FLOWERY BRANCH — Instead of having the Falcons practice over the bye week, Falcons coach Mike Smith gave the team the entire time off.
When making the schedule over the offseason he felt that the Falcons didn’t get enough out of the two bye-week practices and equated them to like “pulling teeth.”
So instead of doing some dentistry work, the players were dismissed after the win over Oakland. While they were out, the coaches conducted a self-scout of the first six games in order to trouble-shoot for potential areas of improvement.
“We spent the week taking a good hard look at things that we have to get better at,” Smith said on Monday. “We identified them. We came out here and really worked hard on fundamentals. (Monday) was a big day on fundamentals and on things that we felt like we needed to do to help ourselves play better through the last 10 games of the season.”
Here are five things that the Falcons, the only undefeated team in the NFL, are focusing on in order to stay atop of the league standings:
1. Missed tackles: The team spent a large part of their practice working on the fundamentals of tackling.
“We had a bunch in this past game and sometimes it’s just being too aggressive or not wrapping up,” linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “Sometimes it could be not seeing what you are hitting. It’s something that we’re going to work on and make sure that we are lining people up the right way and that they are taking the right angles. We need everybody swarming to the ball. If we go out there and do that, everybody will be fine.”
Smith and his staff had extra tackling drills scheduled although the defense rarely practices full simulated tackling in practice, in part because of the new non-contact rules set forth in the collective bargaining agreement.
“We don’t really get to work it, but it’s ultimately on us to go out there on Sunday and wrap ball carriers up and get them down,” Weatherspoon said.
Defensive end Ray Edwards said, “All of us have been playing football since we were 10-years-old. All of us know how to tackle. We just have to go out and do it.”
2. Stop the run: Several players talked about changing the math at the point of attack.
“When you have seven-man spacing you have seven men near the line of scrimmage and the math is even,” Smith said. “So you’ve got to do something to change the math. A guy has got to whip a block or you have to slant your defense. There are a number of ways to do it.”
The defense has allowed 143.8 yards per game and seven rushing touchdowns this season.
“We have to change the math,” Weatherspoon said. “We can’t just fit it up right. We have to win our one on one battles a little bit better. I think our run defense will get better if we do that.”
3. Improve the rushing attack: Smith likes to talk about being a “scoring” offense. He doesn’t care if it’s passing or running as long as they are scoring points.
During the self-scout, it was apparent that they could score more points with a better rushing attack.
“We just have to execute better and that’s all 11 guys on the field,” running back Michael Turner said. “That’s mainly what it is.”
Turner’s carries have been drastically cut, but he’s still averaging 4.3 yards per.
Backup running back Jacquizz Rodgers has not been productive and is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry. The team is rushing for a paltry 86.5 yards per game.
“We know that we have the ability to do it,” Turner said. “We have to not take things for granted and go out there and still do the things that we’ve been coached to do.”
4. Staying near penalty-free: The Falcons have just 18 penalties for 152 yards, both marks are the lowest in the league.
5. Takeaways: The Falcons have 10 interceptions and are tied for third in the league with Cleveland and Washington while behind Chicago (13) and the New York Giants (12).
The Falcons have also forced nine fumbles and recovered seven of them. New England leads the league with 13 forced fumbles and 11 recovered.
The Falcons turnover-differential of plus-10 has allowed them time to correct their issues against the run.
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