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Unbeaten Falcons dominating the turnover battle

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Unbeaten Falcons dominating the turnover battle

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) When the Atlanta Falcons gather in the meeting room at the beginning of each week, they can always count on coach Mike Smith jotting one thing on the board.

Turnover margin.

Smith has made that a priority during his five years as coach, and the Falcons are sure following his lead this season. Atlanta is 5-0 for the first time in franchise history and, not so coincidentally, has a plus-10 edge in turnovers, tied with New England for the best mark in the league.

The safeties are leading the way. Thomas DeCoud has four interceptions, while William Moore has chipped in with two picks. Both give credit to new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, saying he has done a good job of disguising coverages and allowing everyone to play to their strengths.

``Go get the ball,'' Moore said Wednesday. ``The ball is the most important thing on the field.''

The Falcons have already nine interceptions and five fumble recoveries. The offense, meanwhile, has turned it over just four times - three interceptions by Matt Ryan, plus a fumbled snap by the quarterback in last week's victory over Washington.

``When you talk about turnovers, you really want to talk about the turnover ratio,'' Smith said. ``It's interactive. It's one of the stats that offense, defense and special teams all contribute to. Not only are we creating turnovers, we're not turning the ball over.''

The Falcons had a more passive approach on defense under previous coordinator Brian VanGorder, but that has certainly changed since Nolan arrived. He's willing to take some chances - even get burned from time to time - if it puts his guys in position to make game-changing plays of their own. In a league that keeps tilting more and more in favor of the offense, turnovers have become the most effective way to swing the momentum.

``We have an offensive mentality in terms of what we're doing defensively,'' Smith said. ``We're attacking the football.''

The Oakland Raiders (1-3), who visit the Georgia Dome on Sunday, are certainly mindful of the Falcons' ball-hogging ways.

``They do an outstanding job of keying the quarterback, of seeing the quarterback's eyes,'' said first-year coach Dennis Allen, whose team has as many turnovers as it has caused. ``They play extremely fast. They play full speed on every play. They understand where the ball is going. They do a nice job of route recognition. Plus, they get a little pressure on the quarterback, which speeds up the process for them. They're doing an outstanding job of taking the ball away. We've got to be aware of that.''

This is nothing new for Atlanta, which also ranked among the top 10 in turnover margin the last two seasons.

But it's clear the Falcons are more intent on taking the ball away, running all sorts of blitzes and stunts rather than being content to sit back in zone coverage - a change in philosophy that made even more sense after Brent Grimes, perhaps the best defender in a trio of high-priced cornerbacks, went down with a season-ending injury in Week 1.

Another of those cornerbacks, Dunta Robinson, might be thriving more than anyone in the new system.

Last week, he had one of two interceptions in the closing minutes (DeCoud nabbed the other) to clinch the 24-17 victory over the Redskins. But Robinson is doing a lot more than just dropping back in coverage. He's blitzing. He's coming up to provide support against the run. He's having his best overall season since joining the Falcons in 2010.

``I'm a football player first,'' said Robinson, who ranks fourth on the team with 27 tackles. ``(Nolan) is allowing me to play football. He's allowing me to be part of the run game. He's allowing me to blitz at times. I'm not just a cover corner. I'm not just a guy who sits outside and doesn't have any action all day. I like to get involved in the game. He's doing a great job of getting me involved early in the game. Once that happens, I feel like I can make any play.''

Don't forget the guys in the trenches, either.

As Allen said, the Falcons have been getting good pressure on the quarterback, ranking 12th in the league with 13 sacks.

No surprise their defensive backs are playing so well.

``Everything starts up front,'' linebacker Mike Peterson said. ``That's why the guys on the back end have been getting those picks. Apparently, I need to remind those guys on the back end that they can't do their job unless the guys on the front end do theirs.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Wizards vs. Celtics: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards vs. Celtics: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

The Wizards(11-16) hosts Bthe Celtics (16-10) on Wednesday night inside Capital One Arena for the first of three matchups of the 2018-19 season.

The Wizards dropped a Monday night contest in Indiana, despite an All-Star performance from Bradley Beal who poured in 30 points without John Wall in the lineup. 

The Celtics, without Kyrie Irving, defeated the New Orleans Pelicans Monday night thanks to a 31-point performance from Marcus Morris. 

One of the more recent and compelling NBA rivalries is back. 

