It’s only preseason, but this secondary needs major work

This touchdown was too easy for Michael Bennett. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This touchdown was way too easy for Michael Bennett. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

It’s preseason, and preseasons can mislead. The 2008 Detroit Lions were 4-0 when it didn’t count and 0-16 when it did. That said …

If the regular season is going to resemble Saturday’s first half, Mike Smith is going to have white hair soon.

Whoops. Too late.

You don’t often see a coach yelling at his men during an exhibition, but Mr. Smith held forth at some length after his team allowed the Chargers’ second touchdown of the first half. (There’d be another — touchdown, not tirade — to come.) What was especially galling to the old defensive coordinator was his team’s uncoordinated approach to third-and-long. You’re supposed to stop the other team on third-and-long. Indeed, the ability to stop the Cardinals on third-and-16 is one reason Keith Brooking now works for Dallas.

But Brooking had nothing to do with these defensive whiffs. This was the new D, the faster D, the one linebacker Curtis Lofton has called “upgraded at every [open] position.” I’m thinking Smith and Brian VanGorder might not hand out many A’s after this half. Maybe nary even a D-minus.

We stipulate by saying this: The Chargers are good. They can make an opponent look sorry. But the 2009 Falcons aren’t supposed to be just any opponent. They’re supposed to be a force themselves. And they’re going to be, at least on offense. The defense? Let’s call it a work in progress, and until Saturday we had no idea just how far it needs to progress.

The Falcons’ first two exhibition games were against Detroit and St. Louis, both of which were terrible last season and will be awful again. Detroit moved the ball against the Falcons’ reserves in the second half, but general manager Thomas Dimitroff dismissed it by saying, “Our subs were running around.”

This was first-team against first-team, and it was a mismatch. The Chargers gained 281 yards in two quarters, 255 of them passing, seemingly 250 of them over cornerback Chris Houston. (OK, I exaggerate. Slightly.) And here was the truly frightening stat: San Diego was 7-of-8 on third-down conversions, and each of those seven conversions was third-and-7 or longer.

On the series that set off Smith, the Falcons failed on third-and-13 (Houston beaten), third-and-18 (Houston again), third-and-17 (Houston yet again) and finally on a third-and-24 screen to Michael Bennett on which Lofton took the wrong angle and Mike Peterson missed a tackle. When the dizzying sequence finally subsided, Smith sought Houston first and then his whole defensive crew. And he spoke at length.

Are you now worried about the Falcons' defense?

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We knew when the Falcons dumped five starters that the early stages of 2009 might be bumpy. What we witnessed Saturday was a somersault down the Snake River Canyon. The offense is going to be splendid, but trying to win every game 42-40 is a hard way to go, for the simple reason that sometimes the other guy will get the ball last.

And we’re only two weeks from the opener against Miami, and after Miami comes Carolina, and after Carolina comes New England. If the Falcons can’t stop the Chargers on third down on a Saturday night in August, how might they fare come September?

A year ago Dimitroff assessed his defense in preseason and signed two defensive backs — Domonique Foxworth and Jamaal Fudge. Foxworth wound up starting. I’m thinking there might be a signing or two announced in Flowery Branch this week, and I’m thinking anybody who arrives won’t be told, “We see you as a nickel back.” I’m thinking there’s a real opportunity for some unemployed cornerback here.

What’s Bruce Pickens doing these days?

188 comments Add your comment

Sage of Bluesland

August 29th, 2009
10:56 pm

Losing Brooking, our precious Hometown Hero, was addition-by-subtraction (considering he was the 2nd highest paid LB in the entire league last year! Yes, I know how hard that is to believe).

However, the entire secondary is pitiful–and Nicholas is nothing…

And, of course, Jamaal Anderson is turning into a bust of epic proportions…

The next several drafts will be all about defense, it appears…

Mr. A

August 29th, 2009
11:11 pm

C.B.S. Please quit showing Arthur Blank on the sidelines!! Enough already! His ego already can’t fit on the screen!!!!

RobertNAtl

August 29th, 2009
11:12 pm

dooley

August 29th, 2009
11:15 pm

i hate to say it, but we may actually NEED Pacman. Wow, i can’t belive i sad that, but our corners are definitely in need of upgrading. And just a thought, but i believe Derrick brooks could really help us.

Rich

August 29th, 2009
11:15 pm

We need Lawyer Milloy – now

"Mr. Falcon"

August 29th, 2009
11:18 pm

This secondary is awful. I am very concerned. The offense does not look very good either. Ryan threw three passes that should have went for seven for the defense. The line backers look slow.

