Saturday special: Charles Godfrey

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
10:30
AM ET
Every Saturday during the regular season, we will feature a member of the Atlanta Falcons' special teams. This week, it's veteran defensive back Charles Godfrey, who has embraced his role on special teams while getting up to speed on defense:


Godfrey
When veteran defensive back Charles Godfrey joined the Falcons a few weeks back, he came in with a positive attitude and a willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team.

His mindset hasn't changed.

Godfrey grew accustomed to a regular role on defense after starting 72 of 73 games with Carolina at the beginning of his career. But as he continues to adjust to his new surroundings in Atlanta, Godfrey knows the most immediate impact is likely to be on special teams.

"I want to compete; I'm a competitor," Godfrey said. "Any way I can get that opportunity to do that, I will. I'm still working on defense. It's still a process. You have to learn the defense, get up to speed with everything. That's where I'm at now.

"On special teams, I'm ready to go. They've got me on a couple special-teams roles, so that's what I'll be playing. I'm taking them at running with them."

Godfrey played nine special teams snaps last week versus his former team, the Panthers. The Falcons have him on kickoff return and punt return, and he has a backup role on kickoffs.

"Wherever I'm needed, I'll be playing," Godfrey said. "And I'll give 100 percent."

Although he's played special teams at various times in the past, Godfrey has never been alongside a return man as dynamic as NFL record-setter Devin Hester.

"He's great," Godfrey said. "He's going to go down in history as one of the best returners to play the game. When you're playing with someone like that, you just want to help out as much as you can. So that's what I'll be doing."

Falcons coach Mike Smith appreciates Godfrey's approach.

"The thing about Charles is he gives us a lot of flexibility," Smith said. "He can be on the 'Big Four' (punt, punt cover, kickoff, kickoff cover). He really got his most significant playing time last week. The other thing that he does give us is, he gives us flexibility because he's played safety, corner, and nickel. And right now, we are down a corner for a short period of time.

"Charles is a guy that's going to do whatever he can to help us win. I think he showed that by coming in here and learning our system and getting an opportunity to contribute on special teams fairly quickly."
Yes, it is mathematically possible for a 5-win team to make the playoffs this year.

ESPN Stats and Information broke down the possible scenarios. And the most likely would be the Atlanta Falcons (4-6) winning the NFC South at 5-11 or the Carolina Panthers (3-7-1) winning the division with a 5-10-1 mark.

The New Orleans Saints (4-6) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8) could also potentially win the division with just five wins -- but either scenario would require at least one more game to end in a tie somewhere along the way.

The Falcons would win a tie-breaker over any other team at 5-11 based on either head-to-head or division record.

Obviously all four teams are aiming higher than just five wins. But there does appear to be a strong chance that the NFC South champ could make or match history this season. The only other division winner in NFL history with a sub-.500 record was the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks in 2010 (and they went on to beat the 11-5 Saints in the playoffs).

To play around with all of the possible scenarios yourself, check out ESPN.com’s NFL Playoff Machine.
Wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Steven Jackson are among the eight Atlanta Falcons probable for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.

Jones
Jones missed two days of practice with what was called an illness. He declared himself fully healthy after practicing Friday. Jackson missed Thursday's practice ill, but was back Friday. The same was the story for fullback Patrick DiMarco.

Receivers Harry Douglas (foot), Devin Hester (wrist), and Drew Davis (foot) are probable, along with guard Jon Asamoah (shoulder) and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. Davis was activated from the physically unable to perform list following offseason foot surgery, so Sunday would mark his first action of this season.

Cornerback Robert Alford (broken wrist) and offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (hamstring) were the only Falcons ruled out. Alford is expected to miss the next three games.

For the Browns, tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion) and wide receiver Marlon Moore (hamstring) were ruled out. Linebacker Karlos Dansby (knee) is doubtful, and linebacker Jabaal Sheard (foot) and defensive back Johnson Bademosi (concussion) are questionable. Defensive lineman Desmond Bryant (wrist), linebacker Barkevious Mingo (shoulder), and defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin (knee) are probable.
The Atlanta Falcons made an expected roster move Friday by activating wide receiver Drew Davis from the physically unable to perform list following offseason foot surgery.

To make room for Davis, the Falcons waived wide receiver Freddie Martino.

