CHALK TALK: Film review highlights third down struggles

yNew England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady prepares to take on the Atlanta Falcons in a nationally televised game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Thursday, August 19, 2010. Curtis Compton /

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady prepares to take on the Atlanta Falcons in a nationally televised game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Thursday, August 19, 2010. Curtis Compton /

FLOWERY BRANCH – The Falcons led the league in a major stat last season.

They allowed teams to convert on third down 45 percent (97 of 214) of the time. Indianapolis (104 of 231) and Jacksonville (94 of 209) were also at 45 percent.

My esteemed colleague Mark Bradley is predicting a 12-4 campaign for the Falcons. He obviously believes they will drastically improve on this woeful third down stat.

In the preseason, the Falcons are experimenting heavily on third down, but nothing seems to be working consistently.

In the first series against New England, they used a 3-4 look twice, but were not able to stop Tom Brady.

On a third-and-7 at New England’s 33, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder put Jonathan Babineaux at nose tackle over center. John Abraham was at left end and Kroy Biermann was at right.

Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon were inside. Stephen Nicholas was outside on the right and cornerback Christopher Owens walked up on the outside left to put seven men in the box.

On the snap, everybody but Abraham rushed. He dropped into coverage. Biermann started to rush, but peeled off to his right to cover a back.

Brady wasn’t fooled and checked down to running back Kevin Faulk, who’d slipped out of the backfield. Faulk beat Abraham, who didn’t look very comfortable in coverage, and picked up the first down.

Should your best pass rusher be dropping into coverage on third down? Curtis Compton /

Should your best pass rusher be dropping into coverage on third down? Curtis Compton /

On that one, two of your three top sack leaders from last season were in coverage and not rushing Brady.

On the third-and-7 at New England’s 47, the Falcons went to the seven-man look again.

New England was in a shotgun with a spread look, but elected to pull Dan Connolly and he led Faulk up the middle on a power run that netted 8 yards and the first down.

Later in the drive, on a third-and-2 from Atlanta’s 37, the Falcons stayed in their base 4-3.

New England didn’t get pretty. They went with two tight ends, one receiver, a fullback and a halfback in the I-formation and pounded the ball right at the Falcons. The play was well blocked as Sammy Morris powered ahead for 9 yards and didn’t get touched until safety Erik Coleman stepped in to save a touchdown.

“My biggest concern is the way that we played third down,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “You can’t have situations when you are in third down on the first drive and have them convert on checkdown passes and get first downs. We have to make sure that we have solid tackles and knock the ball carrier back.”

On New England’s second series, the Falcons flashed their 7-man front on third-and-8. They sent six, with Lofton dropping into coverage. Brady passed to Julian Edelman, who sat down at four yards. Safety Thomas DeCoud came up to stop Edelman a yard short of the first down marker and the Falcons had a stop.

But that was one of the few third down highlights.

“They also scored three of their four touchdowns on third down,” Smith said. “One was a third-and-12. Those are all areas that we have to

New England running back Sammy Morris got loose on a third down and Erik Coleman saved a touchdown. Curtis Compton/

New England running back Sammy Morris got loose on a third down and Erik Coleman saved a touchdown. Curtis Compton/


Smith deflected a question about the 7-man fronts and the 3-4 looks. (Hey, everybody has DVRs now and well millions of folks saw it on national television! It’s not top secret info.)

“There was no game planning in this ball game,” Smith said. “We were working on certain things that we wanted to work on.”

It will be interesting to chart what the Falcons do on third down against the Dolphins since they will prepare a game plan for that one.

Do you have any recommendations for BVG and Smitty for third down? Like the 7-man looks with all the blitzing? Or, are you not alarmed and think the defense will tackle better when the season arrives?

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72 comments Add your comment

Falcons will win

August 23rd, 2010
7:11 am

Pressure on the QB is what disrupts 3rd down plays, coverage will only hold up so long.


August 23rd, 2010
7:11 am

One recommendation I would have is to teach some of thse guys how to frigging wrap someone up and tackle them!


August 23rd, 2010
7:23 am

How about the 3rd down where Biermann body slammed Brady to the ground? Wasn’t that the same series with the phantom roughing the kicker call leading to a touchdown?

If the Falcons are “game planning” then how many body slams can Brady take? I hope the rest of the league is looking at the same tape and drooling over Abraham dropping into coverage on 3rd and long.

