Falcons' third-down woes on offense concern Smith


Falcons' third-down woes on offense concern Smith

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Coach Mike Smith is giving the Atlanta Falcons four days off following a victory over the rival New Orleans Saints.

When they return to practice on Tuesday, Smith will have the offense focus hard on correcting third-down problems that could have cost them against the Saints.

``We'll have a Falcons-on-Falcons day to get us back in the routine,'' Smith said on Friday. ``Rest a couple of our guys that need to be rested. It comes at an ideal time.''

The timing does seem good. Players and coaches will use the days off to relax after taking a narrow victory at Tampa Bay last Sunday and beating New Orleans 23-13 at the Georgia Dome four nights later.

Atlanta's tendencies this season are obvious: When the offense struggles, the defense shines - as was the case on Thursday - but the next couple of games might be just the opposite.

Quarterback Matt Ryan points out, however, that the Falcons, despite their difficulties in one phase or the other, are winning as a team.

With an 11-1 record, something is clearly going right, and the special teams - highlighted by Matt Bryant's 55-yard field goal in the fourth quarter - do their part, too.

But the performance of a defense that intercepted Saints quarterback Drew Brees a career-high five times and snapped his NFL record 54-game touchdown streak held up an offense labored to convert a third down and keep New Orleans' offense off the field.

``I think, like I said before, the three phases have stepped up at different times this year and made plays for us and that's huge,'' Ryan said after finishing with a season-low 165 yards passing. ``Specifically tonight the defense made a bunch of plays. That's what good teams do, you find ways to win and hopefully, offensively, we can play moving forward.''

Thursday's win was different because Atlanta, which still has the NFL's most second-most efficient offense in third-down efficiency, converted none of its first nine chances before Julio Jones' fourth-quarter catch set up Matt Bryant's field goal and the game's final points.

The Falcons started with a strong rushing attack and finished with five runs over 12 yards.

During the middle of the game, however, Atlanta fell flat. Pressure on quarterback Matt Ryan, coverage on Roddy White and a sluggish run game stalled the offense.

White was particularly inefficient. Despite his ongoing public dispute with the Saints and their fans, White had 100 yards receiving in three of his last four games, including the loss at New Orleans three weeks ago.

But that game essentially ended when Jabari Greer knocked away what would've been a fourth-and-2 touchdown catch with 1:42 remaining.

The Falcons suffered their only loss this season, prompting White to fire his latest salvo in a verbal quarrel that's lasted several years: ``We kind of gave it away. You know, we gave it to 'em.''

On Thursday night, Greer and the Saints all but shut down White, who said in training camp how disappointed he was to lead the NFL in drops last season. Ryan targeted him seven times, including thrice on third down, but a couple of drops and poor timing between White and Ryan resulted in just one catch.

``I am relieved we got the win tonight in spite of how the offense played,'' White said after the game. ``We were able to ride the momentum created from the defensive side of the ball. I have to give our defense a lot of credit because they performed on a high level from the outset of the game until the end.''

Atlanta's offense has seemed to perform more consistently on the road, showing dominance of long stretches at Kansas City, San Diego, Washington and Philadelphia, but struggling for long gaps in home victories against Denver, Carolina, Oakland, Dallas, Arizona.

White says sometimes you have to credit the other team. New Orleans defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo called a good game.

``That was our least productive passing game we've had this season yardage-wise and efficiency-wise,'' White said. ``They changed up from what they did the first time we played them. We had opportunities to make plays and we didn't make them. You have to give them credit. They did a nice job.''


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Redskins OTA practice report—QB Alex Smith sharp

Associated Press

Redskins OTA practice report—QB Alex Smith sharp

Even though it was a bright, warm Wednesday in Ashburn the Redskins held their OTA session in the practice bubble because recent rains have left their outdoor fields to soggy to use. Here are my observations from the practice:

—A few Redskins were not present and a few who were there were not participating in the drills. Jay Gruden said that OT Trent Williams is rehabbing in Texas and that LB Zach Brown is in the process of relocating to the Washington area. RB Chris Thompson and OT Morgan Moses were present, but both were spectators. 

— It should be noted that even though Moses didn’t practice and is still rehabbing after ankle surgery, he still participated in the sideline-to-sideline running the team does at the end of practice.

—At rookie camp, RB Derrius Guice was first in line to do every drill. Today, he gave way to the veterans to all take their reps and then he went first among the rookies. 

— “Fat Rob” Kelley never really was fat but he is now lean and mean. He also seems to be a half step quicker than he was in the past. Added competition in the form of second- and fourth-round picks being added at your position will do that to a player. 

—The “starting” offensive line from left to right was Geron Christian, Shawn Lauvao, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, and John Kling. The interior could well start the season; the tackle position awaits the returns of Williams, Scherff, and Ty Nsekhe. 

—RB Byron Marshall, who was on the team briefly last year before getting injured, looked very quick with good acceleration.

—CB Josh Norman was back with the group fielding punts. I seriously doubt that he will handle any kicks in games, even preseason games, but perhaps with DeAngelo Hall being gone he wants to be available as an emergency option. Also back with the punt returners were CB Danny Johnson, CB Greg Stroman, WR Maurice Harris, WR De’Mornay Pierson-El, and, of course, WR Jamison Crowder.

—S D.J. Swearinger spent most of the special teams practice on the sideline working on catching passes with his hands extended away from his body. A little while later, he had a chance to make an interception with his arms extended. Of course, he dropped it. 

—It seems like QB Alex Smith and Crowder have some good rapport built already. Once on the right sideline and a few minutes later on the left, Smith threw a well-placed ball into Crowder, who was well covered on both occasions. 

—Eventually, CB Orlando Scandrick caught on and he swatted down a quick out to Crowder. 

—With Brown out, Josh Harvey-Clemons was with the first unit at inside linebacker. He’s still skinny but less so than he was last year. The second-year player was impressive in coverage, staying with Crowder step for step on a deep pass down the middle.

—The play of the day was a deep pass down the right side from Smith to WR Paul Richardson. Stroman was with the receiver step for step on the 9 route but Smith laid the ball out perfectly and Richardson made a lunging catch. Even though it doesn’t have to under the new rule, the catch did survive the ground. 

—WR Cam Sims had a few impressive plays. On one, QB Colt McCoy lofted one high in the air down the right side. Sims kept his focus on the ball while two defenders lost it and made the catch. 

—WR Trey Quinn had his moments. He made a good grab while being bumped by Scandrick. But a while later he dropped a fairly easy one. 

—The running backs all looked good but Guice looked the best of all of them. He had an ability to cut and maintain his speed that not many have. With the warning that they were playing with no pads with no contact and not at full speed, Guice’s vision appeared to be outstanding. 

More 2018 Redskins

- 53-man roster: Player one-liners, offense
- Tandler’s Take: Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2018
- The draft: Redskins should get 4 additional picks in 2019 draft
- Schedule series: Gotta beat the Cowboys

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

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NFL owners unanimously approve new national anthem policy


NFL owners unanimously approve new national anthem policy

NFL owners have unanimously approved a new national anthem policy that allows players to remain in the locker room if they prefer but requires players to stand if they are on the field during the performance.

This new policy subjects teams, but not players, to fines if any team personnel do not show appropriate respect for the anthem. 

Teams will also have the option to fine any team personnel, including players, for the infraction separately though. 

The NFL Players Association released it's own statement after the news was made official.