Atlanta Falcons: William Moore

William Moore always plays with passion, but the Atlanta Falcons safety believes he has a little more incentive to step up his game this coming season.

Moore is well aware of the lucrative contract three-time Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd signed with the New Orleans Saints. The former Buffalo Bills standout inked a six-year, $54 million contract that included $28 million guaranteed. Byrd turns 28 in October.

Moore
Moore, who turns 29 next month, received a five-year, $30 million deal last March that included $14 million guaranteed.

"Man, I talked to Byrd a couple days before he signed and that's my guy; he was lucky," Moore said. "That's a huge contract, and he's well-deserving. But for other safeties, whatever it takes to get there, you've got to let us know, man. He basically broke the bank.

"It sucks to be in my position. We've all worked hard. You don't play for just the money, but he's basically $30 million better than me. That's the way I look at it."

Moore, a one-time Pro Bowl pick, has made his share of plays as the Falcons' starting strong safety. But as a strong safety, Moore isn't asked to roam the field in the same manner as Byrd. Teams are more willing to invest in a player with elite range and ball skills because such a combination is often difficult to find.

Byrd, a former second-round pick from Oregon in 2009, has 22 interceptions in five seasons, including two returned for scores. Moore, a second-round pick out of Missouri in '09, has 14 interceptions in five seasons, with no touchdowns. Again, both play different safety positions in different defenses.

Many wondered if the Falcons would consider pairing Moore with Byrd, but the team wasn't about to pay that type of money for Byrd.

As for Moore, his average of $5,912,500 per year is 14th among the league's safeties, according to ESPN Stats and Information. He is right above Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu ($5.875 million per year) and right below Indianapolis' LaRon Landry ($6 million year).

Byrd, of course, stands at the top at $9 million per season.

"Absolutely that's a chip on my shoulder, not personally because [Byrd] is my guy," Moore said. "But that's something that I want to prove; that I can be one of those guys of that caliber, too."

With the high likelihood of starting next to a rookie or untested safety following the release of Thomas DeCoud, Moore should get ample opportunity to prove his worth.
It was clear from the outset how the Atlanta Falcons wanted to approach free agency: Get stronger up front.

The offensive and defensive lines struggled miserably last season. So if money was going to be spent on free agents, it was bound to be spent on offensive and defensive linemen, not safeties or tight ends.

Such was the case when the Falcons agreed to terms with defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson, and offensive guard Jon Asamoah.

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Asamoah
Starting with Soliai, the Falcons rewarded the big nose tackle with a five-year contract with a max value of $33 million with $14 million guaranteed, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. The 6-foot-4, 340-pound Soliai immediately becomes the Falcons' most intimidating defensive lineman. And he'll be counted upon to take on double teams and pave the way for the linebackers to make plays with the Falcons expected to move toward more of a 3-4-based scheme.

Jackson (6-4, 296) will be a key figure up front, too. The former third-overall pick in 2009 was drafted by Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli when Pioli was the Chiefs' general manager. Jackson reportedly received a five-year deal worth a max of $25 million.

And Asamoah, who also agreed to a five-year deal (financial terms were not immediately available), might be the guy with the biggest burden to carry. The offensive line has been horrendous, allowing Matt Ryan to be the league's most pressured quarterback last season. The Falcons hope Asamoah steps in at right guard and develops into a stabilizing force. He is known for his pass protection and should be able to provide support as a run-blocker.

"Jon is a physical, experienced offensive lineman that will add a veteran presence to our offensive line," Falcons coach Mike Smith said about Asamoah.

The Falcons got it right. They addressed the most pressing needs from the outside and also re-signed two other key figures in center Joe Hawley and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. Hawley should start in the middle with Asamoah and left guard Justin Blalock next to him. Babineaux should add depth to the defensive line rotation.

