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Key lessons on defense in Patriots loss


ATLANTA —There were a few more positives to emerge from Thursday's 28-10 loss to the New England Patriots than what John Abraham let on.

According to the 11th-year defensive end, all the Atlanta Falcons could take from the preseason defeat was that they weren't playing the game anymore. For veterans like Abraham, the preseason can't come fast enough and can't end soon enough.

"We've just got to keep moving on," Abraham said following the game. "I'm really ready for the season to start. I love the preseason to get in shape, but I'm really ready for (Week 1 opponent) Pittsburgh to play some real football."

One of the key figures in the loss was defensive end Kroy Biermann and his continued strong play. With a starting role for the Falcons in his crosshairs, the third-year end followed up his one sack, one forced fumble performance last week with another sack, two tackles for loss and one forced fumble against the Patriots.

Biermann has impressed head coach Mike Smith with his play and Smith believes Biermann's progression is encouraging.

"Production is what it's all about and Kroy is definitely making a statement with his play in these first two ballgames," Smith said.

Biermann didn't have an answer for what led to the lackluster Falcons defensive performance, particularly their lack of execution on third downs.

The Patriots converted 11-of-17 third downs, including scoring three of their touchdowns on third downs and Smith cited that as a concern in his postgame comments.

"They converted on some third-and-12, third-and-fourteens," the head coach said. "Actually one of the touchdowns they scored was on a third down-and-12. It was our Achilles heel in the previous season and it's something that we have got to get fixed."

Safety Erik Coleman believes the team will respond accordingly to fix their third-down breakdowns.

"We never want to give up explosive plays," Coleman said. "Obviously when there are explosive plays something breaks down so we have to go check the film and see what happened to cause the big plays. We work hard, the coaches have great game plans, and we're going to come out and get back to practice and get better."

Getting better is a constant point of discussion with the Falcons and while two key stats, third downs and the final score, say Atlanta did nothing to improve in the second week of the preseason, some of the key objectives heading into this game were accomplished.

Smith said in the practices leading up to Thursday night's matchup that the coaching staff did little to game plan against the Patriots. Instead, they were focusing on playing more disciplined with regards to limiting penalties. Following an effort that earned them eight penalties for 61 yards last week, the Falcons reduced their penalties to only two, for a loss of 17 yards.

Facing a prolific offense like that of the Tom Brady-led Patriots, Atlanta eyed working on its pass defense Thursday, as well. While they allowed two touchdowns through the air, against Brady in the first half they allowed only 85 yards from his arm, with his longest pass connecting on 14 yards.

The Falcons got to the quarterback twice in the contest and hurried him twice. Despite being gashed on the ground at times, Atlanta defenders still had nine tackles for loss.

Coleman admits it's better to learn the lessons in the preseason and continue to use the exhibition season to work on the basics like tackling, which the Falcons did poorly at times Thursday.

"We learned a lot and we have some things to improve on defense," Coleman said. "We probably missed a couple of tackles. I know I missed a tackle or two so I need to work on that. We'll get that solved and continue to get better."

A 28-10 loss is an ugly one, but all is not lost.

In his seven years in the league, Coleman has seen a lot of things happen in the preseason that change and evolve a team. The mark of a good team, according to the safety, is how those lessons are applied before the games really count in the regular season.

"That's what's great about the preseason, you can play against these good teams and it doesn't really count," Coleman said. "It's going to be a good opportunity for us to learn about ourselves."

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