ATLANTA-- After last Saturday's first half in which the Atlanta Falcons' defensive starters allowed 255 passing yards against San Diego, Head Coach Mike Smithrefused to place blame on the secondary.
Among the areas in which he said the defense could improve was the better pass rush. While the secondary still had its share of struggles in a 20-3 loss Thursday to the Baltimore Ravensat the Georgia Dome in the preseason finale, the defense overall was bolstered by an invigorated pass rush.
The Falcons recorded four sacks, including one apiece for rookie defensive tackle Peria Jerry, the team's first-round draft pick, and second-year end Kroy Biermannwho both had strong showings (The team's top defensive player, end John Abraham, did not suit up).
Despite being disappointed in the Ravens' opening drive in which they converted all three of their third down attempts and traveled 91 yards for a touchdown, Smith said he was pleased by the way the defense forced Baltimore to go three-and-out on its next three possessions.
"I thought both Kroy and Peria did a nice job," said Smith whose staff must cut 20 players from the roster to get down to the NFL-mandated 53 before close of business Saturday. "Peria is continuing to get better and better. His play has improved from Game 1 to Game 2 to Game 3 to Game 4. You anticipate that would happen as he gets more comfortable in our scheme.
"And Kroy has improved immensely from last season. He's a guy who came in here as a fifth-round draft pick and had two sacks for the season and I think he's a guy who's going to be able to give us some help with that pass rush and that pass rush is going to be very integral in the success we have this season."
Jerry, who in the early weeks of camp was ridden hard by defensive line coach Ray Hamilton, said he was trying to play penalty- and mistake-free. He said he can feel himself growing more comfortable and it translated into his first sack of the preseason.
"Oh, yes, sir, the game's slowing down for me a whole lot and I'm really understanding the defense a whole lot more so," he said. "Each time I go out I'm trying to improve on something that I might've messed up on from the last time. Try not to make the same error twice."
The two led the team in tackles: Biermann had four solo tackles and two assists, two tackles for loss and one quarterback hurry and Jerry was tied for second with four solo tackles with a tackle for loss and one quarterback hurry. Biermann entered the game leading the team in preseason tackles.
JACKSON AT CORNER:The team's most unsettled area remains the cornerback position. Chris Houston was thrown at often for the second-straight week and with the acquisition of Tye Hill, some jobs appear to be up for grabs.
That notion also was reinforced by Smith's decision to play second-year nickel back Chevis Jacksonat corner for some series in both halves on Thursday. Jackson earned one of the team's two passes defended on Thursday night (the other going to defensive lineman Vance Walker who batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage).
Smith was not ready to make any pronouncements on Jackson's play immediately after the game.
"It'll be very interesting to see how he grades out," he said. "Again, it's very difficult, as you know, standing on the sideline to really make these determinations until you get an opportunity to watch the tape."
Smith noted that a major difference between the preseason and the regular season is that while coaches game-plan to win for the regular season, in the preseason they will make a particular call to put a player in a difficult situation so that the coaching staff can see how the player handles it.
Jackson did his best after the game not to stir up any controversy, saying he thought he did "fine." He said he has no preference, as far as playing corner or nickel.
"Whatever," he said. "I'll play nickel, corner, safety -- whatever. I just want to make the team win."
POSITION BATTLES:A number of factors could influence whether the Falcons choose to carry five running backs and whether both Jason Snelling and Thomas Brown make the team – notably the health of Jerious Norwoodwho did not play on Thursday because of head and leg injuries he suffered last Saturday (last year the Falcons carried only four running backs.)
Snelling entered the game seemingly ahead in the competition with 20 carries for 84 yards and a 4.2 average per carry in the preseason while Brown had 13 carries for 18 yards and missed a game.
Brown led the Falcons with 39 yards on 11 carries on Thursday and had his longest run of the preseason, 25 yards. Snelling rushed for 21 yards on eight carries.
Brown also returned two kickoffs for 47 yards for a 23.5 average. In that department, Chandler Williams bested him with 85 yards on three returns (28.3 yards per attempt).
Brown said he came into the night "very relaxed" and "hoped for the best."
"I felt pretty good overall," he said. "There were some mistakes I probably made on offense, but that's part of the game. I played as hard as possible."
Brown said he's not nervous entering Saturday's final cuts.
"I'm somewhat confident," he said. "Just really relaxed."
Another position battle is going on at tight end where Smith spoke earlier in the week about the importance of Jason Rader and Keith Zingerto have good games. Both did. Zinger caught two passes for 19 yards and Rader had two for nine. Both players also each had solo tackles on special teams.
Smith also said that of the three linebackers Spencer Adkins, Robert James and Jamie Winborn, only one or two would make the team. Winborn had four solo tackles, tied for second most on the team, while Adkins had three (two solo, one assist) and James had two (one and one). James also had one solo tackle on special teams.
MORE FROM THE FALCONS-RAVENS GAME:
- GAME CENTER:Stats and more fromthe NFL.com Game Center
- GAMEDAY LIVE:Complete coverage from the AF.com team
- BLOGS:J. Michael Moore's blog posts from Sept. 3, 2009
- POLL:What are your thoughts about upcoming roster moves?
- GAME NOTES:Official game notes from the Georgia Dome press box
- FIRST TAKE:Head Coach Mike Smith | Jerry | Ryan | Brown
- NFL NETWORK:Highlights from the Falcons final preseason game
- QUOTES:Falcons players and coaches | Ravens
- BOARDS:Talk about the Falcons loss to the Baltimore Ravens