It all could equal a climb back to the top for the Falcons, although other aspects still need to take shape. The release of former Pro Bowl free safety Thomas DeCoud means the Falcons have to find a capable replacement next to strong safety William Moore. There is still a void at tight end with Tony Gonzalez retiring, although Levine Toilolo will be counted upon to elevate his game.

More importantly, the Falcons need to look at adding an offensive tackle and pass-rusher, maybe through the draft. The names that immediately come to mind are Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack. Right now, the Falcons hold the sixth-overall pick in the draft.

It will make for some interesting decisions to come. But for now, the Falcons made the right choice.

"We were focused on adding pieces along our offensive and defensive lines, and I feel we were able to accomplish that today," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said.

Certainly the Falcons have much more to accomplish.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Hard-hitting Atlanta Falcons safety William Moore vowed to be a changed man after being fined a total of $74,550 so far this season for illegal hits.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan already noticed a difference in Moore’s play. Nolan pointed to last Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers as proof.

"There was a play where [Paul] Worrilow knocks the ball down on a seam route, right down the middle of the field where ... and William kind of pulls off,’’ Nolan said. "In a normal situation, I think William’s going in headfirst. So I think he’s learning. I think he’s getting better. Probably saved himself 15 grand, maybe. Maybe Paul saved it for him because I think if Paul hadn’t knocked the ball out, [Moore] would have made sure that he did.

"I'd liked to think he’s getting better, but I know what his intent is. William’s intent is to play football and be physical. If they all looked like me, nobody would be watching the game. William’s an exceptional athlete with a lot of power and explosion, and people like to watch him play.’’

Moore explained part of the reason he has made a conscious effort to change his tackling style. He recently had a conversation with Tennessee Titans safety Michael Griffin, who was suspended for one game this season following a collection of illegal hits.

"I’m good friends with Mike and actually talked with him about it,’’ Moore said. "He just straight up told me just be careful. He told me to be careful as far as leading with my head and stuff like that. He told me to try and play within the rules.

"He was frustrated and all that; not so much with the decision from the NFL, but that it’s the same game we’ve been trying to play since Day 1 – being physical. And for this type of stuff to happen ... nothing against the NFL because they make the rules and we’ve got to follow by them. But it’s kind of difficult to adjust to them after playing 15 years of football. You know, just playing one way.’’

Moore escaped a fine after he was flagged for a hit on Buffalo Bills receiver Robert Woods a few weeks ago. Now he has three games left in the season to avoid the same.

"Guys will adapt, man, without a doubt,’’ Moore said. "We’ll change the way that we run through. It will take a season or two, an offseason to try and work on it. But, we’re going to have to adapt.’’
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith was confident safety William Moore wouldn’t face a suspension after getting flagged for another illegal hit last Sunday. Smith, however, still wants Moore to be careful with his targets.

Moore
Although Moore might have been fined a fifth time for his hit on Buffalo Bills receiver Robert Woods, the NFL typically informs a team if a player has been suspended prior to start of the practice week so that team can plan accordingly.

"William practiced fully, and we fully anticipate him playing in the game this weekend," Smith said Wednesday. "William plays the game like it’s supposed to be played. There are some bang-bang plays that happen, especially in the secondary. And we will continue to work with him on targeting the 'strike zone' which is above the knee and below the shoulders."

Moore said Thursday that he hadn't heard from the league about another fine.

"Just playing football, man," Moore said. "Whatever happens, happens. ... I guess I've got to work on the way I hit and try to fit into the rules. I'm not frustrated at all, because they set the rules way before the season. And I've got follow by them. I'm not special."

He has been fined a total of $74,550 for four illegal hits this season, according to NFL records. Moore was docked $21,000 for violating the new crown-of-the-helmet rule against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, $22,050 for a hit on Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate in Week 10, and $15,750 twice for hits against Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, and New England Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson, respectively.

Moore has to be conscious of a suspension, though. Tennessee Titans free safety Michael Griffin recently served a one-game suspension for repeated illegal hits against defenseless receivers.