I think this defense is going to be OK; the only thing I can tell after 2 games is the 11 on the field are much more violent than the previous 2 years.


August 23rd, 2010
7:31 am

Same old story with my beloved birds. Their preseason games have always been an indication of things to come during the season. And so far, I am not like what I am seeing AT all.


August 23rd, 2010
7:33 am

Excellent report DOL, the defense is still lacking any cohesion on third down. Too much smoke and mirrors going on, stick with the 4-3 and keep Abraham and Bierman rushing the QB and not dropping into coverage, what a joke! Seems we have no Linebackers who can speed rush on blitzes, why not try ‘Spoon off the corner from either side and use his speed to get to the QB? afterall, he was drafted for his speed–use it not just for passing coverage but for blitzing also!


August 23rd, 2010
7:35 am

Also, someone better wake up Coach Smith and BVG that the NFL stands for Not For Long. Better produce this year or adios!

Chop Buster

August 23rd, 2010
7:39 am

For one thing the linebackers are getting manhandled by offensive linemen. Why are they that close to the line? Also why onn earth would you keep dropping your top pass rusher into coverage? I’ve never liked that scheme. Let Abe and Biermann get after the QB. Finally, our defensive linemen are getting blown off the ball and not penetrating the backfield like they did against KC. We all know KC is still not there yet and the Patriots were the true measuring stick for where the Falcons are offensively and defensively.


August 23rd, 2010
7:40 am

Forget the players, BVG should be watching his backside if they have another terrible defensive season. Weatherspoon is not ready to start and definitely not a SLB.
I happened to be at the game and it was the longest boringest game offensively for ATL, they haven’t scored this preseason, yet. The starting LB’s Lofton, Peterson and Spoon looked like amateurs missing tackles and running into each other. Weatherspoon is a rookie, but wasn’t he drafted to cover tight ends? If so, I hope the Pats game isn’t foretelling of our new addition to defense. ATL should have drafted a position that would make an immediate impact like DT, DE, WR or even a consistent kicker.
On the upside hopefully they turn around for the better and the coaching staff can be more concise and definite with their game plan and who they put on the field.


August 23rd, 2010
7:45 am

I don’t know what they should do on third down. But I do Know- that Mike Smith needs to cut the buddy, buddy crap with Vangorder and make him accountable.

[...] Atlanta Falcons’ 7-man front was unable to stop the Patriots on third downs last Thursday night, reviews D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta [...]

How amny times are we going to hear...

August 23rd, 2010
7:58 am

…that there was “no game planning” – we heard immediately after the game by Matt Ryan and now even the head coach is using that excuse. MAN UP AND PLAY – it is pre-season – do they think the Patriots game planned? This excuse stuff is really bush league – they got the their heads handed to them and now they have to go back to the drawing board and quit reading all this crap about how good they are or how good they will be with a little game planning and just go out and get TOUGHER…

I will get off my soapbox now…


August 23rd, 2010
8:04 am

Nice post D-Led

I’m still really interested in the Kicker situation so remember to update us when you can about possible comp coming in to challenge Bryant!

As far as the 3rd downs, i thing the 3-4 idea is a good one to be experimenting with. I think that once Moore can stay on the field for an extended amount of time, replacing him with Owens in that formation might look good. Playing 3 Safeties could help in run support & the thing their suppose to love about Moore is his athleticism, so i could see this set working. Brain Williams could also fill this role since he’s cross trained at both S positions as well as CB.

Also as Spoon grows in his coverage skills i could see him kicking out to the outside & them inserting Wire in the middle with Lofton giving us more of a traditional 3-4 look with some real heat coming from the speed rushers from the outside.


August 23rd, 2010
8:11 am

Lol, Peterson who has experiance at ILB slipped my mind, he could also play inside with Lofton, allowing Spoon as he grows in his coverage skills to kick outsidefor the more traditional 3-4 look providing beef to confront the run & speed coming off the corners & 2 OLB’s who should have what it takes to hold up in coverage as well.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

August 23rd, 2010
8:33 am

falcons looked awful against the pats. need to make some drastic changes in our defense, especially 3rd down situations.


