Redskins

Falcons' defense looking for focus vs. Giants

Falcons' defense looking for focus vs. Giants

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) It didn't take long for Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to get his players' attention after last week's embarrassing loss at Carolina.

In a meeting with his players this week, Nolan began the session with encouragement, pointing out all that's gone right for a defense that ranks fifth in scoring average.

But Nolan then transitioned to the poor tackling and missed assignments that were a big reason Carolina scored 30 points and piled up 195 yards rushing.

The Falcons were negligent in their tackling technique all afternoon against the Panthers. Plays that should've been stopped in the backfield, at the line of scrimmage or short of a first down turned into huge gains.

Atlanta endured an ugly afternoon as the Panthers ran seven plays that gained between 16 and 22 yards and scored three touchdowns that covered 25, 53 and 75 yards.

``We just made some errors, but we also had several at the beginning - third-and-2s, third-and-shorts, third-and-5s - and they broke some tackles on a couple of runs and got `em, and then we missed the slant play,'' Nolan said. ``They out-executed us.''

Nolan's job is to address the deficiencies quickly to ensure they don't become habit-forming, not with the New York Giants (8-5) visiting Atlanta (11-2) on Sunday and the Falcons still trying to earn a top conference seed.

``We don't need to be in a playoff game three or four weeks from now and have those things creep in,'' Nolan said. ``It just shows that they can if you're not on top of your game.''

A big area of concern is improving on third down, particularly after Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Carolina combined to average a 50 percent conversion rate over the last three games.

Atlanta's goal is to hold opponents to 33 percent or less.

``Getting stops on third down is almost as good as turnovers because after a special teams play, we're giving the ball back to our offense,'' free safety Thomas DeCoud said. ``Those are things that can swing game momentum from one side to the other. It happened for them in their favor last Sunday.''

The Falcons hope to get a boost in the secondary if cornerback Asante Samuel can return this week after missing most of the last two weeks with a right shoulder injury.

It's uncertain if Chris Hope will start for the second straight week at strong safety. William Moore, who intercepted New Orleans star Drew Brees twice in Atlanta, was sidelined against Carolina with a sore hamstring.

Moore missed practice again on Thursday, and Samuel was limited.

DeCoud, however, could sense other factors at play last week, too.

Maybe it's because the Falcons were coming off a big win over the Saints to become the first NFC team to earn a playoff spot, but DeCoud believed the team was emotionally flat.

``Yes, you can be close to perfect, but there are going to times where the ball's not going to bounce in your favor,'' DeCoud said. ``I'd say it was a combination of that and us not really having any energy and kind of going through the motions. If we can get that turned around and make sure we have our passion and energy up and in full swing, be sound in our techniques and assignments, I think things will fall in our favor.''

Atlanta's defense struggled on third down all afternoon - a problem that must be corrected against the Giants. Led by quarterback Eli Manning, New York is third in the NFL in points scored.

But Sean Weatherspoon believes Nolan will help the Falcons fix their flaws before they become a problem.

As Weatherspoon says, there's a reason that Atlanta is for fifth in average points.

``We're the same guys that made those plays when we had to,'' Weatherspoon said. ``We're the same guys that got five picks off of Drew Brees, guys that overcame five interceptions to win a game (against Arizona), guys that got four picks in the first quarter off of Peyton Manning. We've got to get back to the things that made us successful.''

NOTES: Coach Mike Smith said WR Roddy White won't test his sore right knee until Sunday. White hasn't practiced this week and is not expected to participate on Friday. White, whose 292 catches since the start of 2010 rank second in the league, has never missed a game in his eight-year career.

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Follow George Henry athttp://www.twitter.com/georgehenryAP

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Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, defense

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Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, May 22, 66 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins player one-liners, defense

A few weeks ago, I did an early projection of the Redskins’ 53-man roster on offense and defense. As the team gets ready for OTAs here is a comment on each player expected to make the team on defense; the offense was up yesterday

Defensive line

—Even though he played just 159 snaps last year before getting injured, the experience that Jonathan Allen gained in the offseason and training camp last year will help him get off to a strong start this season. 

—​Daron Payne will improve as the season goes on but he should be of some help stopping the run, the team’s most glaring weakness, right off the bat. 

—​Matt Ioannidis could play his way into an early contract extension a year from now, something nobody saw coming a year ago. 

—Last year Anthony Lanier played a little over half a season’s worth of snaps and got 5.0 sacks so I’ll put his over/under for this year at 7.5. 

—I think many fans see “Redskins veteran free agent D-lineman” and associate “bust” but Stacy McGee played pretty well last year. 

—Will Tim Settle be in at nose tackle for the first snap in Week 1?

—The coaches would like to be able to keep Ziggy Hood on the roster, but injuries and other issues could make him a victim of the roster numbers game. 

Inside linebackers

—​Zach Brown struggled a bit before injuries forced him out of the last three games, but he still finished in the top 10 in the NFL in tackles. 

—The team re-signing Mason Foster in late January was a low-key but potentially very impactful move. 

—After getting cut and then returning in November last year, Zach Vigil probably will be employed with the Redskins for all of the 2018 season. 

—It will be interesting to see how much the Redskins try to get out of converted safety Josh Harvey-Clemons as a nickel linebacker this year. 

—The Redskins moved up in the sixth round to draft Shaun Dion Hamilton, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he has a regular role on defense before the season is out. 

Outside linebackers

—All Preston Smith needs to do to hit it big in free agency is add a few sacks to his 2017 total and get a few more takeaways. 

—​Ryan Kerrigan already got paid, he’s a few more good years away from making the Redskins Ring of Fame. 

—I predict that Ryan Anderson gets his first NFL sack in Week 2 against the Colts. 

—You usually think of outside linebackers rotating in when it’s the nickel defense, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Pernell McPhee be a regular in short-yardage situations. 

Cornerbacks

—I think Josh Norman will the dancing in the end zone at some this season; he is long overdue to get a pick six (or a pick of any sort for that matter).

—The first time I noticed Quinton Dunbar playing cornerback was when he lined up against Odell Beckham in 2015. 

—The success of the Redskins’ decisions to trade Kendall Fuller and to let Bashaud Breeland leave as a free agent will hinge mostly on how well Fabian Moreau plays in his second year in the NFL.

—Realistically, the Redskins can hope to get 10 or 12 good games out of Orlando Scandrick

—And because Scandrick is unlikely to be healthy for 16 games, the ability of Josh Holsey to step in when needed will be critical. 

—If the Redskins can get a few good punt returns and 75 snaps at nickel corner from Greg Stroman he will be worth the seventh-round pick they used to draft him. 

Safeties

—With a year in the defense under his belt, D.J. Swearinger is a candidate to make his first Pro Bowl. 

—After Jay Gruden compared him to Jordan Reed, there is a lot of pressure on Montae Nicholson to stay on the field and perform well when he is out there. 

—Even though he started eight games last year I think the coaches view Deshazor Everett as more of a special teams guy and situational defender than a safety they want playing 70 snaps a game. 

—​Troy Apke has a lot to learn and it remains to be seen if he can go from being a fast guy to being a fast NFL football player.

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

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 21
—Training camp starts (7/26) 66
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 80

The Redskins last played a game 142 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 110 days. 

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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