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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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Alex Ovechkin's son, Sergei, makes an appearance during Capitals practice

Alex Ovechkin's son, Sergei, makes an appearance during Capitals practice

The Capitals had a special guest during their morning skate on Friday.

Alex Ovechkin's son, Sergei, got to pay his father a visit at the Medstar Capitals Iceplex.

Ovechkin carried his one-year-old around the ice and even put him down on the ice to practice his skills. Sergei had a mini stick of his own, almost like he was ready to play if needed.

No word yet on whether Sergei plans on declaring for the upcoming NHL draft, but the kid has already got some skills--and not to mention pretty good genes.

If you were having a bad day, this moment between Ovechkin and his son will certainly cheer you up!

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Another NFL analyst says Redskins should not trade No. 2 pick unless a team blows their doors off

Another NFL analyst says Redskins should not trade No. 2 pick unless a team blows their doors off

Thus far during the 2020 offseason, several NFL experts have debated whether the Redskins should keep or trade the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Some believe that Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young is a generational talent and the opportunity to select him is a no brainer. Others, like Peter King and Chris Simms, think the Redskins could significantly alter the trajectory of the franchise by trading the pick and acquiring assets.

Add NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah to those who think the Redskins should keep the pick and take Young, unless they get an offer they simply cannot refuse in return.

The analyst was asked during a pre-Scouting Combine conference call on Friday whether it would be a mistake for the Redskins to consider moving back from No. 2, and his response was strong.

"I just don't trade off of elite edge rushers," Jeremiah said. "You have a need there at the position, those guys are hard to find. So to get a player like that you would have to blow my doors off to get me to trade off that pick, if I was the Washington Redskins."

If the Redskins traded back, even a couple of spots, it's highly unlikely Young would still be on the board.

Jeremiah said the Redskins should not consider moving back past picks No. 5-7, and even if they were to pull the plug on a deal with one of the teams with those picks, they would need "multiple [first round picks] plus some Sugar."

Picks No. 3-5 in the draft currently belong to the Detroit Lions, New York Giants and Miami Dolphins, respectively. Jeremiah suspected that any team inquiring about trading up with the Redskins would be looking to take a quarterback.

Detroit has Matt Stafford at quarterback, an established signal-caller. Last week, rumors surfaced that they might explore trading him. Should that happen, Detroit could simply stay at No. 3 and take the QB of their choice. They wouldn't need to trade up with Washington.

Miami is in the quarterback market at No. 5 and may inquire with Washington to move up, especially if the Lions are considering moving on from Stafford. The Chargers at No. 6 and the Panthers at No. 7 are teams to keep an eye on as well.

But the Giants have pick No. 4 and their quarterback of the future is set in Daniel Jones. If Young is on the board when the Giants pick comes around, the Ohio State product is heading to the Big Apple. No questions about it. 

"You've got to get a lot to get out of there, because even if you get to five, you won't see Chase Young at that point in time," Jeremiah said.

Behind quarterback, pass rushers are arguably the most valuable position in the sport. The Redskins have the chance to take a generational talent at the position, and according to Jeremiah, should not look back unless they get an incredible offer in return.

"So you're trading off a premier player at the second most valuable position in the sport," Jeremiah said. "You're going to have to get a heck of a haul to do that."

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