Kaepernick fits that bill today. 
  • Earlier this season, Redskins CB Josh Norman had some choice words for Kaepernick after Panthers safety Eric Reid spoke out against the NFL Player's Coalition. Norman is an active particpant and leader on the Player's Coalition, a social rights group that Kaepernick distanced himself from. Putting Norman and Kaepernick in the same locker room might create some friction for a first-place team. 
  • At 6-4, the Redskins are in first place in the NFC East and should still be able to win games with McCoy at quarterback. Regardless how one feels about Kaepernick's activism, it will create a side show for any organization that brings him in. Cable news outlets like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC will descend on the Washington locker room should Kaepernick get signed. 

 

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    Redskins will reportedly sign Mark Sanchez as backup QB

    Redskins will reportedly sign Mark Sanchez as backup QB

    Mark Sanchez is reportedly set to join the Washington Redskins in advance of the Week 12 Thanksgiving day game against the Cowboys, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    A devastating, season-ending injury to Alex Smith in Week 11 pushed Colt McCoy into the starting quarterback position, and without a third quarterback in-house, the Redskins had to sign a late replacement.

    Sanchez, who last played for the Bears during the 2017 season,  spent four seasons with the Jets after the team selected him out of Southern Cal with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

    Sanchez led the Jets to two AFC Championship games, but will ultimately be remembered for the "butt fumble" in a 2012 Thanksgiving day blowout loss to the New England Patriots. Sanchez's first game with the Redskins will take place exactly six years after the infamous moment.

    Sanchez has appeared in 77 games in seven seasons, starting 72. He's thrown for over 15,000 yards and has tossed 86 touchdown passes, while also throwing 86 interceptions.

    McCoy will start for the Redskins on Thursday in Dallas and is expected to be the starting quarterback for the rest of the season, with Sanchez serving as his backup and safety net.

    MORE REDSKINS NEWS