August 23rd, 2010
8:35 am

They dropped Abraham in coverage a good bit last year and it is usually ob third down and IT NEVER WORKS! Scrap that Van Gorder. The QB needs to worry about Abraham whenever he is out there. The QB has to be smiling when he seea one of the most feared pass rushers in the game backing up he can relax and take his time…..not what we want on third down!!!!

Bird Dog

August 23rd, 2010
8:46 am

If BVG can’t get it done, look for Smitty to take over the defense. That’s his baby and he is probably running out of patience. I know it’s only pre-season but the starters have a long way to go…

Falcon Law

August 23rd, 2010
9:00 am

Great article D Led. I watched the whole game like my beloved falcons family. Personally despite the poor showing I am optimistic. We have to remember that the preseason doesn’t count, it’s mostly when the coaching staff try different schemes to see whether to use them during the season or not. I did see a lot of things that I didn’t like, such Spoon getting beat for a TD, the LBs missing tackles, 3rd issues, etc…I have faith though in our coaches that they will make adjustments. Not a fan of the 3-4 defense except when I’m playing Madden. On 3rd downs, we should use our 4-3 look and unleash our pass rushers like the Colts do for example. So falcons family, no need to press the panic button yet. I still like our chances to have a great season.

GO FALCONS!!!!!!!!!!


August 23rd, 2010
9:12 am

Bring the season on so that we don’t lose half of you on this blog to serious mental or physical health failure !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

worried falcon

August 23rd, 2010
9:22 am

This team should have drafted Dez Bryant. TD is a little overated by most falcon fans in my opinion. Spoon will turn out to be an average linebacker and dez bryant is going to be a star. I completely understand that the falcons needed help on defense but sometimes you just have to draft for value. Why draft an average linebacker when you can have a superstar receiver opposite roddy white? Imagine the falcons offense with dez on the other side. We could have picked up a linebacker in the later rounds. Both of the top two picks from last season look like they are going to be injury bust. Td is about to start feeling a little heat if some of his moves don’t start to pan out. And I’m not completely sold on the big free agent contract given to dunta robinson either. The last two seasons in houston he hardly intercepted any passes and the texans didn’t even attempt to resign him to a contract. Thats a little disconcerting too me.

Mike Jay

August 23rd, 2010
9:48 am

worried Falcon,

How can you be soo sure one rookie is going to be averagee but another is going to be a superstar? Also, if you recall the Falcons never tried to resign Deion Sanders and he turned out ok with his next team.


August 23rd, 2010
10:21 am

If an NFL coach has not been to the Super Bowl in his first three years, excluding expansion teams, he very seldom ever makes it. He’s either got it or he does not have it.


August 23rd, 2010
10:30 am

I like Spoon he will be fine in the NFL, but I don’t understand why we don’t have another stud WR to help Roddy and Matt. If Matt is all of that give him all the tools not just some. We don’t need TO or DEZ, but we need another WR.


August 23rd, 2010
10:31 am

I have say all along get ride of everything Ga bulldawg, Dj, BVG, etc great college play but not very good in the NFL.


August 23rd, 2010
10:46 am

UGA is in the top 5 colleges sending players to the NFL–Players like Jake Scott, Hines Ward and Terrell Davis–and those are just the superbowl MVP’s. Get outta here with those weak-@$$ anti-Dawg comments. You have no idea what you’re posting about…..


August 23rd, 2010
10:58 am

To address Orlando’s original question, I don’t think the problem is in the defensive schemes but rather in the execution. Looked to me like we were getting whipped at the point of attack and tackling like a bunch of middle schoolers. We didn’t look like we were physically ready to play football.

Rev Blake

August 23rd, 2010
11:14 am

I’ve been complaining for a couple of years about Van Gorder’s coaching ability in terms of the NFL level. I’ve never liked BVG defensive game calling but, in all fairness to him, the players on the field looked confused and slow.. Unfortunately, I agree with those who say the Falcons’ first team in preseason has been an accurate indicator of what they do in regular season in the past. I’m not too optimistic we’ll go deep in the playoffs, if at all.

The Patriots were going to be our “measuring stick” and the Falcons looked lconfused, out-played,out-matched, and out-coached. The first drive was decent, but, once again, they stalled in the red zone.

I hope I’m wrong.


