Atlanta Falcons: Screen pass has become an extension of the run attack

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White ran for a 39-yard touchdown during the second quarter against Detroit on a screen pass. (Duane Burleson/Associated Press)

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White ran for a 39-yard touchdown during the second quarter against Detroit on a screen pass. (Duane Burleson/Associated Press)

By MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM

FLOWERY BRANCH — After 16 regular-season games it’s clear the Falcons no longer can reliably run the ball when they need tough yards.

They may not have to do it much in the playoffs, though, if they can keep slicing opponents with screen passes.

“The screen game for us is an extension of our run game,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “It’s putting the ball in our backs’ hands and our wide outs’ hands in space with short, quick throws.”

As advertised, first-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has used screen passes as a big part of his game plans. The results have been overwhelmingly positive.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, before the Falcons played the Lions on Dec. 22, Ryan had completed 50 of 57 screen-pass attempts for 374 yards and five touchdowns. The …

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Atlanta Falcons: Smith to ramp up bye-week practices

By Michael Cunningham

FLOWERY BRANCH–Phase one of coach Mike Smith’s plan to keep the Falcons rolling into the playoffs backfired badly.

The Falcons still can get the next part right.

The idea was that the Falcons would go all out to win against the Buccaneers on Sunday even though they already had the NFC’s No. 1 seed wrapped up. So the Falcons played their starters from start to finish and still suffered a 22-17 loss to NFC also-ran Tampa Bay in the Georgia Dome.

Instead of being buoyed by victory, the Falcons were cut down by a bad loss. Rather than maintain momentum, the Falcons saw it halted—and they couldn’t shrug it off to sending out their backups.

The Falcons won’t be able to do anything about it until opening the playoffs on Sunday, Jan. 13 against either Minnesota, Seattle or Washington at 1 p.m. at the Georgia Dome. But Smith has a plan to keep his players and coaches sharp until then.

The Falcons had a bye week in the 2010 playoffs before the Packers …

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UPDATE: Dirk Koetter is staying with the Falcons

Mike Nolan, Mike Smith and Dirk Koetter (Curtis Compton/CCompton@ajc.com)

Mike Nolan, Mike Smith and Dirk Koetter (Curtis Compton/CCompton@ajc.com)

UPDATE: Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has withdrawn his name for consideration for any head coaching vacancies, the team confirmed on Wednesday.

Koetter has signed a contract extension that runs through 2014, according to a Fox Sports report.

Koetter infused new life in the Falcons offense, scrapping the power-run attack for a more pass-friendly attack.

The Falcons finished with two 1,000-yard receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones, as quarterback Matt Ryan put up several career-highs.

White finished the season with 92 receptions for 1,351 yards and seven touchdowns. He has posted 1,300-plus yards in two of the last three seasons. Jones, who as selected to his first Pro Bowl,  finished with 79 catches for 1,198 yards and a team-high 10 touchdown receptions.

Also, 13-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez caught a team-high 93 receptions for 930 yards with eight touchdowns. Gonzalez posted the …

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Atlanta Falcons injury report: Smith expects Abraham, Robinson to be ready for playoff game

Nov. 13, 2011 - Atlanta: ---WINNING KICK --- Dejected Atlanta Falcons Jonathan Babineaux, left, and John Abraham, right, walk of the field after the winning field goal kick by New Orleans Saints John Kasay for a 26-23 Saints victory in overtime at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011.   Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Nov. 13, 2011 – Atlanta: —WINNING KICK — Dejected Atlanta Falcons Jonathan Babineaux, left, and John Abraham, right, walk of the field after the winning field goal kick by New Orleans Saints John Kasay for a 26-23 Saints victory in overtime at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Falcons coach Mike Smith said that defensive end John Abraham, who suffered an ankle sprain against Tampa Bay, and cornerback Dunta Robinson, who’s in the league’s concussion protocol, would be available for the team’s playoff game on Monday.

“I can tell you this, on both of the players that left the game yesterday, I fully anticipate that they will be ready to go on Sunday, Jan. 13th at 1 (p.m.),” Smith said on Monday.

Robinson, who stumbled backwards after hitting Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin, will need to be cleared by a independent doctor under league rules.

“He is in the concussion protocol,” Smith said. “He is moving through it …

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Atlanta Falcons: Falcons’ run defense will be tested in divisional round

Stephen Nicholas (right) joins fellow linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent during a training camp practice. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Stephen Nicholas (right) joins fellow linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent during a training camp practice. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

The Falcons, the No. 1 seed in the NFC, are set to face either Minnesota (sixth seed), Seattle (fifth) or Washington (fourth) in the divisional round of the playoffs at 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13th at the Georgia Dome.

If Minnesota upsets Green Bay, they would face the Falcons. If Green Bay wins, the Falcons would host the Seattle-at-Washington winner. San Francisco is the No. 2 seed.

In order for the Falcons to advance past the divisional round, they must stop one of the league’s top rushers. They could face Minnesota and Adrian Peterson (2,091 yards, first in the league), Washington and running back Alfred Morris (1,413 yards, fourth) or Seattle and running back Marshawn Lynch (1,590 yards, second).