"I'm going to do what I'm going to do, I'm going to still play the way I've been playing," Griffin told ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky. "And that's my job. At the end of the day, the question is this: either the league is going to take money out of my pocket, or the team is going to release you if you can't get the job done. They're going to find somebody else to come in here that can get the job done.

"You're losing money regardless, however you want to look at it. You tell me. However I need to get the job done, I'm going to get the job done. You can't think about it. The league ain't going to give me money. They're not going to pay me to do the job correctly. I've just got to play."

Smith hopes Moore doesn’t put himself in position to have to address a suspension.

"It’s a concern that William has more than one offense," Smith said. "But he’s working hard to play within the way the game is officiated."
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TORONTO -- A collective sigh of relief whistled through the Atlanta Falcons locker room Sunday, and William Moore likely exhaled a little deeper than anyone else.

The safety was obviously disappointed about dropping a potential interception and picking up another one of those illegal-hit penalties. But Moore certainly atoned for those miscues by forcing arguably the most critical turnover of the season.

The host Buffalo Bills had the ball at the start of overtime. On second down, tight end Scott Chandler caught a pass from EJ Manuel that Moore knocked from Chandler's hands. Falcons teammate Robert Alford picked up the loose ball and made a risky lateral to teammate Desmond Trufant, who sprinted 18 yards.

The key turnover helped set up Matt Bryant's game-winning, 36-yard field goal in the Falcons' 34-31 triumph in front of a Rogers Centre audience that suddenly turned in their favor. Atlanta (3-9) won its first road game of the season and ended a five-game losing streak.

"One thing coach preaches is finishing, and we showed that in overtime," Moore said. "You know, it's easy for a team that's 2-9 to lay down when you go overtime. But we didn't do that. We show our resilience. And we finished.

[+] EnlargeAtlanta's William Moore
Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY SportsWilliam Moore forces a fumble by Bills tight end Scott Chandler during overtime.
"Defensively, I'm happy for our finish and our efforts also. We forced a lot of turnovers at the end of the ball game. We've just got to start that earlier and we'll be all right."

Moore made a great point. The Falcons wouldn't have had to crawl out of hole had the defense been as stingy the whole game as it was for a 54-second span between the end of regulation and overtime. It started with 28 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the Bills driving into Falcons territory. Manuel threw a pass to Stevie Johnson, who had gotten the best of Falcons defensive back Robert McClain for most of the day while working out of the slot. But McClain recovered in time to strip the ball from Johnson, and Moore corralled the loose ball to thwart the possible game-winning drive.

"Well, it talks about his individual resiliency," head coach Mike Smith said of McClain. "He had some tough downs. We put him in some one-on-one situations there in the slot with (Johnson). But he told me in the first quarter coming off, 'It's just the first quarter, coach.' And we needed all four (quarters). And the fifth one."

McClain talked about his overtime-forcing turnover.

"I should have been more inside leverage, but I made up a lot of ground with it," he said. "I saw him cut back in and I figured I'd punch it and hope my hand gets there and knocks the ball out. (I) knock the ball out and see William Moore right there to pick it up. And I was excited.

"I knew the game wasn't over, though."

When the Bills won the coin toss in overtime, it was up to the Falcons defense to hold strong, even after surrendering a 77-yard run to speedy Bills running back C.J. Spiller earlier in the game and giving up a 36-yard touchdown to Spiller near the start of the fourth quarter. Based on the way the season had gone, one figured the Falcons would yield yet another explosive play in the extra session.

Moore made sure it didn't happen.

"It just something I always want to do; run to the ball and be a playmaker," Moore said. "That's what they brought me here for. And I also had some mistakes in the ball game. So I can't sit here and act like I had a perfect game."