Davis was a key contributor last season when Julio Jones went down with a season-ending foot fracture and Roddy White missed some action because of injury. Davis had 12 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns in 2013.

Because the Falcons lost a key special-teamer in Antone Smith to a season-ending broken leg, Davis is expected to step into Smith's spot as a primary gunner. Davis has excelled on special teams in the past.

Davis has had plenty of practice time leading up to Sunday's game against Cleveland and should be ready to contribute.

This is the second roster move for the Falcons in as many days. On Thursday, the team added veteran linebacker James Anderson to fill the roster spot left when Smith was placed on injured reserve. Anderson is not expected to be active Sunday.

The Falcons also await the official return of strong safety William Moore off short-term injured reserve. Moore returned to practice this week and is eligible to play against Arizona next week.
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The 4-6 Atlanta Falcons have won two games in a row and now play three of the next four games at home as they attempt to make a playoff run. They should continue their streak against the surprising Cleveland Browns (6-4).

The Falcons were 2-of-4 at Tampa and 1-of-3 at Carolina scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Back at home inside the Georgia Dome, I see the Falcons playing more like the team that converted 6 of 7 red-zone opportunities in home wins against New Orleans and Tampa Bay.

I also see the Falcons being more efficient in the run game with rookie Devonta Freeman adding a little spark. The Browns are 30th in the league against the run and lost two key linebackers to injury. The balance should help the Falcons thrive.

The only way I see the Falcons possibly losing an edge in this game is if they let reinstated Browns receiver Josh Gordon go off for 150-plus yards and multiple touchdowns in his first game of the season. I don't believe Desmond Trufant is going to allow that to happen.

Although the Browns have won four straight against NFC South foes, they have lost five of their last six road games versus NFC teams.

Falcons 31, Browns 17
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, who missed the previous two days of practice with an illness, was back on the field Friday.

Coach Mike Smith promised Jones would be back on the field without going into specifics about the illness.

Running back Steven Jackson and fullback Patrick DiMarco also returned to practice Friday after being out ill Thursday.

The only players not on the practice field with helmets Friday were cornerback Robert Alford, who is out the next three weeks with a broken wrist, and offensive tackle Jonathan Scott, who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith couldn't exactly recall all of the details of his reaction on draft night in 2011.

"That's so far away,'' Smith said. "I've slept so many times that I don't even remember it.''

All Smith knows is he got the player he had hoped for, even if the team traded five picks to Cleveland to get him. Julio Jones was well worth the investment in Smith's eyes.

[+] EnlargeJulio Jones
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesThe Falcons got what they were looking for when they gave up a handful of picks to move up and draft Julio Jones.
"Any time there's a transaction and a trade, you're making that trade to improve your football team,'' Smith said. "We improved our football team imensely that day. We got an elite wide receiver.''

Sunday marks the first meeting between the Falcons and Browns since the blockbuster trade. Jones continues to be one of the most feared receivers in the league and is 88 yards away from his second 1,000-yard season.

And the Browns? Well, they have one player remaining from the trade: defensive lineman Phil Taylor, who is on injured reserve with a knee injury.

"I didn't know that,'' Smith said. "I can't concern myself with what happens on the other side. I just know that we're really pleased with the way that it's worked out for us.''

General manager Thomas Dimitroff took a gamble when he traded the 27th overall pick along with a second-rounder, fourth-rounder in '11, along with a first-rounder and fourth-rounder in 2012 to move up to sixth overall and grab Jones. Tom Heckert was the Browns general manager at the time.

Cleveland used those picks to grab the following players, in order: Taylor, wide receiver Greg Little, fullback Owen Marecic, quarterback Brandon Weeden. The Browns used the fourth-round pick in '12 as a part of a trade to get running back Trent Richardson in the first round.

Little is with the Bengals, Weeden with the Cowboys, and Richardson with the Colts. Marecic is out of the league.

Receiver Roddy White recalls being in Los Angeles the night the trade went down.

"Absolutely I was happy,'' White said. "Julio has been a great player for us these three or four years. He's done a heck of a job. Us making that trade was well worth it; getting a great player that can go out there and do the things that he's done. Going into his fourth season, he's right there at the top of the league in a lot of statistical categories. He's taking care of business.''

