AtlantaFalcons.com’s Daniel Cox gives his five observations from Tuesday’s practice and media sessions from Flowery Branch.
1. Back-to-Back Rookie QBs: Heading into the Falcons’ most recent two-game stretch, split up by the bye week, things looked promising. On the docket were two home games against rookie quarterbacks on teams most felt weren’t very good. The Jets, behind the play of second-round QB Geno Smith, put together a come-from-behind win before the bye week and the rookie had his way with the Falcons defense for much of the day. He finished with an 80 percent completion percentage and a QB rating of 147.7. He had three touchdowns and no interceptions and all of this was largely done without the use of his legs, a dangerous part of his arsenal. Smith and the Jets got the win and the Falcons defense was left making Smith look like a seasoned veteran, something they said on Wednesday they can’t allow to happen again.
Against the Bucs this week, they’re facing another rookie quarterback in Mike Glennon. The organization opted for a change at QB a few weeks back, releasing former starter Josh Freeman. While Glennon has yet to win a game for the Bucs, he’s started the last two and showed signs of turning things around last week. Against the Eagles, Glennon passed for 273 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. The Tampa offense has the playmakers at skill positions to get wins; they just have to rely on the rookie to get the ball to them. Ideally, the Falcons defense should be able to stop a rookie quarterback with the veterans they still have on the field. They have inexperience at some spots like linebacker, but veteran leadership is present. One of those leaders, safety William Moore, said on Wednesday the defense knows it’s got to step up and help out the offense and win some games. Moore’s counterpart, Thomas DeCoud, said the goal is to not make the next rookie QB look like the last one: ”We’ve just got make sure we don’t make a rookie quarterback look like a vet. In that Monday night game we kind of let Geno look a little bit ahead of his game, but we can’t let this guy do the same thing.”
2. Tight End Matchup: One area on defense that plagued the Falcons last year was defending tight ends. That’s improved some this year and that will need to continue against the Bucs and their unlikely hero from last week. Undrafted rookie tight end Tim Wright stepped in and caught seven passes for 91 yards as a first-time starter. Wright was a receiver at Rutgers but has been converted to tight end, so he provides some athletic talent not typically found at tight end, outside of the top players. Before their game with the Jets, the Falcons had improved against tight ends this season, allowing just one touchdown to a tight end (New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham in Week 1). Heading into Week 5, the Falcons hadn’t allowed a tight end to gain more than 45 yards or catch more than four passes, but that changed against the Jets. They allowed Jeff Cumberland three catches for 79 yards and a score and also allowed a touchdown from Kellen Winslow. Against Wright, DeCoud said the Bucs will look for him in mismatches, so the defense has to be ready for that: ”There will be times where he’s matched up with a linebacker or sometimes a safety. He’s a converted receiver so he has a little more agility than your average tight end. He can create mismatches and he’s getting comfortable with the quarterback.”
3. Tampa’s Improved Secondary: Tampa took strides to improve their defense last year, especially their secondary. They brought in Darrelle Revis, one of the best cover corners in the league, along with Dashon Goldson, one of the more physical safeties around. They pair those two with Mark Barron, last season’s first-round pick, and they’ve got the makings of a talented and lethal secondary. Quarterback Matt Ryan said it’s a different look from last season and they’re drastically improved: ”Their secondary is obviously different from what we saw last year. The addition of Revis, the addition of Goldson, Barron coming into his own as a second-year guy and really emerging as a talented player. They’ve got some good players back there that are playing well.”
4. Ryan Spreading Targets: This season Ryan has completed passes to 12 different receivers, but on Sunday, at least two of them will not be on the field because of prior injuries. A third, Roddy White, may miss the game as well, leaving the Falcons with Tony Gonzalez as their primary playmaker in the passing game. The Falcons will move Gonzalez around as much as they can to help him find favorable matchups, but Ryan knows he’s going to have to spread the ball around even more with some of his top targets out. Ryan said the match-up game will be critical moving forward: ”That’s part of playing quarterback, understand you want to get the ball to certain players, but you have to take what’s there. You’ve got to be able to move on and get the ball to different guys. You’ve got to trust other guys to win when they have one-on-one matchups. That’s one of the things we’ve done a pretty good job of in the past is week to week, finding out who is going to be matched up one-on-one and trying to feature that guy. With Julio (Jones) being out, we might have to find different guys to get those one-on-ones, but we still have to trust they’ll get it done.”
5. Anticipating Williams: The Falcons’ injury report doesn’t look too different from what we’ve grown accustomed to in recent weeks, but Tampa anticipates the return of a key player on offense this week and that should help their top target, Vincent Jackson, even more. Falcons head coach Mike Smith said Wednesday the coaching staff anticipates Mike Williams will play for the Bucs, giving Glennon two talented receivers on the outside. Williams was limited during Wednesday’s practice. The Falcons’ injury report can be found here.