Cedrick (Arlington, TX)

August 29th, 2009
11:20 pm

Thank you Mark Bradley but some heat where it is needed. The DB’s were really out played even if it is a preseason game. I am a great falcon fan but I am worried about have to have a shoot out every game to win plus some of the teams we play (like New England-Randy Moss) have tall dangerous WRs.

BugKiller

August 29th, 2009
11:20 pm

What would we do with Lawyer Milloy?

Safety play was actually very good.

The problem BEGINS at defensive end.

The problem continues in that Houston is not a No. 1 Corner… yet, and Grimes is nothing more than a Nickle, not a No. 2.

The ONLY mistake Dimitroff has made was not matching the offer to Foxworth. Foxworth makes the defense MUCH better by having Houston be the No. 2 and Grimes the No. 3.

Also, Smith and BVG need to cut Anderson tomorrow. His lazy play and lack of understanding on how to play his position filters into the WHOLE defense and is making the scheme break down from the tip of the spear.

He’s terrible and has done NOTHING to deserve his current position, or any position, on this team. He’s horrible.

Bill

August 29th, 2009
11:21 pm

I’ve been saying all along this defense will keep the Falcons 8-8 at best.The Falcons.In addition to Tom Brady did you see Drew Brees light up an Oakland defense with decent corners?

The Falcons streak will continue this year.It will be broken the following 2 years when Dimitrioff gets better personel in here.

"Mr. Falcon"

August 29th, 2009
11:24 pm

I did not see anything positive from the safeties.

BugKiller

August 29th, 2009
11:24 pm

Also… methinks Smitty goes a little Belichick on his defense and has them play a full half in the final game, which is usually a yawner.

MightyQuinn

August 29th, 2009
11:25 pm

One or two of those plays were the result of all out blitzes that didn’t get there. If our secondary is going to stink we need to get to the qb early and often. And we didn’t tonight. I completely agree we need to be scouring the waiver wires and quickly. It also needs to be said that if this is our reality this year, the offense needs to put 7 on the board every time in the red zone.

Dominique Foxworth

August 29th, 2009
11:26 pm

Hhahahahahhahahahah! Bruce Pickens! Love it mark. Remember Highway 22…Charles Dimry! He was never as bad as Houston was last night! That said:

No Pass Rush
No Coverage
No Clue!

Yes, Derrick Brooks can help. So can Pac Man. And just for shiits and giggles, give Pickens a call. He can’t be worse than Highway 23!

BugKiller

August 29th, 2009
11:27 pm

You didn’t see Coleman come knife in and get what had to be the only 3rd down stop of the night?

It was the corners getting burnt (most of the times due to poor pass rush).

I think I saw one bad play by the safeties (in the third or fourth quarter, on the long play up the seam to the tight end).

Otherwise, the safeties were pretty good.

"Mr. Falcon"

August 29th, 2009
11:27 pm

The problem with our defense I lack of effort and intensity. They are going to hold this team back. I hope the Falcons can win at least 9 games. After watching them play tonight that seems like a stretch.

King Arthur Blank

August 29th, 2009
11:28 pm

Hey I am a billionaire, I own the team, and its my stadium. I can walk the sidelines with my ego anytime I want to. Plus I want everyone to see how tan I am and to admire my $3000 Armani suits. Did they get a close up of my pencil moustache on TV? By the way, who won the game?

john

August 29th, 2009
11:29 pm

The first-team defense suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks, from the D line to the secondary, and the CBs are horrible, horrible, horrible. TD has got to find some help on the waiver wire or wherever or it is going to be one loooooooooong season.

Dion

August 29th, 2009
11:29 pm

I heard someone say earlier that the addition of Foxworth last year was after pre-season. After watching tonight’s game (mind you it is only pre-season) but C.Houston got torched as well as Grimes on many occasions. 4 straight 3 and forever’s. We cannot play like that in the regular season and expect to win a lot. Good luck VanGorder. I hope we’re ready by the 13th!!!

BugKiller

August 29th, 2009
11:30 pm

Pat Yasinskas over on ESPN.com seems to also find fault with Anderson and the Falcons pass rush for not helping the secondary enough.

If I were the Falcons coaches, there is no way in Hades that Anderson is even allowed to start the season.

Why risk it? Go with Davis, who’s much better anyway. Why the wait?

Dion

August 29th, 2009
11:31 pm

I think C. McAlister is still available!!

MightyQuinn

August 29th, 2009
11:34 pm

Man, Mark, I’m bummed! Didn’t know you were blogging live tonight. I would have been there!