August 23rd, 2010
11:32 am

This team should have drafted Dez Bryant. TD is a little overated by most falcon fans in my opinion… thoughts exactly. The only guy who TD drafted and is really a play maker is Bierman and he was a late round gem. The two guys (Jerry and Moore) were injury prone in college and all the draft day love he gets are for player who look good in training camp and practice but are no factor against live competition.


August 23rd, 2010
12:10 pm

fans, calm down, be patient
Falcons: Regardless of game-planning or not, the team has to establish the other intangibles: playing with toughness & attitude. As well as tangibles: wrapping up when tackling & being violent/stout at the point of attack.
Coaches: Keep experimenting but sometimes it’s less effective to try to be slick instead of putting your players in a position to do what they do best. Something to remember going into the reg season.


August 23rd, 2010
1:24 pm

Enter your comments here


August 23rd, 2010
1:27 pm

Abraham is paid to rush the quarter back , Not drop back in coverage. No brainer, RUSH the damn quarterback on 3rd down!

real falcon fan

August 23rd, 2010
2:11 pm

let the coaches coach , let players play ! RISE UP!


August 23rd, 2010
2:11 pm

My three answers:

One, on recommendations for third downs; Stop dropping the DEs into coverage. We were sick of it last year and that most likely was a major contributing factor in our not getting stops on third downs.

Two, on the 7-man looks with lots of blitzing; Glanville did it and it worked. Nothing wrong with consulting the Gritz Blitz guru on how to blitz effectively from a 7-man look.

And three, am I alarmed, even though it’s preseason (dropping Abe back) looks like more of the same from last year, yes, I’m alarmed.

Finally, how can we apply consistent and effective pressure if we drop our DEs into coverage and rush with our cover guys? If we’re going to be cute and fancy, lets be cute and fancy with our guys doing what they do best. We’re not going to win many third downs with our DEs in pass coverage.


August 23rd, 2010
2:18 pm

Well said!!!!! “How many times are we gonna hear that.” I’ve been a Falcon’s fan since 1966 and I’m sick of excuses. Get rid of Vangorder and let Smitty coach defense. If he can’t get it done MOVE ON!!!! Abraham and Bierman in coverage that’s just utter stupidity!!! Bring back the “Grits Blitz” NOW


August 23rd, 2010
3:28 pm

I really believe football teams take on the attitude of their leader. Personally Coach Smith is not head coach material great D-coord though. (See Mike Martz,Brian Billick, Lovie Smith and host of others that are great coordinators and not good head coaches). One thing with the falcons they will be well prepared to play against any team X’s and O’s. But they lack that level of motivation that head good head coaches provide(See Gruden,Tony Dungy,Tom Coughlin, Rex Ryan, Bill Cowher). I believe Coach Smith is a better D-coord coach that all listed above except maybe for Tony Dungy and Rex Ryan but when it comes to motivation and attitude all of them are better. And I even see Coach Smith go crazy on the sideline but it just seems like the falcons players dont believe him.


August 23rd, 2010
3:28 pm

Same old comments as last pre-season when our defense broke down against San Diego. The world as we knew it was ending, everything we worked for was over. We won 9 games with an injury riddled team. This IS the time to look bad. I would be concerned if this was week 3 of the regular season, but this is the time to evaluate what we have, and who we keep. I promise this game meant a heck of a lot more to the Pats than it did to Smitty.


August 23rd, 2010
4:05 pm

Row3 i agree with you man, people flipping out about pre season football. too many negatrons on this blog. That why i go to the falcoholic.


August 23rd, 2010
4:07 pm

I love all this Smitty should do this and Smitty should do the other thing. Are any of you NFL coaches? Keep in mind…we tune in to watch Smitty coach NFL football NOT the other way around.


August 23rd, 2010
4:24 pm

I think we need some bigger defensive linemen. We dont have any big bodies to plug up the holes, most of all of the the good teams we face their O-line is bigger and stronger than our D-line. There is no way in hell we are going to stop anybody on third downs. Linebackers are not solid hitters (no thumpers allowed I guess). My suggestion is to get bigger, stronger, faster players!! And BVG time has been up since last season its time to move on. A new defensive coach is needed ASAP!!