The Falcons’ run defense has been spotty all season. They held Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin to 50 yards on 21 carries in their …

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Falcons to open playoffs at 1 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 13th

The Falcons, the No. 1 seed in the NFC, will host the lowest seed to advance at 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13 at the Georgia Dome, according to the schedule released by the league tonight.

In the AFC wild card game, the Cincinnati Bengals play at Houston at 4:30 pm Saturday. In the NFC, the Vikings play at the Green Bay Packers at 8 p.m. Saturday. If the sixth-seeded Vikings can spring the upset, they would face the Falcons in the divisional round.

On Sunday, Indianapolis plays at Baltimore at 1 p.m. in the second AFC wild card game.

The final game of the weekend will feature the NFC East winner — Dallas or Washington — hosting Seattle at 4:30 pm.

The NFL also announced the times of the Divisional Round games. On Saturday, January 12th, the Denver Broncos will host the lowest remaining AFC seed at 4:30 p.m., while the San Francisco 49ers will play at 8 p.m. ET on the same day.

After the Falcons open the Sunday slate, the New England Patriots will finish off the weekend at 4:30 …

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Atlanta Falcons: Smith calls Abraham injury ‘minor’

Falcons coach Mike Smith said that John Abraham’s left ankle injury, suffered in the fourth quarter of the 22-17 loss to Tampa Bay, is minor.

“The early reports are that it’s minor,” Smith said. “We’re not overly concerned. We’ll definitely have an evaluation (Monday). We don’t know a whole lot more. I did check with the trainer just prior to coming in here.”

Also, cornerback Dunta Robinson left the game in the first quarter with a head injury.

“Dunta, I think, will be fine,” Smith said. “We have two weeks. I don’t know exactly if they’re calling it a concussion. He did not return to the game. I’ll have an update on that (Monday) at the press conference.”
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Pro Bowl teams announced Wednesday

If playoffs …

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Falcons-Bucs inactives: Moore, Owens head up list

Falcons inactives: Quarterback Dominique Davis, cornerback Christopher Owens, safety William Moore, center-guard Joe Hawley, guard Phillipkeith Manley, guard Harland Gunn and defensive tackle Travian Robertson.

November 29, 2012 - Atlanta, Ga: New Orleans Saints wide receiver Lane Moore (16) makes a catch in between Atlanta Falcons defenders Sean Weatherspoon, left, and William Moore in the first half of their game at the Georgia Dome Thursday night in Atlanta, Ga., November 29, 2012. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM

November 29, 2012 – Atlanta, Ga: New Orleans Saints wide receiver Lane Moore (16) makes a catch in between Atlanta Falcons defenders Sean Weatherspoon, left, and William Moore in the first half of their game at the Georgia Dome Thursday night in Atlanta, Ga., November 29, 2012. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM

Safety Chris Hope will start at safety for Moore.

Buccaneers inactives: Cornerback Eric Wright, running back Michael Smith, linebacker Jacob Cutrera, guard Roger Allen, wide receiver Chris Owusu, defensive tackle Corvey Irvin and defensive tackle Matthew Masifilo.LATEST NEWS

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Continue reading Falcons-Bucs inactives: Moore, Owens head up list »

Buccaneers at Falcons: 3 key matchups

Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud intercepts Giants quarterback Eli Manning during second quarter action at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud intercepts Giants quarterback Eli Manning during second quarter action at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

By MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM

Falcons S Thomas DeCoud/Charles Mitchell vs. Bucs TE Dallas Clark: DeCoud was left off the NFC Pro Bowl squad despite recording six interceptions, second to New York’s Stevie Brown among conference safeties. With the NFC’s top seed wrapped up for the Falcons, DeCoud figures to give way to Mitchell, a 2012 sixth-round draft pick. Clark, 33, no longer is a dominant pass catcher, but he can be effective, and quarterback Josh Freeman has targeted him a lot lately.

Falcons LT Sam Baker/Lamar Holmes vs. Bucs DE Michael Bennett: Baker is healthier than he’s been in a while, and that’s reflected in his play. Baker anchors the Falcons’ strong pass protection. Baker can become a free agent after the season, and the rookie Holmes, a third-round draft pick, …

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GAMEDAY CENTRAL: Buccaneers (6-9) vs. Falcons (13-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome

By Michael Cunningham

QB corner: Matt Ryan discusses the Bucs

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and the passing game have hit their stride in the past two weeks. But he had an interception and a lost

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws an 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Julio Jones during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws an 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Julio Jones during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

fumble in the first meeting this season, a 24-23 Falcons victory.

Ryan talked about the offense and the rematch with Tampa Bay.

Q: What has to be better for you guys from the first game against Tampa Bay (a 24-23 Falcons victory on Nov. 25)?

A: Certainly one of the things, for me personally, we’ve got to protect the football better. I had two turnovers down there the last time we played. Ronde (Barber) did what he has done throughout his entire career. He’s a ballhawk and made a great play. And then I made a mental mistake in terms …

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