It felt like perfection, based on the way the Falcons have struggled to stop anybody this season. They entered the game 30th in turnover differential at minus-12. They still gave up 149 rushing yards to Spiller and 195 total rushing yards to the Bills. The Falcons yielded five explosive plays Sunday, including a 48-yard gain for the Bills after Moore was whistled for unnecessary roughness on top of 33-yard reception by receiver Robert Woods.

"We really needed this because we've given up a lot of explosive plays throughout the season," Moore said. "And also we gave up some explosive plays here today.

"Overall, we said it before: We're going to finish. And that's what we did."
Tony Gonzalez, Curtis LoftonAP Photo/David Goldman"It's not the outcome that we wanted," Tony Gonzalez said, but "I'm happy the way we played."
 
ATLANTA – Sean Weatherspoon looked every one of his defensive teammates straight in the eyes before Thursday night's game and encouraged them to play like there was no tomorrow.

The Atlanta Falcons linebacker had delivered plenty of emotional sermons before, including a tearful one at halftime of the Seattle game when he was still on injured reserve. But this time, he was in the line of battle with his teammates in full uniform, prepared to fight right alongside of them.

"Just motivation," Weatherspoon said of this pregame speech. "You get out there and play together, and don't worry about anything else. As long as we have a chance to get on the field, we still feel like we have a chance to help our offense, help win the game. We just talked about playing with a certain energy, man.

"Ultimately, we didn't get the result that we wanted. But we did play with more energy tonight."

Any notion that the Falcons had mailed in the season was put to rest Thursday night, even despite their 17-13 loss to the rival New Orleans Saints. The Falcons played with a sense of urgency despite dropping to a hard-to-imagine 2-9 on the season. They took this game personally, not just because many Saints fans infiltrated the Georgia Dome.

Trying to snap a four-game losing streak and attempting to salvage a dismal season was enough inspiration.

Tight end Tony Gonzalez, who insisted this week that the team hadn't quit on coach Mike Smith, was asked why the Falcons came out so motivated.

"Because we've been getting embarrassed," Gonzalez said. "I hope that's the reason why. We're a better football team than what we've showed these last [four] weeks. I think the way we played today was back to that old Falcons style of football. Obviously, we didn't come out and win. But I'm happy. I'm encouraged by it.

"And don’t get me wrong -- we still lost. It's a bad taste in our mouths. It's not the outcome that we wanted. We're not accepting it. … We're still disappointed. But at the same time, I'm happy the way we played. If we keep that same attitude, like I said before, things are going to be looking good for us in the future. No doubt."

Progress was watching the defense force a three-and-out on the opening drive and limiting Drew Brees and the Saints to three points in the second half. Progress was the Falcons' offense getting consecutive 8-yard runs from Steven Jackson and the line paving the way for Jackson's 1-yard touchdown plunge on its opening drive.

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
AP Photo/Dave MartinSteven Jackson went over the top for his first rushing TD as a Falcon.
Progress was having a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, something the Falcons haven't experienced in recent weeks.

"I felt like the effort in the ballgame was good and gave us a chance to win the football game," Smith said. "I like how we started the game. We liked how we started the game. Felt like we played well, in spurts.''

The Falcons might have surged ahead had it not been for an untimely fumble in the red zone by rookie receiver Darius Johnson at the start of the fourth quarter. It was another one of those miscues symbolic of how the season has imploded. But Smith emphasized that the fumble was not why his team lost the game.

There were other gaping holes. The offensive line allowed too much pressure on Matt Ryan, who was sacked a season-high five times. The defense surrendered another handful of explosive plays, including a 44-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Saints tight end Jimmy Graham on a play that safety William Moore admitted he botched.

Despite those deficiencies, and the costly fumble, the Falcons had a chance in the final minutes. Smith stood behind his decision not to go for a fourth-and-15 from the Saints’ 34-yard line trailing by four with 2:24 left. He opted instead for a 52-yard field-goal try, which Matt Bryant missed after the Saints froze him with a timeout. Smith's thought was to pull to within one with the kick, stop the Saints with three timeouts and then drive for a game-winning field goal.