White remembered realizing Jones' potential way before draft day.

"They actually played on television when he was in high school,'' White said. "They were on ESPN and I saw him out there. ... He was as big as he is now in high school. And then he was the No. 1 recruit in the nation.

"When you watched him play, you were like, `This guy is going to be amazing.' To be that big, that fast, that strong and to just be in high school, I thought he had a bright future.' ''

Some might question whether the Falcons voided themselves of some valuable starters and depth by giving away so many picks. Then Jones' season-ending foot fracture last season raised more question.

But no question Jones is a dynamic player. If he was just OK, the Falcons would have been on the short end of the trade.
Maybe it was a preview of things to come for Devonta Freeman.

In the third quarter of last Sunday’s 19-17 win at Carolina, the Atlanta Falcons rookie running back took a handoff, exploded a few steps up the middle, then made a quick cut left while following a block from pulling guard Jon Asamoah. Freeman made a safety miss, made another quick cut in front of a block by receiver Julio Jones, then stiff-armed veteran safety Roman Harper en route to a 15-yard gain.

"That’s what I do," Freeman said confidently. "That’s my game. Once I feel the game out and understand everything, I feel like if you just let me go out there and play, I’m going to dominate. I’m going to do my job. I’m going to go out there and contribute."

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman, Roman Harper
Mike McCarn/Associated PressThe Falcons hope that giving Devonta Freeman more carries will jumpstart a struggling running game.
Freeman should get ample opportunity to prove his value for the remainder of the season. The Falcons lost a key part of their running back rotation when speedy Antone Smith suffered a season-ending broken leg last Sunday. The loss of Smith means the Falcons will transition from a four-man running back rotation to a trio of Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Freeman.

Expect Freeman to be the primary beneficiary of the redistribution of carries following Smith’s injury.

"Injuries are going to happen all the time," Freeman said. "I’ve been hurt so many times in my career. I broke my ankle three times; broken hip. I’ve sprained my ankles a lot. So I understand what [Smith] is going through and all the pain, especially when you have a passion for football.

"For me, I just want to go out there and help the team as much as I can and contribute to this team’s success, which I think we’re going to have a lot of success. I just plan on going out there and being consistent, competing, being physical, and doing what I do best."

Freeman had a career-high 11 carries (for 12 yards) during a 56-14 blowout of Tampa Bay in Week 3. He has 35 carries for 147 yards (4.2 yards per carry) through 10 games along with a 7-yard touchdown reception against Detroit.

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter talked about what Freeman brings to the running game.

"Well Devonta has an explosive running style," Koetter said. "He hits the hole fast. You saw when he got out into the open field on the one the other night, he was able to make one guy miss and then kind of run through a second guy. He’s just got an explosive style.

"Usually, at the running back position, this thing sorts itself out earlier in the season. It’s unfortunate. We hate to lose Antone because he’s such a valuable player in both the offensive aspect and in the special teams aspect. Now we’re splitting three guys instead of four, so both Devonta and Jacquizz should see their time go up."

Coach Mike Smith was disappointed with the lack of efficiency in the run game last week against Carolina as the Falcons averaged just 3.2 yards per rush. Koetter attributed it to a few breakdowns plus the fact that the Falcons were up against two of the league’s top linebackers in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.

The Falcons have inserted Gabe Carimi as an extra blocker in the run game, while tight end Levine Toilolo has drastically improved as a run blocker. But they still rank 24th in the league in rushing, averaging 96.1 rushing yards per game.

This Sunday, the Falcons will face a Cleveland team banged up at linebacker and struggling to stop the run. The Browns rank 30th in the league in run defense and allow 142.1 rushing yards per game. They allowed 213 rushing yards -- 156 to rookie Alfred Blue -- in a 23-7 loss to Houston last week.

"They’ve lost three starters in the last two weeks, so every team has its injury issues as this point of the year," Koetter said. "I did watch the Houston game and I’m not sure what (the Browns) exact issue was in that game. Every team is a little bit different in how they attack. ... We try to run the ball every week, and we’ll try to run this week as well."

