Andrew Hirsh:You mentioned at your press conference that you always take a hard look at yourself as a coordinator. What do you feel like you've learned from these last few games, and what do you think needs to change to get the offense back to the level it was at in September?
Kyle Shanahan: Every time you struggle or people struggle, you always look into why. It's my job and the other coaches' job to help our players be successful. They're the ones who play the game, and we have to think of ways to put them in situations where they can be successful. If they continue to struggle in certain areas, we can't just keep forcing them. We have to decide to do something different and go in a different direction. These last couple weeks—we did some good things against New Orleans, but we turned the ball over too much. When you turn the ball over too much, no matter how good you moved the ball, you're not going to get points. Last week we didn't move it as well, but we had a few opportunities we missed. And when we got down there, I think I let our guys down by calling that play that definitely didn't work out in the end. And we had a couple turnovers then, also. So we just have to clean things up. I have a lot of confidence in our guys, and I think they do, too. And when we clean things up, eliminate some penalties, eliminate those turnovers, I think the rest will take care of itself.
When you have five fumbles and lose three of them versus New Orleans when you're 25 percent on third down, I don't care if you average eight yards a carry. It's hard to get points. You have to stay on that field. When you turn it over and don't move the chains on third down, it doesn't matter what you do on first and second.
AH: I spoke with Justin Hardy yesterday, and he said the key to getting ready for an NFL game is to reach the point where he can "play free." What do you think he's had to do individually to get to that point?
KS: Ever since he made the team and has been inactive, he hasn't just sat around and waited to be activated. He's really attacked each week like he's going to play, never knowing when his number is going to be called, but I feel like he's put himself in position every week to be ready for this week. So I'm excited about him, I'm not worried about him. I think he'll do a good job.
The Atlanta Falcons are preparing for another home game on Sunday in the Georgia Dome against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here are pictures of the guys at work in week 8.
AH:** Justin said this offense is similar to the one he learned at ECU, but added he didn't need to worry much about the playbook at school. Obviously it's different here in the NFL. Have you noticed him put extra effort into his work off the field to get up to speed?
KS: Justin's a real smart guy. I think some of that stuff comes easy to him—maybe easier than most players. But you're a product of your environment. He came out of college where he didn't have a playbook much; most of it was no-huddle, getting signals from the sidelines. So I think it took him a while to grasp the differences and the work you have to put into learning. He's been doing that for a while now, and it's been showing. He's been playing faster and doing things right.
AH: From my point of view, Hardy has responded well to being inactive. A lot of athletes—especially those his age—would have trouble dealing with that situation, but Justin doesn't seem fazed by this early roadblock. Have you seen the same from him, and if so, how important do you think that's been to his recent progress?
KS: I think that's important for everybody. It's human nature to be competitive and want opportunities, but you can only worry about what you can control. Justin couldn't control whether he was playing or not. That wasn't up to him. But instead of sitting around and being upset about it, he's taken it as time to get better. He's worked at it and I think he's improved and I think it'll pay off for him.
AH: If Hardy is activated, what kind of expectations will you have for him on Sunday?
KS: I don't know, because you can't predict numbers, and that's how people judge receivers. But that's not how we do it. It depends on what coverages we're getting, how the progression goes based off the coverages, how the fronts go, how we're blocking them. I think he'll go in there and play well. I have a lot of confidence in him that he'll give it all he can. I think he's prepared from a mental standpoint, and we'll see how the coverages go. That's the hard thing about wideouts: a lot of it depends on just luck.
AH: Switching to another receiver, Julio Jones currently ranks fourth in the NFL in yards after catch. How have you been able to get the most out of him?
KS: You have to attack everywhere on the field. You do anything too much, and they'll stop it. So no matter what you're doing to be successful, that won't last forever. Defenses will stop that and take it away, and you'll have to do something else. We evolve every week; we evolve every quarter. You never really know what direction it's going to go. You try to put together a game plan that's going to allow you to go any direction. But that's just part of the NFL. People study football a lot. Defenses are good. So you have to be able to do everything. The good thing about Julio is he's capable of doing everything. So he makes it a little bit easier for you.
AH: Yesterday Matt Ryan talked about areas he wants to improve in, and one of them was rolling out of the pocket. How have you assessed his mobility so far?
KS: I think Matt's done a really good job rolling out. He's done a good job on the move; I thought he's been good on the move throughout his career when he's been asked to do it. I think that's been one of his strengths so far. Matt is pretty much never satisfied with anything, and neither am I, so we're always trying to work to get better in all areas. But I've been happy with him there.
AH: Ryan also mentioned he wants to get better at play-action. Where's he at in that regard?
KS: Play-action throws are usually bigger throws, so they're not always as high-percentage, but you do have a chance to slow down the pass rush and get some people more open if you're making them defend the run. I think Matt has improved (at play-action). We've been working on that since I've gotten here. I think these last few weeks, although the numbers might not show it, I think he's been better on the play passes. We have to work on getting him better looks, though, and that'll help him get better numbers.