One of the bright spots to emerge from Sunday's loss was the play of the Falcons front four.
Since the Mike Smith regime began in Atlanta, one of the primary focuses has been to build the depth and talent along the defensive line. With numerous draft picks spent there and the signing of a key free agent, the Falcons look like they may have the makings of a Bomb Squad 2.0.
Even though the Bears and Jay Cutler scored 30 on Atlanta, much of it came from positive field position and an ability to take advantage of a defense that spent 33 minutes on the field. The front four rotation of defensive ends John Abraham, Ray Edwards, Kroy Biermann, Lawrence Sidbury and defensive tackles Vance Walker, Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry and Carlton Powell played a major role in the five sacks, six quarterback hits and 11 tackles for loss.
Pressure like that week after week can mean good things for Atlanta's defense. A consistent pass rush has been missing in Atlanta at times and if it's finally arrived, all levels of the defense will benefit. On Sunday, the task of stopping Philadelphia's dual-threat quarterback, Michael Vick, starts up front.
"We want to be a defensive line that everybody talks about," Corey Peters said. "I think we had our moments in the game. We could have played better at times, but I think the pass rush is where it needs to be. We're going to have another tough task on our hands this week to contain this guy."
There figures to be a lot of running and chasing by the big front four and days like that will make Smith thankful for his philosophy on line rotation. A recent injury to starting tackle Jonathan Babineaux's knee hinders Atlanta's depth. Smith said Wednesday that Babinueax would not play Sunday.
Peters, who is also working his way back from a knee injury, said the rotation up front is consistent no matter who is on the active roster. Whenever he returns, he expects to rotate snaps as often as he did last year.
"Generally, last year, we all got pretty much the same amount of reps, regardless of who was out there," Peters said. "We kind of roll on our own at times and just try to keep each other fresh."
Keeping each other fresh and attacking the quarterback is a way of life now for an Atlanta Falcons D-lineman. Come Sunday, they'll be needed to play as effectively as they did last Sunday. There's a never-quit attitude in them up front and it was never more evident than when Biermann intercepted a Cutler pass last week and returned it for a touchdown.
"As a defensive unit we're never going to give up," Biermann said. "Abe (Abraham) came off the edge and so did I. He hit it up and I went after it. My teammates were behind me blocking as I got in. We're a unit that will fight to end whether we're winning or losing and work every week to get better."
Vick Stoppers:The entire league has been scheming to stop Michael Vick for years. Since his arrival in Philadelphia the lightening quick signal caller has added a passing element to his game that makes him doubly dangerous.
For the Falcons, a commitment to the game plan is as critical as any other element on defense. Every player reading his assignment and sticking to his area of the field of coverage will prevent big lanes. Vick has proven he doesn't need huge gaps in the defense to exploit it with his feet.
"Number one is to keep him in the pocket, you can't let him break outside," middle linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "It's going to take a group effort by mixing up blitzes and coverages and then getting to him and hitting him."
Conditioning will also be important for Atlanta. They'll want to make key third-down stops to get off the field to conserve their energy. Staying out on the field any longer than necessary chasing Vick could leave them depleted. Even though they want to blitz Vick and knock him around in the pocket, blitzing could leave areas on the field open.
The Falcons know Vick can beat them with his arm, but he's more likely to do so with his feet. They know their best bet against him is by keeping him in the pocket. If they can keep the field balanced, they may be able to box Vick in.
"I think everybody has to be conscientious of rush lanes and try not to get too many people on one side of him," Peters said. "You try to keep him in the pocket but you can't be tentative. You really still have to go after him. Everybody knows he's one of the most difficult guys to stop because he's the best running quarterback ever to play the game. His passing has improved."
Speed vs. Speed:The Eagles boast speed everywhere. So much so that when Dunta Robinson talks about it he says he needs to make sure he's fully stretched before the game. The cornerback doesn't want anyone to pull a hamstring overworking their legs as they chase the Eagles.
Philadelphia features two wide receivers on the outside that can run with anyone. DeSean Jackson especially is known for his speed. Running back LeSean McCoy has shown in his short time in the league that he can outrun many. Vick's speed speaks for itself.
"It's all over the place," Robinson said. "Some games you can make mistakes and still recover; this will be a team where mistakes will definitely hurt you. We can't make mistakes. We've got to go out there and play a smart game."
Safety Thomas DeCoud thinks the most dangerous part about Jackson's game is his speed. He can break open any game with his speed down the field and disrupting him on his routes will be important in slowing him down and his timing with Vick.
While not pressed with defending the speed guys on offense, wide receiver Roddy White offered up an assessment on Wednesday. He's heard a lot of the talk about the players in Philly and he thinks the Falcons aren't exactly chopped liver.
"I think we've got some pretty fast guys on our offense, too," he said. "They do things a little bit different. They kind of hold the ball back there and wait on the big explosive plays, throwing it 60 and 70 yards."
Center Joe Hawley got the first start of his career on Sunday, subbing for the injured Todd McClure. Smith on Monday called his performance the most solid of all his linemen.
It's positive praise for a position of the importance of Hawley's, in his first start no less. Against the tough front four of the Eagles he'll need to continue to be solid and keep improving to protect quarterback Matt Ryan.
"Obliviously I was unhappy with the outcome and I have a lot to work on," Hawley said. "It was good to get out there and get your first experience. I feel like I have a lot to improve on and next week it's going to be another chance to do that."
Getting that first start under his belt was important to Hawley. With all the first-game nerves out of the way, he can focus on doing only the things that will make him better. He's comfortable with his camaraderie with Ryan on the center to QB exchange and all the line calls. He says he needs to stay more relaxed and let the game flow through him instead of going after everything in sight.
"I think slowing the game down a little bit and being more patient with my footwork (is what I need to improve)," Hawley said. "I was attacking guys a little too much and getting off balance, so if I can work on that I'll be in better shape to pick up blitzes and help the guys better."
Injury Report:On Wednesday, Smith said Babineaux will not play Sunday. The anticipated return of Peters came, though he was limited in practice. Peters hopes to be ready to go against the Eagles.
"We're easing into it," he said. "That's the goal, to be ready to go on Sunday."
Wide receiver Harry Douglas was held out of practice as a result of a concussion. Cornerback Chris Owens did not practice due to an ankle injury. Fullback Ovie Mughelli's knee kept him out of practice. McClure continues to miss practice because of his knee injury.
For the Eagles, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive end Darrly Tapp and quarterback Vince Young did not practice Wednesday. Linebacker Akeem Jordan was limited and safety Nate Allen, tackle Winston Justice, defensive end Juqua Parker and wide receiver Steve Smith were full participation players.