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.''


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


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Check out the names on the Wizards' Summer League training camp roster

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Check out the names on the Wizards' Summer League training camp roster

NBA Summer League is right around the corner. While the Washington Wizards continue a search for a new president, they do have one thing pinned down: the Summer League training camp roster.

The Wizards open Summer League play in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 6, when they take on No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans.

Mini camp begins Tuesday and runs through Thursday. Players will participate in a two-hour practice each day.

Here is the training camp roster:

Noah Allen, G/F, Hawaii (Capital City Go-Go)
Armoni Brooke, G, Houston
Elijah Brown, G/F, Oregon (Grand Rapids Drive)
Troy Brown Jr., F, Oregon (Washington Wizards)
Dontay Caruthers, G, Buffalo
Troy Caupain Jr., G, Cincinnati (Orlando Magic)
Corey Davis, G, Houston
Dikembe Dixson, F, UIC (Capital City Go-Go)
Kellen Dunham, G, Butler (Capital City Go-Go)
John Egbunu, C, Florida
Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga
Vince Hunter, F, UTEP (AEK Athens Greece)
Garrison Mathews, G, Lipscomb
Tarik Phillip, G, Ukraine (Petrol Limpija Ukraine)
Admiral Schofield, F, Tennessee
James Thompson IV, F/C, Eastern Michigan
Jeff Withey, C, Kansas (Lavrio B.C. Greece)
Tony Wroten, G, Washington (BC Kalev-Cramo Estonia)


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Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s matchup:

Region: Fourth line forwards

Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger


2018-19 stats


Noel Acciari (27 years old):72 games played with the Boston Bruins, 6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points, 12:59 TOI


Playoffs: 19 games played with the Boston Bruins, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, 13:10 TOI


Marcus Kruger (29 years old): 74 games played with the Chicago Blackhawks, 4 goals, 8 assists, 12 points, 10:25 TOI


Playoffs: None


Hockey-Graph contract projections


Noel Acciari: 2 years, $1,180,934 cap hit


Marcus Kruger: 1 year, $861,030 cap hit


The case for Noel Acciari

Plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot-10, 205-pound frame. A perfect fit at right wing on the fourth line for Washington. The native New Englander, who played at Providence, is a home-grown Bruin and might not want to leave home, but Boston also might not have the cap space to give an obvious fourth-line player a decent raise. The Capitals might not, either, but for now, they really only have to add in RFA Jakub Vrana’s new contract and figure out what they’re going to do with RFA Andre Burakovsky. 


Acciari is renowned for his character and toughness. He was a college captain for Providence and helped the Friars win an NCAA title in 2015. There’s never been a shot he’s unwilling to block. Acciari sustained a broken sternum in the second round against Columbus and a blocked shot with his right foot in Game 7 of the Cup Final left him in a walking boot.  


Acciari’s offensive upside is limited, but he did have 10 goals in 2017-18. He was a key player for the Bruins in the past two Stanley Cup playoffs and chipped in two goals in this year’s playoff run that came within a game of a championship. Acciari would help on Washington’s penalty kill, too. In 111:52 he was only on the ice for 11 power-play goals against. Only two Boston forwards were on the ice more short-handed.  


The case for Marcus Kruger


A different skill set here for the smaller Kruger (6-foot, 186 pounds). Don’t expect even double-digit goals from him, either. But Kruger will likely cost less than $1 million and can be a valuable penalty killer, where Washington needs help. That’s huge for a team that is now dealing with an $81.5 million salary cap, which is $1.5 million less than expected. Add in the overage bonus for defenseman Brooks Orpik from last season and you’re in trouble at just over $80 million.   


Kruger played seven seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks and one disappointing one with the Carolina Hurricanes. Kruger has plenty of Stanley Cup experience, too, playing for Chicago’s 2013 and 2015 Cup winners. He has 87 postseason games and a triple-overtime game-winner in the Western Conference Final to his name in 2015 in Game 2 of that series against Anaheim. 


A defensive specialist, only two Blackhawks forwards played more short-handed minutes than Kruger (132:46) last season. There is risk here. Kruger was traded to Carolina in 2017-18, but was placed on waivers after 48 games and spent the rest of the season in the AHL before being traded to Arizona and then back to Chicago. But part of that stemmed from how much he was making on a $3.08 million cap hit. At a bargain-basement price, Kruger is more palatable. 


Who’s your pick? Vote here.