FLOWERY BRANCH — Heading into the NFC South showdown with the Saints, the Falcons’ special teams are playing well.
They did have the blocked punt against Jacksonville, but special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong and coach Mike Smith noted that it was a mental error along the front line that was the problem.
His coverage units will be on the spot against dangerous returner Darren Sproles on Monday. Sproles is averaging 9.6 yards on punt returns and has a 72-yard touchdown. On kickoff returns, he’s ranked fourth in the NFC and seventh in the league, averaging 26.1 yards per return.
Here are some excerpts from an interview with Armstrong on Wednesday:
ON AKEEM DENT WHO LEADS THE TEAM WITH 16 SPECIAL TEAMS TACKLES: He’s doing a nice job. He’s been productive. He studies. He puts his time in. He’s really learning and starting to grow. He’s starting to make some decisions on the field. He’s starting to look like a vet. He just needs to keep playing at a high level. Keep playing with a lot of energy. He’s physical. He’s everything that you look for in a young cover guy. He can run and he likes to hit. He doesn’t get in any physical mismatches because of his size. He’s been a big plus for us.
ON WEEMS AND SCHILLINGER, THE SECOND AND THIRD LEADING TACKLERS: Eric always does a good job for us. He leads by example. He’s an aggressive football player. He’s doing a nice job for us. Shann has improved from last year to this year. He has escaped some single blocks and is starting to get some production.
ON KEYS WHEN FACING A BIG RETURN GUY LIKE DARREN SPROLES: I think it’s total team coverage. (Aside: Coach sounds like my insurance guy, right here!) You can’t expect one guy to get there and make the play. It’s a combination of things. We have to place the ball. We have to create hang-time. Now, with all of that being said and done, that just sets the parameters. Now, what you need to do is get off of blocks, gang tackle this guy and get him on the ground. You can’t expect one person to make the play.
ON THE BLOCKED PUNT AGAINST JACKSONVILLE: The get-off was fine. (Bosher got the punt off in 2.08 seconds.) Everybody says 2.0, but that’s clinic talk. If you are getting the ball off in 2.0 you’ve probably got a return coming back at you for 25 to 30 yards. We just got in a physical deal up front and we didn’t step into the block. That’s all, a mental error that we can’t make.
ON PLAYING WELL DOWN THE STRETCH: You’ve got to be clicking on all cylinders. We talk about it all the time. We’re not going to be the weak link. . . . What did you do? Did you score? Did you set
up a score? Before you open your mouth, did you score? Our goals are to score or set up a score. Which is what we got accomplished this past weekend and that started to open some things up. We’ve got to find ways to score and find ways to set up scores. Whether if it be takeaways, a long return or a form of a block. You could be rushing off the edge, you don’t block the kick, but they throw a flag. That came up in the last game. Find a way to affect the score. . . People always talk about field position. But field position is a team stat. If you really think about it, that’s a team stat. We can find ways to steal drives. We can find a way to create a play that will give our offense a (short field.)
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog