Falcons have to fix penalties now

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There hasn't been much game-planning on either side of the ball for the Atlanta Falcons, so mistiming on offense and miscommunication on defense shouldn't be overblown just yet.

And with special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong forced to play so many young players to get a serious evaluation for his units, it's too early to declare special teams a complete disaster.

But one aspect the Falcons need to get under control immediately is the penalty situation. Through two preseason games, they've been penalized 19 times for 171 yards. They've been whistled 25 times total, counting the penalties not accepted or offsetting. And it's not just the rookies making mistakes. Ten flags have been thrown against either starters or seasoned veterans.

"Very concerned," coach Mike Smith said. "Fifteen penalties called in the game [at Houston]. There weren't 15 accepted penalties, but we've got to make sure that we understand how the game is going to be called from the officiating side.

"They're going through changes. We're going through changes. There are a lot of emphasis points that the league has, basically, mandated. And we have to adjust to them. Up to this point, I don't know that we have, or anybody in this league has adjusted very well. Thank goodness that we don't have a lot of commercials in preseason games because [the games] would be really long."

Of course the biggest points of emphasis are illegal contact by defenders against receivers 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and defensive holding. In Saturday game against the Texans, starting corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford both were whistled for defensive holding, although only Trufant's penalty was accepted.

"We just have to adjust to it this year," Alford said. "I mean, they called it. All we can do is go back to the film with coach and see what we can improve on."

Trufant was visibly upset with the call on him and threw his arms out in disgust.

"All we can do is play," Trufant said. "There's always going to be bang-bang plays. Like Rob said, we've got to go to the film and just see what we could have done better."

Safety William Moore offered his take on the penalty situation.

"Flags kicked our ass," Moore said of the Houston game. "We had some opportunities to get off the field on third down, and we come up with some silly-ass penalties. And the refs weren't any lighter on us. We gave up 200-something yards in penalties. Hopefully that doesn't happen during the season."

The starters are scheduled to play the entire first half and possibly into the third quarter against Tennessee on Saturday, so we'll see if the penalty issues are corrected.