It didn't work out exactly as planned, but at least the Falcons' effort was spirited.

"I thought that we responded to some momentum changes, to some adversity, in the football game," Smith said. "But still not good enough. When you don't win, it's not good enough."

W2W4: Falcons vs. Saints

November, 21, 2013
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The NFC South clash between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints won't carry the same significance, with the 2-8 Falcons having a down year. But the battle is sure to be spirited regardless of records.

Here's what to watch for on Thursday night:

[+] EnlargeAntone Smith
AP Photo/Reinhold MatayThe Falcons are looking to give Antone Smith more work after he ran for 88 yards on just two carries last week.
Schraeder's time? Garrett Reynolds is expected to regain his starting role at right guard after being benched last week while Peter Konz talked as if he has been replaced by Joe Hawley at center for the immediate future. But the interesting spot to watch on the Falcons offensive line is at right tackle, where Ryan Schraeder, Jeremy Trueblood, and newcomer Sean Locklear all got first-team snaps this week. Trueblood got benched for Schraeder last week while Locklear was inactive. One of the players seems destined to be inactive Thursday, but it would make sense for the Falcons to get a longer look at the rookie Schraeder. "I feel comfortable," Schraeder said. "I'm ready to go, if I need to be called on." He played 22 offensive snaps in the last game. "I got some positive feedback," Schraeder said. "Got coached up on a few things."

Free spirit: Pro Bowl free safety Thomas DeCoud admitted he's not playing his best football right now. At the same time, he didn't appreciate all the blame being pointed his way and vented through social media about it. DeCoud has been nothing but a true professional in terms of dealing with the media, so one would expect him to handle this adversity in the same manner. He won't lose his starting job this week, but the Falcons need him to defend the deep ball better. How soon people forget that DeCoud scored the last defensive touchdown for the Falcons with a 30-yard return of a fumble recovery against the Buccaneers in Week 7.

Pressure point: Speaking of the defense, DeCoud scored his touchdown a result of a perfectly timed blitz by himself and fellow safety William Moore. In fact, the high amount of blitzes dialed up by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was a big factor in the Falcons' last win. Would the same work against Drew Brees and the Saints? Maybe not. According to ESPN Statistics and Information, Brees completed 8 of 9 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 when the Falcons sent five or more pass rushers.

In the running: Mike Smith has said it was imperative to get Antone Smith more involved in the running game after Smith broke off a 50-yard touchdown run last week and gained 88 yards on two carries. That statement came a week after the Falcons said they needed to work their workhorse Steven Jackson more often. That's not to say that Smith will surpass Jackson as the primary ball carrier, but it will be interesting to see how the Falcons deploy Smith against the Saints. Jacquizz Rodgers was limited in practice with an ankle injury and Jason Snelling is in the doghouse following a marijuana arrest, so there will be opportunities for Smith. Plus the 5-foot-9, 192-pound special-teams ace Smith has the right approach. "I feel like I'm playing for a job every time I step in the building," he said.

Ryan's hope: Rob Ryan obviously has made an impact. The Saints had the worst defense in league history in terms of yards allowed last season. Now with Ryan coordinating the defense, the Saints boast the league's fourth-best total defense and third-best passing defense. Ryan comes at you with a variety of different looks, which will test Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's game plan. "He's really good at mixing his personnel groups," Koetter said of Ryan. "Some of how he mixes his groups is determined by the health of his guys. Whoever he's got up on game day, he uses all of his guys." The Saints lost top cornerback Jabari Greer to an ACL injury, which could benefit the Falcons.

Moore expects fines to work both ways

November, 11, 2013
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons safety William Moore expects to receive a fine once again this week, but Moore believes someone else should be penalized for breaking NFL rules in the game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Moore made it clear that he felt Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch grabbed his facemask during Lynch’s rugged, 9-yard catch-and-run during Sunday’s 33-10 win by the Seahawks.