Falcon since 66

August 23rd, 2010
4:28 pm

The falcons lost the game because they did not tackle. Yes, it is not smart to take Abe out of the pass rush and put him into coverage as BVG did too many times last year and Smith needs to nix that, once and for all. The defense has got to make tackles in order to win. There were repeated instances of players dropping their heads and not getting their arms around the runner which allowed him to break the tackle and gain extra yards or worse. This is flawed technique which should be fundalmental at this level of play. It obviously needs to be stressed more in practice.

As far as the offense’s failure to score touchdowns. It seems that they repeatedly bog down around the other team’s 30 to 40 yard line. This usually occurs after the offensive coordinator has called some bizarre or trick play that doesn’t work or loses yardage and kills the drive. Lets try one game without any of that and see if we can sustain a drive all the way to the end zone. Then we will know if that is the problem.


August 23rd, 2010
4:44 pm

Most of the Patriots’ third down conversions were due to poor tackling and poor angles by Falcons defense on passing downs.

Players focusing on defensive schemes will eliminate these poor executions.


August 23rd, 2010
4:47 pm

Not every coach has the makings of a Lombardi, Madden Halas, Brown, Walsh etc. Through his 1st 100 games, Mighty Belechick was 42-58 and then–jackpot. I can’t understand what’s not to like in Smith as a HC only 36 reg season and 1 playoff game into his tenure. He’s 20-12-0, (0-1 playoffs) over that period. Give him time to grow into the job. This organization needs stability as much as it needs anything else, including rings and trophies. If we can finally achieve consistence and stability, the wins and the rings should follow, not the other way around….


August 23rd, 2010
5:26 pm

Look for Trey Lewis to win back his starting tackle over center spot for the opener at Pittsburgh. He was a force against Pats, in back field alot and disruptive! Plus he is 300 plus pounder who can stuff the run and get into backfield. Line up ‘Spoon on outside of either Bierman or Abraham and let them go inside rush and ‘Spoon come off the corner from the outside with speed rush, i bet ya that produces sacks! hey Brian Van Gorder, hope you read these blogs, not just me but a lot of bloggers can give you some great advice to try!


August 23rd, 2010
5:28 pm

To all the brash comments since Thursday on here…I guarantee if the Falcons play well against the Dolphins then the same bloggers will be talking Super Bowl again. Atlanta Falcons fans have traditionally been fair weathered arm chair QBs. How do I know this? 5 year season ticket holder from 2000-2004. Fans don’t show up until after the 1st quarter kick-off and leave in the 3rd quarter if the Birds are losing. I follow the Falcons very closely and study football religously…this is a good football team as it was last year. Matt Ryan doesn’t have to be Peyton Manning to be a franchise QB. He is very intelligent and can make any throw Brees can make. As far as Spoon and other rookies, we have played 2x preseason games…enough said. Just hang in there, we will be competitive in the post season.


August 23rd, 2010
5:58 pm

Falcons are a bunch of losers. TD isn’t as smart as he thinks he is and we should of hired Rex Ryan.


August 23rd, 2010
6:16 pm

i think Atlanta really wants to seem vanilla this preseason. Possibly, to give no defensive looks for Pittsburg to to use.


August 23rd, 2010
6:19 pm

besides its nothing wrong with a little humble pie in the preseason. i think the falcons are loosing focus. we need to stay humble and hungry


August 23rd, 2010
6:32 pm

All NFL teams do not game plan except for the third preseason game. It’s an unwritten NFL convention. Miami will be game planning for the falcants, count on it.



August 23rd, 2010
6:45 pm

What has changed since last year??????????

Offensively we can move the ball but we can’t punch it in!
Defensively we were the worst in the league in giving up 3rd down conversions!

Those are the two areas we need to focus on and to come out on national tv against the Pats.
Regardless of preseason, it’s starters vs starters for the first 1.5 quarters and we were beaten 14-3
by a team that we should benchmark our progress against.

Obviously we failed on this occassion but it’s a long season.

Maybe a good slap in the face to the Falcons will refocus them, including the coaches, moving forward.


August 23rd, 2010
6:52 pm

NE defenders were right on top of receivers – even the checkdowns. They punished our receivers even when they caught the ball. Falcons defenders once again didn’t or couldn’t play tight. NE rcvrs were able to get a head of steam leading to too much yardage.

For lack of a better term – our defense still plays and looks too soft. We were physically dominated. Far from the elite.


August 23rd, 2010
6:57 pm

Thank God we don’t have to play the Patriots this year!