Blogger from Hell

August 29th, 2009
11:39 pm

Mark: Why did they ditch Foxworth and do nothing to replace him? Is there a story there that we do not know about from last season?

JOHNNY B

August 29th, 2009
11:40 pm

Losing Foxsworth is really showing now. Hopefully the falcons brass can pull off another miracle pick up like last year. It’s hard to catch the proverbial “lightning in a bottle” but to pull it off twice in 2 years at the same position?

I, like many others, wonder why we didn’t match the offer for Foxworth when we had the room. Not having that veteran leadership in the secondary is showing too. I’m at work and couldn’t watch the game but i have to ask, where is the safety help on these long 3rd catches?
Who is the leader of this secondary? Where is Von Hutchins who this front office did sign last year?

Thank godness it’s still pre season but I see A LOT of “work in progress” ahead for this group.

Darrin "The Vent King"

August 29th, 2009
11:42 pm

We should call it the seconary, cause there’s no “d” in our secondary. We should have paid D. Foxxworth the money. Man, this was as hollow a victory as it could have been.

mountain_jim

August 29th, 2009
11:42 pm

Ryan’s throws were often weak tonight, and in his in-game interview he did not seem to indicate he was aware of how many bad throws he had. Should have been intercepted several times, and threw soft and behind way too often. Where is that stronger arm he has been developing?

Mark Bradley

August 29th, 2009
11:43 pm

The Falcons would have had to pay Foxworth $4 million a year to keep him. And that’s for a guy who was deemed expendable by Denver last preseason.

Mark Bradley

August 29th, 2009
11:44 pm

If I had to guess — and this is just me guessing — Anderson will not be cut. He won’t be a starter, but he’ll be on the squad.

Adam

August 29th, 2009
11:45 pm

Brent Grimes looks like a kid playing with men; and our “good” cornerback, Chris Houston, looked pathetic. Rivers had all day to throw and it looked like the Falcons were only playing with one linebacker.

This game was a wake-up call. There are problems EVERYWHERE on the defensive side of the ball. Plus, the Chargers didn’t even play with Gates! What the heck is this defense supposed to do with this terrible secondary going up against an elite level? I’m pretty worried.

"Mr. Falcon"

August 29th, 2009
11:46 pm

They should have paid Foxworth!

Pacman

August 29th, 2009
11:47 pm

Can You say Pacman Pacman Pacman?

Defensive Detective

August 29th, 2009
11:49 pm

I wouldn’t cut Anderson but I wouldn’t start him either, make Davis the starter, also need to start Safety Moore, CB Owens, and start LDE Davis and the team gets better right away

Realist

August 29th, 2009
11:50 pm

Pretty sure the Foxworth pickup last fall was a trade, not a free agent signing.

"Mr. Falcon"

August 29th, 2009
11:50 pm

Jamal Anderson is lazy and dumb. He as no idea how to play football. His foot ball I.Q. is probably lower that his sack total. He makes NO positive impact for the Falcons at all.

JOHNNY B

August 29th, 2009
11:51 pm

This is the same Denver whos rancid Defense couldn’t keep them in a game down the stretch last year in spite of having one the most potent scoring offenses in the league? The same Denver with shut down corner Bailey?

Sorry, Denver might have seen him as expendable but I don’t think the Falcons had that luxury relying on to many 1st and 2nd year guys.

Is 4 million over reaching for a corner who more than proved his value on the field last year?

Mark Bradley

August 29th, 2009
11:52 pm

Foxworth was a trade, Realist. But he’d lost his starting job in Denver, as I recall.

Mark Bradley

August 29th, 2009
11:53 pm

I well remember Charles Dimry. I was there the day he limited Jerry Rice to five touchdowns.

JOHNNY B

August 29th, 2009
11:55 pm

I think I just said “pick up” and didn’t specify how they aquired him…regardless, should have signed him again.

RightGuardMan

August 29th, 2009
11:58 pm

Everybody knows that defensive players are stupid. Mean and fast, but supremely stupid. So what they do is try to think too much too soon in the season. Give them time and they’ll revert to mindless instinct. Then they’ll make plays.

Mark Bradley

August 29th, 2009
11:59 pm

It would have taken $17 million guaranteed, which is a lot for a cornerback who isn’t an All-Pro. Just saying.

BugKiller

August 29th, 2009
11:59 pm

Johnny B… I agree with you big time.

You’re worth what you’ve proven on the field, at least, or what someone wants to pay you at most.

The Falcons messed up in not matching Foxworth’s contract with Baltimore. The ONLY mistake Dimitroff has made so far.

