Focused on the Basics


If you've followed the Falcons this season you've seen — in the midst of the 1-2 start — a strange sight.

The image of quarterback Matt Ryan on the ground isn't something Falcons followers have been used to in his three years in the league. Atlanta's offensive line's calling card has been blocking for a strong running game and keeping the franchise QB clean. Last season they were among the best in the league in preventing sacks, limiting Ryan's knockdowns to 23.

This year is a different story; so far through three games the line has allowed 13 sacks of Ryan. On Monday, head coach Mike Smith said something had to change, get better or be done. In short, he implied this is not how he expected his line to play. With only one starter missing from a line that has been largely in tact since 2008, it's a frustrating situation for all involved.

The problem with the linemen isn't effort and it never has been. There's not a more cohesive and willing position group on the team. Smith said he and his coaches would examine both scheme and personnel in order to find solutions. On Wednesday, center Todd McClure said every member of the line is taking a more back to basics approach in preparation this week.

"We're looking at some little things, some technique things that we're maybe having some breakdowns in," he said. "We're trying to focus on those things and trying to move on. Learn from our mistakes in the past two games, put them behind us, and go out and put something good on tape."

Some of the technique issues they're working on revolve around pass blocking, which has prevented Ryan from staying upright and having the time to scan the field for more big hits in the passing game. McClure said hand usage was a topic and working on better use of feet placement when blocking.

As for the competition on the offensive line, there doesn't seem to be any issue there. Most have accepted the play can improve and understand the coaches must do what they can to ensure the best five are on the field.

"I guess when you're struggling a little bit, just like in anything, you want to see what can help you have the most success," McClure said. "I think our coaching staff is doing that a little bit. The bottom line is we've got to go out and block the guys that are lined up across from us. Everything else will take care of itself."

Homecoming Quizz:Falcons rookie running back Jacquizz Rodgers isn't from Seattle or even the Pacific Northwest, but he played his college ball in the area. His time at Oregon State in Corvalis, Ore., (about four hours south of Seattle) means he has numerous ties to that area of the country.

He said he's heard some ticket requests and he's trying to help out who he can, but mostly he's avoided some of that noise. He is looking forward to getting back into the part of the country that helped him land in the NFL. With the status of backup running back Jason Snelling in the air while he undergoes the league's mandated concussion protocol, Rodgers' usage against Seattle be may higher than in recent weeks.

The main man in the backfield, Devonta Freeman, isn't worried about Rodgers and whether he'll be ready to play if his number is called a few more times.

"Everybody's ready to step up," Turner said. "Every backup is ready to take on the role as if they're the starter. Everybody's going to be ready to play football, no matter what happens."

Rodgers said as of now he expects his role to be the same as it has been so far this season: third running back. The unknown of how many snaps or what situations he'll have in a game in his current role helps him prepare in case Snelling isn't able to go. Seattle's run defense is in the middle of the pack in the league, but the Falcons know if they can get the run game going things open up elsewhere. Against the Seahawks and their loud arena, on the road, the ground game — and maybe Rodgers — will be critical.

"When you're on the sideline, you've got to stay focused and learn something from every play," he said. "You never know when your number will get called. When it does get called, you've got to be able to go in there and make a play so you can build that trust in your coaches to put you in more often."

The rookie hasn't produced eye-popping stats yet in his time on the field, but he's shown glimpses of what he can do. Most notably he can be a factor with screens out of the backfield. His 10.4 yards per catch this season is impressive. As is the case with any player, finding a rhythm within the game is important and sometimes it's challenging for players who spell starters to find that. Rodgers said it's just a matter of trying to execute the play and make something positive happen.

"When you're on the sidelines and you get your first play you really don't get into a rhythm," he said. "You just try to get in there and hit whatever you see and hit the hole. You just try to pick up positive yards."

Finish the Drill:Visions of a lethal pass rush danced in the Falcons fans heads this offseason after the signing of Ray Edwards to pair with Vic Beasley Jr. and the expected maturation of the rotational players on the outside and inside of the line.

The numbers say the Falcons are 23rd in the league with five sacks. The reality is a little different. There's been consistent pressure from the front four but they haven't been able to bring the quarterback. A problem that plagued them in last season's playoff loss is once again beginning to creep in: bringing down the quarterback when you're close.

They have the players and the athleticism to get to the quarterback and do it with a number of players, in waves or rushes time after to time to aggravate the quarterback into a mistake-filled day. The one thing they have to do, as Edwards shared on Wednesday, is complete the task.

"Finish," Edwards said. "If you get there, you've got to finish. We've been playing against a lot of mobile quarterbacks so we definitely have to get there and finish. We also want to get more than one guy there."

Against Seattle's Tavaris Jackson, the Falcons see another quarterback that's got the mobility to beat you with his legs out of the pocket. Hitting a player like that is critical and they'll need to get him down in the open field if he finds his way out there. They also need to get sacks on him because his game is weakened if he's kept in the pocket.

From speaking to multiple members of the line, the idea of finishing is at the front of everyone's mind. Defensive end Kroy Biermann made it sound like they've got their own explosiveness to work on.

"We've got to finish with big plays," Biermann said. "Those big plays are sacks. As a unit we want big plays. We're excited and it's going to be a good challenge."

Stopping Lynch:Seattle's No. 1 running back, Marshawn Lynch, has an earth-moving claim that few have.

During his epic of great proportions 67-yard touchdown run in the playoffs last season against the Saints, the Seattle home crowd is said to have been so loud that seismic activity was recorded close to the stadium.

It's for good reason. Lynch's run was not only a game-winner, but he broke eight tackles along the way and at one point stiff-armed a Saints player who was in front of him straight to the ground. The most impressive thing about Lynch's run is that it began between the tackles.

To say Lynch is a load to take down is putting it lightly and after facing a similar hard-charging back last week against the Bucs, the Falcons know they have to play physical with the back to get him down.

"If you don't wrap him up, he'll keep those legs going," linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. "He's a running back that won't stop. As you can see from that play, that was just amazing. We've just got to keep that to a minimum. We've got to really make sure that we wrap. That'll be something that we emphasize this week."

After facing two shifty and elusive runners in the first two weeks, Lynch represents the second back in two weeks that is a heavy load. The Falcons allowed the Bucs' LeGarrette Blount 81 yards in last week's loss. They knew heading into last week physical would be the play of the day.

Seattle ranks near the bottom of the league with 72.3 yards per game rushing, but the rushing game, lead by Lynch last week gained 122 yards. There's reason to believe the Seahawks will want to find that success again. Weatherspoon offered an idea on what they may need to do to stop Lynch and Co.

"I think they do a good job running the football," he said. "They've got a tough running back. He's a Pro Bowler, he's been there before. We know we'll have to get downhill as linebackers and run a lot of divide action so that's something we'll have to be disciplined in our run gaps. That's something that will be big for us."

Injury Report:Smith shared Wednesday that Snelling is progressing through the league's concussion protocol. He did not practice on Wednesday.

"He's in the protocol that's league-mandated," Smith said. "There's steps that he has to go through, but he is going through that process. Today was an opportunity for him to get past step number one."

Joining Snelling on the did-not-practice list were Jonathan Babineaux, Kelvin Hayden, Stephen Nicholas and Julio Jones.

Linebacker Curtis Lofton, tackle Sam Baker and rookie defensive end Cliff Matthews were limited in Wednesday's practice.

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