Ground game a Falcons focus in Week 2



FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- For two teams that put a great deal of emphasis on the running game, the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers didn't have a lot to show for their efforts last Sunday.

For the Falcons, the result was just 68 yards. Carolina showed only marginally better with 86.

The Falcons, of course, have a win and a solid performance in the passing game in the bank. The Panthers, not so much.

When the two NFC South rivals meet on Sunday at the Georgia Dome at 1 p.m. expect the running game to take center stage with a special desperation from the Panthers who could fall two games behind the division lead.

"I think that it's definitely going to be a line of scrimmage game," said Panthers head coach John Fox, whose 0-1 team recorded an NFL-low 169 yards of offense last week. "We're going to have to play very well defensively."

Fox saw how the Miami Dolphins won the battle of defending the run but lost the war as Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw for two touchdowns in a 19-7 win.

"So that's not good enough to win the game," Fox said. "You've got to give Atlanta credit. They did an excellent job… You can't just stop one or the other [pass or run]. You have to stop everything and they're a tough attack."

Their respective games were uncharacteristic for both as Falcons running back Michael Turner, who ranked second in the NFL in rushing last season, finished with 65 yards on 22 carries and Carolina's DeAngelo Williams, who ranked third in the league in rushing, totaled 37 yards on 14 carries.

Miami, with a 3-4 alignment and two excellent outside linebackers in Joey Porter and Jason Taylor, used a scheme in which the outside linebackers effectively acted as fourth and fifth defensive linemen against the run.

Carolina, which runs a 4-3, would seem less likely to try a similar game plan. Regardless, Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith seemed unfazed by the thought that perhaps the Dolphins might have created a blueprint to stop the Falcons' running attack.

"No, I'm not concerned," he said. "Defenses are going to present their defense and then the offensive coordinator and coaching staff and players are going to have to adjust to that. If they load the box, then you'll have the opportunity to throw the ball."

Falcons left tackle Sam Baker, who will face the task of blocking Panthers' perennial Pro-Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers, said he thought the unusual look of the 3-4 combined with Porter and Taylor were factors.

"I think they had the personnel to run that defense that they did," he said. "They did a really good job. We'll learn from this the next time we play the 3-4. They definitely had the personnel to do it and they played real well."

The Panthers, the defending division champions, were one of the NFL's top teams last season with a 12-4 regular-season record, but in the preseason they suffered a costly loss to their defense that will affect them all season.

Defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu, a 6-foot-5, 345-pound key run stopper, suffered an Achilles tendon injury and is on injured reserve.

"He's a good player," Falcons right guard Harvey Dahl said. "I remember playing him last year and he's just a big, physical guy."

In Kemoeatu's place, the Panthers have used second-year man Nick Hayden, a sixth-round pick out of Wisconsin in '08, and Louis Leonard who played last season with the Cleveland Browns.

According to the Panthers' injury report, Hayden did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday because of a toe injury.

Defensive ends Everette Brown (ankle) and Charles Johnson (knee) were listed as limited participation in both the Wednesday and Thursday practices.

Fox agreed that in using new personnel the result can be that those players play better as the season progresses.

"I think like anything, all of us, the more we do things the better we get," he said. "So I think there's some truth to that."

Turner rejected the idea that it would be a point of pride for him to come back with a better statistical performance this week after being held under 100 yards in the opener. He had eight games under 100 yards last season.

"We got the win," he said. "Miami wanted to take away the run and make Matt win the game, but we still got the 'W' so it doesn't affect me. Teams are going to play us different every week and it was just one of those games and it happened to be the first game of the year. So eventually we'll establish the run and we've still got to get better and learn how to block against eight-man fronts and improve that way, though."

Defensively, the Falcons also must stop the run, but receivers Muhsin Muhammad and Steve Smith, a particular nemesis for the Falcons, present problems.

Muhammad caught eight passes for 147 yards and a touchdown in a win over the Falcons in Week 4 last year and Smith caught six for 96 and a touchdown, including a 56-yard score. In Week 11 -- a Falcons' victory -- Smith caught eight passes for 168 yards.

"Steve Smith is one of the best in the league," said Falcons strong safety Erik Coleman who spoke of the need for tacklers to swarm to Smith as soon as he catches the ball. "Once he gets the ball in his hands, no one is better."

Coleman may have to pay special attention to the run which would leave second-year free safety Thomas DeCoud to help out with Smith and Muhammad. DeCoud, at 6-foot-2, could help deal with the 6' 2" Muhammad who owns a height advantage over Falcons' cornerbacks Brent Grimes (5-10), Chris Houston (5-11) and Brian Williams (5-11).

If the Falcons get the same pass rush as they did last week, with two sacks apiece from John Abraham and Kroy Biermann, the defensive backs will have a much easier day.

"The best friend of coverage is a great pass rush," Coleman said. "It makes the quarterback make quick decisions."

And with Carolina's [Jake Delhomme's ](

FALCONS NAME COACH OF THE WEEK:Avondale High School's Mike Carson, whose Blue Devils won their first two games of the season after going 1-9 in 2008 in his first season with the team, is the Atlanta Falcons' inaugural Coach of the Week for 2009.

Prior to Carson's arrival, the team had won just seven games in the five preceding seasons. The owner of three state championships and once one of Georgia's proudest programs in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, Avondale has fallen on lean times in recent years.

Including the final regular season game of '08, the Blue Devils had won three straight until visiting Carrollton, the No. 6-ranked team in Class AAA, and falling 42-0 last week.

Carson visited the Falcons' practice facility on Thursday and left with a $1,000 grant from the franchise. Carson said he was undecided on what to do with the funds but he said one possibility was apparel for his players.

Carson played at Buford where he was an all-state player for the Wolves in 1978 and won the school's first state title that year. He later coached at Buford, a state power for years, from 1987 to 1989.

Before coming to Avondale, he was an assistant at Martin Luther King Jr. when that school reached the Class AAA semifinals in 2004.

"Basically we're trying to rebuild a program pretty much from the ground up," Carson said. "In doing that, we have to get the whole entire community involved with the sports programs at Avondale, not only with football but every sports program. My vision is to basically build the program or structure the program similar to the Buford program.

"I'm a product of Buford and I know that program so we want to get the kids as early as third grade through middle school all the way up through the ninth grade thinking about Avondale football and doing the things that we're doing at the high school level whether that be park ball or what have you. So until we're able to do that the program itself is going to continue to struggle for the most part but, hopefully, we're headed in the right direction at this particular point."


SCOUTING REPORT:Falcons prepare to improve in the running game * NFL FILMS PREVIEW:A look at the Falcons-Panthers game from NFL Films * FALCONCAST:J. Mike and Matt preview "Throwback Weekend" at the Dome * INJURY REPORT:Updates on Falcons and Panthers injury news * FEATURE: Hard work nothing new for Falcons defensive lineman * VIDEO:Video interviews and more centering on the Falcons-Panthers game * GAME INFORMATION:Entertainment, parking information for Falcons-Panthers * TRANSCRIPTS:Head Coach Mike Smith (Wednesday) (Thursday) | Wednesday Locker Room * PRESS RELEASE:Falcons to honor 1966 team, tennis star, band

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