But a HUUUUYOOOOGE mistake, as Ed Norton might say.

"Mr. Falcon"

August 29th, 2009
11:59 pm

Did anyone else think Ryan looked pretty bad tonight?

Falcon4Life

August 30th, 2009
12:01 am

From what I have heard, we will have a pretty big cap hit if we cut Jamaal right now…..to the point that we probably would not be able to add a corner to help. If we keep him on the roster until next year, the cap hit is much more friendly and hopefully we can afford to go get another corner……..You know, T. Dimitroff looked like a genius last year…..if he could somehow get a team to take Anderson for a decent corner then he should win exec. of the year again.

And I am all for signing new corners…..these guys are just awful.

Mark Bradley

August 30th, 2009
12:01 am

This wasn’t a great Ryan performance. But 14 for 20 with a touchdown and no interceptions (though a cinch INT was dropped) isn’t nearly awful.

David

August 30th, 2009
12:02 am

Houston is flat terrible – and Grimes…well it’s hard to not love his moxie, but he’s just overmatched by taller receivers. And since he’s only about 5′ 5″ – most receivers are taller.

At least Grimes displays effort and passion – which is more than we can say for Houston. He too is overmatched by taller players, but he also seems careless and lost in his approach. Houston has to realize that his job is in jeopardy. Soon, Chris Owens will be given more chances to play against 1’s. And there has got to be a better answer on the street somewhere — I hope!

Falcon4Life

August 30th, 2009
12:04 am

Mr Falcon, I though Ryan did not have one of his best games. He should have been picked off at least twice by Jammer but I guess thats why he is a DB and not a WR. Im not to concerned about it, I think they will work out the bugs on offense, I am worried about the D though.

"Mr. Falcon"

August 30th, 2009
12:04 am

Mark, me made some mistakes, that is not what worries me. His passes did not seem to have a lot of zip on them. He seemed to be floating passes. He could have easily had three interceptions.

"Mr. Falcon"

August 30th, 2009
12:05 am

Correction HE

crabapplejoe

August 30th, 2009
12:07 am

Rich wrote: “We need Lawyer Milloy – now”

No, the safety play was not our biggest problem tonight. It was our OLBs and corners. Peterson was horrible…..both of the first Charger TDs went right down “highway 53″. The corners got beat like dogs (no pun intended!) on 3rd & everything…by both Rivers and Volek. Instead of looking for Milloy’s phone number you might want to look for KB56’s…..at least he’s still in the league and starting for an NFL team….Milloy is lost is space…as he was in the Arizona game…LOL

RightGuardMan

August 30th, 2009
12:08 am

The defense will lose more games than an erratic Ryan.

Birdy

August 30th, 2009
12:09 am

Obviously there is work to do and Mark has already pointed out most of the proper culprits.

However, there is one more thing left to be said and I hope the defenders take it to heart:

This getting beaten by every — and I mean EVERY — screen play has to stop. It needs to be a point of personal pride and job security for all involved, from the Dlinemen to the Linebackers to the Defensive coaches and coordinators to the head coach and GM, to stop a screen play — ONE SCREEN PLAY — for 2 yards or less.

Did you folks know that a defensive player can grab a RB behind the line of scrimmage and darn near tackle him, with no penalty, as a means of breaking up the rythm of a screen play? I saw for years Patrick Kerney sniff out a screen play as the runningback tried to peel off a fake block of him. Kerney would halt his rush a go defend the screen.

It is on Brian van Gorder, his coaches, the Defensive Ends, and Thomas Dimitroff to end this farce of giving up big yardage to every no-named RB someone decides to throw a screen to.

If the players can’t defend a screen, we need to get some who can. If the coaches can’t teach how to defend a screen, we need new coaches. If the GM can’t find players in America who can defend a screen then we need a new GM.

What I have seen in three preseason games with regards to defending screens is embarrassing, humiliating and unacceptable. It is not the most complex play to defend. The DLine needs to watch the RBs and adjust, There is nothing cheaper than for a QB to be let off the hook following a sack by letting him dump off a screen to conver 3rd and long. Everyone knows it is coming. The Falcons do. The opponents do. You can be sure Miami is practicing screens right now. So are Tampa and New England.

We made a rookie in Detroit look like Barry Sanders / Gale Sayers because we cannot / will not defend screen passes.

The Atlanta Falcons need to man-up and stop a screen play at some point, or this season will be a franchise-worse. Forget back-to-back winning seasons if you can’t defend a screen play. Let’s see what the guys are made of.