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Falcons Look to Turn Special Teams Around

The Falcons hit the road for the first time in 2014 to take on the Texans at NRG Stadium in the second game of the preseason. Take a look at these photos from the game.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith hit the nail on the head, following Saturday night's 32-7 loss against the Houston Texans.

"It was very obvious that we didn't play well in any phase of the game," Smith said. "We had breakdowns in all three phases. We had way too many penalties, weren't able to convert on third down, weren't able to get off the field on third-and-long, had a punt blocked, returned field goal blocked — not anywhere close to the level that we need to play and perform at. We've got to get much better. Right now, it is not the type of football that we want to put out there. I think every man in that locker room would tell you that."

Not just every player, but also every coach, including Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, who prides himself on preparing his guys to provide the team with a third-phase unit that is sound in its execution, allowing for big plays on both sides of the ball. Saturday's performance wasn't something Smith (and Armstrong) is used to seeing from the team.

"We usually don't have those types of issues," Smith said of the miscues on special teams. "That is something that in the preseason, you're using a lot of different guys in different positions, basically trying to evaluate how those guys are going to be able to handle the different positions. When you get ready for the season it's completely different in terms of the way you game plan. Right now, we're giving lots of guys opportunities to participate on special teams and see what roles they can't handle. We had some issues Saturday night on special teams that we will definitely address, but again there is no game planning; we are just trying to get an evaluation process on all these guys."

At the end of the day, when the games begin to officially count, starting with the Week 1 home opener against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, Sept. 7, Armstrong identified how his group will be defined.

"We want to be known as a group that's going to run, going to dominate in the coverage game and one that can turn around and hit you in the return game," Armstrong said. "We want to be physical; we want to be able to run and go hit. We also want to be able to hit you with big plays on both punt return and kickoff return."

It's no secret that the Falcons wanted a boost on special teams in 2014, signing free-agent WR Devin Hester in the offseason, and in addition to his big-play abilities, he is also embracing a leadership role, including offering advice and encouragement for his teammates, when things don't go as planned, especially in the preseason.

"Stay positive," Hester said. "Things are going to happen and plays are going to break down and guys here and there are going to miss blocks, but as long as they keep their confidence up and know that even though things didn't go well on a particular play, or day, let's all work that much harder to avoid similar mistakes and improve. I'm going to make sure they know that I still have faith in them. I'm going to keep everybody motivated and hungry and everything else will work itself out."

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