1. Shrinking Red Zone: As was the case on Monday after the Falcons’ Week 3 loss, there was no shortage of talk Wednesday about the red zone struggles for the Falcons this year, especially last week’s 2-for-5 effort against the Dolphins. Traditionally the Falcons have performed better in the red zone than they have this season (they were in the top 10 in 2012) and there are a lot of ways to correct this issue. Ultimately the only correction is to score touchdowns, but that’s always easier said than done. On Wednesday, Matt Ryan discussed the challenges of crossing the goal line the closer you get to it. A shrinking field is an appropriate way to describe close-to-the-goal line areas and with less room to play with, scoring becomes more difficult, Ryan said: ”A tight red zone gets tough because the amount of space you have, (defenses) don’t have to defense as much space and that makes it difficult, or sometimes more difficult. Eight-yard line, 4-yard line, it doesn’t matter; we’ve still got to find a way to punch it in. That’s got to be a point of emphasis for us going forward.”
2. Large Man, Many Snaps: There’s not a more imposing figure on New England’s defense than Vince Wilfork. He imposes with his five-Pro Bowl resume and he imposes with his 6-foot-2, 325-pound frame that he uses to clog running lanes and flood the pocket. Ryan said Wilfork’s the tone-setter on defense and it’s his play up front that allows the Patriots’ linebackers to be around the ball and make plays. The most impressive thing about the defensive tackle, Ryan said, is how much he’s on the field despite playing at a size that forces many players to require a rotation: ”The most impressive thing about Vince is how many snaps he plays. With guys that big, they usually have a lot of rotation between the defensive line. I don’t know what the percentage is, but he’s always in there and he’s always playing at a high level. For a big guy, he is that well-conditioned and knows how to play effectively for the entire game.”
Ryan couldn’t recall how many snaps specifically Wilfork’s been on the field for this season, but he’s right that it’s a lot. In Week 1, he played in 81 percent of the defensive snaps, Week 2 saw him play 87 percent and he was on the field for 71 percent last week. In total, he’s seen 162 snaps, 79.6 percent of New England’s defensive snaps.
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3. Quizz’ Film Study: He entered last week’s game knowing he would be a key part of the Falcons running game. Jacquizz Rodgers could say that every week, but last week was especially important with the injury and subsequent absence of Steven Jackson. He stepped in and did what was needed, posting a career-high 86 yards on 18 carries, an average of 4.8 yards per carry. Rodgers said he saw something in his film study that he wanted to change heading into Week 3 and the results showed on the field. He saw on film what he believed was too much juking behind the line of scrimmage and wanted to be more assertive hitting the holes. A similar philosophy against the Patriots this week would be helpful to an offense that not only wants to score points, but also keep the ball away from Tom Brady and New England’s offense: “For the most part, for me, I had to take it upon myself to stop shaking so much. I just hit the hole last week and when I got to the open field, that’s when I used my moves. It was good; you plug, plug, plug until you get an opening.”
4. Smith’s Recipe for Success: The Falcons under head coach Mike Smith have plenty of impressive records. Already this season during the 1-2 start, a mantra of stopping the streak at one has been adopted, but it’s been a part of Smith’s philosophy since taking over the Falcons. Smith’s 22-3 record after a loss is evidence that the Falcons can regroup quickly following a letdown and this week could quite possibly be the same case. Working in their favor is the fact that it’s a home game, where they’re nearly unbeatable and Ryan has won 12 of his last 13 games. Smith told the media Wednesday his formula for being relevant in the NFL and it begins with home games and avoiding consecutive losses: “The first step is to win at home. The second is to take care of business on the road. If you can split and go .500, you’re 6-2 at home and you don’t lose back-to-back games, you’re going to be where you want to be come November and December. That’s kind of been the model that we’ve put together for us to be successful as a football team. We’ve been able to execute it. We know you don’t want to lose back-to-back games. You know you want to control your home field. I think the guys have a very good understanding of that.”
5. Toilolo’s TD: Overlooked in the loss last week was the first touchdown of tight end Levine Toilolo’s career. The third-quarter 2-yard touchdown was just his second reception in the league and he said he didn’t get much attention from Miami’s defense around the goal line, adding “rightfully so,” but that attitude may change in the coming weeks. With the attention given Tony Gonzalez, Toilolo may continue to get some red zone looks, but for now he’s happy about the opportunity to catch that pass and fulfill a childhood dream. He said the ball is heading out west to his parents’ home and the best part may have been the jubilation that Gonzalez showered him with: ”It meant a great deal to me, just from the teammate aspect, but also as a future Hall-of-Famer who I’ve looked up to growing up playing this position. For him to show that kind of excitement was definitely an honor.”