The Falcons still count on Jackson to set a physical tone, although he missed some practice time Thursday with an illness. Maybe Freeman will inject a little more life into the running game Sunday and help the Falcons get to the second level more consistently.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Desmond Trufant couldn't quantify how much time he's spent studying Josh Gordon this week, but the Atlanta Falcons cornerback needed just a few minutes to realize what type of player the Cleveland Browns receiver truly is.

"He's a good player, obviously," Trufant said. "He's big and can run well. He runs solid routes. He's got really good ball skills, adjusting to the ball. He can turn a short catch into an explosive play. He's just an all-around, solid wide receiver."

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
AP Photo/Mark DuncanDesmond Trufant is expected to shadow Josh Gordon in the receiver's first game back from a 10-game suspension.
The recently reinstated Gordon hasn't played in a regular season game this year, so Trufant received clips from 2013, when Gordon led the league with 1,646 receiving yards. Trufant started sifting through the footage Monday.

"All of his targets and catches," Trufant said of what he watched. "He's legit. I just have to bring my A-game.

"He moves around a little bit, but I think all of their receivers kind of move around to different spots. I know he's going to fit right in with what they're doing right now. They're an explosive team; not only just him, but the other receivers. We definitely have a good challenge."

Trufant talked about the tendencies he tries to pick up in studying a player such as Gordon.

"I look at what they're good at, I look at what they're not good at, and I try to exploit that," Trufant said. "I look at other corners that had success against that receiver. And I look at myself and am real about what I'm able to do. I'm just going to go into it just like any other game: confident in my technique, first. And I'm going to be all right."

Asked which corner played Gordon well based on his film study, Trufant didn't hesitate with his response.

"Really nobody," Trufant said. "He was killing everybody last year. That's why I'm just going to do what I do. It's going to be a challenge. He might make some plays. But as long as I contain him, don't give up any explosives, we'll be all right."

Trufant spent extra time before Wednesday's practice going over some technical aspects with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. The Falcons appear poised to let Trufant shadow Gordon, like he did against Baltimore's Steve Smith and last week against Carolina rookie Kelvin Benjamin.

Trufant believes he can shadow any receiver in the league.

"That's what I'm here for: They didn't bring me here to be an average player," Trufant said. "I've got to go against the best, and I'm willing to do that. That's the only way I can reach where I want to be as a player."

The last time Trufant shadowed a receiver prior to this season was in college in Washington against USC's Marqise Lee, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Matching up with Smith in Week 7 at Baltimore was a challenge in itself. He started the game covering Smith in the slot and was out wide right then left on the following two plays. Smith finished with three catches for 67 yards. His total included a 49-yard screen play during which Trufant started in coverage pre-snap but dropped off the play.

"He's a feisty player and every play he's going to bring it," Trufant said of Smith. "Even run plays, you still have to have your head on a swivel because he'll try and come take you out.

"(Shadowing), it's fun. It's a challenge because if you don't perform, there's a chance the defense might not do good that day. It just keeps you focused. It keeps you challenged, and I love competing. ... The only way I can become the best is if I shut down the best."
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons added to their linebacker depth by signing free agent James Anderson on Thursday.

"I'm really appreciative for the opportunity to join this great organization and look forward to contributing everything I can to help us win games,'' Anderson told ESPN.com.

The team had an open roster spot when running back Antone Smith was placed on injured reserve with a broken leg. Anderson last was with the Tennessee Titans and also played with the New England Patriots this season.

The 31-year-old Anderson, who played college ball at Virginia Tech, enjoyed his best days as an inside linebacker with the Carolina Panthers. He was a regular starter for them from 2006-12. He led the Panthers in tackles for two seasons (145 and 130 tackles) and once had 20 tackles in a game. Anderson was a third-round draft pick of the Panthers in 2006.

He also started 16 games with the Chicago Bears last season and led the team with 102 tackles.

It will be interesting to see how the Falcons utilize Anderson, if he is a quick study. He is expected to contribute at inside linebacker, where the Falcons have Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu as the starters and Prince Shembo as a backup.

His immediate contribution is likely to be on special teams. He played special teams in seven games with the Titans this season.

The signing of Anderson doesn't prevent the Falcons from making another roster move before Sunday's game against Cleveland. They could easily activate Drew Davis from the physically unable to perform list by releasing another player at the bottom of the roster.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Although top receiver Julio Jones missed his second consecutive practice on Thursday with an illness, Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith indicated Jones should be fine for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.