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, and more:

WIZARDS vs. CELTICS HOW TO WATCH:

What: Washington Wizards vs. Boston Celtics
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.
Time/Date: Wednesday, 12/12/18 at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: NBC Sports Washington (7:00 p.m.)
Live stream: You can watch the Wizards vs. Celtics live stream on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and the MyTeams by NBC Sports App. . Download MyTeams now for full postgame coverage and 24/7 Wizards news.
Radio: 1500 AM

WIZARDS vs. CELTICS TV SCHEDULE:

6:00 PM: Wizards Outsiders 
6:30 PM: Wizards Pregame Live
7:00 PM: Wizards vs. Celtics
9:30 PM: Wizards Postgame Live 
10:00 PM: Wizards Outsiders 

WIZARDS vs. CELTICS INJURY REPORT:

Wizards: Dwight Howard (out, lumbar microdisectomy procedure)

Celtics: Aron Baynes (questionable, left ankle sprain), Gordon Hayward (doubtful, illness), Al Horford (questionable, left knee soreness), Guerschon Yabusele (out, right ankle sprain) 

WIZARDS vs. CELTICS SERIES HISTORY: 

Number of all-time Meetings: 302 games (22 playoff games)

Regular Season Record: Celtics lead series 188-114

Playoff Record: Celtics lead series 13-9

Last Meeting: Wizards beat Celtics 113-101 on 4/10/2018

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Dave Martinez reiterates door remains open for Bryce Harper

Dave Martinez reiterates door remains open for Bryce Harper

LAS VEGAS -- This is not Davey Martinez’s kind of place. He’s more of a Tampa guy, maybe some Nashville. Not Las Vegas. He’s not in the desert to gamble or make the casino scene. Work brings him here, not some desire to burn life earnings during the offseason.

“Social gambler,” Martinez said. “How’s that?”

He’s able to make the rounds, at least. Martinez is 54. He entered the major leagues in 1986. Only four years since then have been spent outside of the major leagues. Which makes this event more of a chance to see old friends in the game. 

Work is limited. Mike Rizzo finished the majority of the roster before the Nationals’ contingent arrived in Las Vegas. Maybe they upgrade at second base. Maybe they add another veteran starter to the spring training mix. Maybe another bullpen option with the same line of thought. But, for the most part, Martinez knows what he will be working with in 2019. 

“Mike and I talked at the end of the season with ownership,” Martinez told NBC Sports Washington. “We sat down. Had a couple meetings. And Pat Corbin, all the guys we got were on our list and he got it done. It was a nice early Christmas present for me to get these guys and get this ball rolling.”

Martinez has harped on certain points since the close of the season. The Nationals need to be better fielders, baserunners and situational hitters. It sounds mundane, something that should be built-in at this level, but anyone who watched last season saw mediocre baseball being played. A throw to the wrong base. An extra base not taken. A double-play unturned.

“Last year we played a lot of one-run games,” Martinez said. “When I looked back and watched some of the replays of the games this past winter, it’s about not allowing teams 28, 29, 30 outs.” 

The Nationals will have days in spring training without hitting. Emphasis on fielding and baserunning drills will increase. They want to play faster and smarter. 

They also believe a healthy start is in place. Martinez said Adam Eaton’s leg continues to gain strength. Ryan Zimmerman’s body is in a good place. Stephen Strasburg is feverishly working out at Nationals Park. 

“As you know, last year when he got hurt and went down, our starting pitching took a beating a little bit,” Martinez said. “Hopefully, he comes back and he’s strong and he can get back and compete. If we can get Stras up to 25 starts, we’re going to be really good.”

Listening to Martinez hints at lessons learned from last season. In particular, his use of the bullpen. Sammy Solis made 30 appearances by the end of May. That matched his total from 2017. 

“I go back to the earlier part of last year,” Martinez said. “He was really good. He kept our bullpen stable. And I used him a lot. And I think at one point -- and I’ve heard this before -- I might have used him too much. What I see now, I’m going by what I saw earlier in the season in hopes that he comes back that guy. And then kind of use him in that role. Because he was really good. He was getting lefties and righties out. … I think Sammy has a lot of upside.”

The back of the bullpen remains structured the same as last season. At least in roles. Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal are a swap for Brandon Kintzler and Ryan Madson. Sean Doolittle maintains his spot as the closer. If he needs a day off, Rosenthal will step in.

That all leaves one enormous question.

“As you know Bryce and I have a special relationship,” Martinez said. “As a player, as a person, as a kid, I think he’s awesome. I love him to death, I do. Right now, we have to continue to move forward and try to get better. Not by any means, and I heard Rizzo say this and I feel the same way, that the door’s closed on Bryce. He’s got big decisions to make. Ultimately, he’s going to make the decision. And It’s tough. I know how he feels about his teammates, I know how he feels about Washington, but it’s a tough decision he needs to make for him and his family.” 

Life is easier with answers. Martinez has most of them for 2019. He, like everyone else, is waiting on one more.

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