Jones was one of three players out ill along with running back Steven Jackson and Patrick DiMarco. Jackson and DiMarco practiced on Wednesday.

"We'll anticipate that they'll all be back," Smith said.

Smith was asked if Jones would be able to play Sunday even if ends up not practicing all week.

"Julio is going to be back tomorrow. We fully anticipate that," Smith said. "And if for some unforeseen reason he wasn't, Julio will play in the game on Sunday."

Cornerback Robert Alford, who will miss the next three weeks with a broken wrist, and offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (hamstring) were the other two Falcons missing from Thursday's practice.

Receiver Harry Douglas, who has been nursing a foot injury, was back on the field after missing Wednesday's practice. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (knee), left guard Jon Asamoah (shoulder), and receiver/return man Devin Hester (wrist) all practiced.
The start of Week 12 means only one thing in these parts. It's time to start playing with ESPN's Playoff Machine, which provides playoff seeding for any series of regular-season game results you can imagine.

The possibilities are particularly relevant now, at a time when two-thirds of NFL teams (21 of 32) are either sitting in a playoff position or are within one game of it. And even as the NFL seems destined to expand the postseason field, perhaps as early as next year, the NFC South is vying to send a sub.-500 team to the playoffs. It's not too difficult, in fact, to find scenarios where someone clinches the NFC South with just five wins.

[+] EnlargeMike Evans
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesMike Evans and the Bucs are 2-8, yet very much alive in the NFC South race.
Currently, the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons are atop the division at 4-6, with the Carolina Panthers (3-7-1) only semi-comatose at their heels. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 2-8, a near-fatal record in most years but one that has kept them in contention as Thanksgiving approaches. In fact, a 4-2 finish could be all the Bucs need.

That's right. If everything goes their way -- and with six weeks remaining, there are so many variables -- the Bucs could win the division at 6-10. The Panthers could win it with as few as five victories, as could the Falcons. It appears the Saints would need at least six victories to win the title, based on tiebreakers. (Note: I didn’t consider future ties in generating these scenarios.)

The NFC South debacle conjures bad memories of the 2010 NFC West race, the only other instance since 1967 when a division leader has been two games under .500 this late in the season, per the Elias Sports Bureau. In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks overcame the St. Louis Rams in Week 17 to win the NFC West at 7-9.

What would you think if the 5-11 Falcons hosted an 11-5 Philadelphia Eagles team on wild-card weekend, while a 10-6 San Francisco 49ers team stayed home? That could happen, according to the Playoff Machine.

How would you react if the 11-5 49ers had to make a cross-country trip to face the 5-10-1 Panthers, with the 10-6 Eagles home for the holidays? That could happen as well.

Expanding the playoffs a year after a sub-.500 team wins its division might be a bad look, but as we discussed in the spring, it appears inevitable. It's also worth noting that adding a seventh playoff team to each conference, for a total of 14 league-wide, would reduce the chances of a team like the Eagles or 49ers in our scenarios of missing the postseason.

The NFL tabled discussions on a proposed 2015 playoffs expansion during its spring meeting, and perhaps the delay -- and the NFC South's situation -- will spur further discussion. Is there a way to reduce, but not eliminate, the reward of winning a division? Should playoff seeding be based purely on record, or is there a way to differentiate division winners from wild-card teams while still avoiding a 5-11 team hosting a playoff game?

Have an idea? Leave it in the comments section. We have plenty of time to hash it out. And who knows? Maybe an NFC South team will emerge to make the discussion moot for another year.

Inside Edge: Browns-Falcons

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
1:18
PM ET


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ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando delivers stats to help you make a pick for Cleveland at Atlanta.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones was not on the practice field for second consecutive day Thursday, apparently sidelined by an illness.

Jones
Coach Mike Smith said Jones was sent home ill before Wednesday's practice. Smith had hoped it was just a 24-hour bug, but it appears to be more.

Early indications are Jones should be available for Sunday's game against Cleveland. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him back on the practice field on Friday.

Also, running back Steven Jackson was not on the field for the start of Thursday's practice. Jackson practiced on Wednesday.

Receiver Harry Douglas returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday with a lingering foot injury.

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