There is plenty of photographic and video evidence to support Moore’s claim.

"Watching the play, he grabbed my facemask," Moore said. "That’s beyond my control as far as making that call."

[+] EnlargeWilliam Moore
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesWilliam Moore said he anticipates appealing whatever fine he is likely to receive this week.
Lynch seems destined to receive at least a $7,875 fine for violating the facemask rule, although he did not draw a flag on the play.

As for Moore, he was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness after striking Seahawks receiver Golden Tate on what appeared to be a violation of the new rule prohibiting initiating contact with the crown of the helmet.

"I can’t control what they call on the field," Moore said. "I just continue to play football; run to the ball. And whatever happens, happens. But at the same time, I hope the NFL looks at it from a player’s standpoint and just knows that we’re out there playing ball. We don’t try and go after defenseless players and try to play dirty. We’re just playing football."

Moore violated the same crown-of-the-helmet rule in Week 1 and received a $21,000 fine and also was fined $15,750 after Week 8 against Arizona for striking Carson Palmer using the crown of his helmet. According to the NFL fine schedule, repeated crown-of-the-helmet offenses can result in a $42,000 fine. Moore received at least one other fine of $15,750 for unnecessarily striking a defenseless receiver in Week 4 against the New England Patriots.

Moore said he appealed the previous fines and will deal with the results of those appeals at the end of the season. He anticipates appealing whatever fine he is likely to receive this week.

"It was a flag, so I look forward to seeing a letter about that," Moore said. "I’ll deal with it when it happens. Look to appeal it, as every other one. But, you know, I’m going to play every week."

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan previously said he talked to Moore about the hits and used repeat offender Dashon Goldson, a hard-hitting and sometimes reckless safety for Tampa Bay, as an example of how not to approach the game. Goldson received a one-game suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit on New Orleans running back Darren Sproles, but that suspension was lowered to a $100,000 fine.

Head coach Mike Smith said the latest penalty on Moore was the correct call. Smith also said the team has talked to Moore about his violent style.

"Am I concerned about William's play? William is a very aggressive player," Smith said. "We talk to him all the time about lowering the point of contact; try to hit in the strike zone. ... And if we take the view of making sure that we're hitting in the strike zone, then we're going to take that out of the judgement call that officials make. And oftentimes, those are judgement calls in terms of those bang-bang plays."

Smith was asked if he was worried about Moore being labeled a dirty player.

"Absolutely not. William Moore is not a dirty football player," Smith said. "He doesn't go out targeting players. He plays the game very aggressively. We need to continue to work on his targets. And what I mean by targets, targeting the strike zone. That's what we teach, and that's what we coach here: is above the knee and below the shoulders."

Time to reboot? Falcons say no way

November, 10, 2013
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Mike SmithDale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsMike Smith received a vote of confidence from his boss on the day the Falcons dropped to 2-7.
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ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons are angry -- angry with themselves and angry with the season.

A 2-7 record is far from what was expected of a team that finished 13-3 in 2012 and came within one win of the Super Bowl.

Now, a season later, there is a negative vibe around the city. Matt Ryan no longer appears on the cusp of joining Tom Brady and Peyton Manning among the NFL's elite quarterbacks. Suddenly, coach Mike Smith's career .700 winning percentage coming into 2013 is a meaningless statistic.

Yes, the Falcons can understand why fans are angry because they're angry, too. But as Ryan put it, there's no reason to surrender and start anew.

"I don't think we need to reboot," Ryan said after a 33-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. "I think [we have] a model and scheme and those kinds of things that have been successful. I think as a player, you have to take the onus. You have to take responsibility for it.

"We've got to play better. And we know that the scheme that we have and the plays that we run are capable of getting the job done. We just need to do it. And as a player, that's the only way your mindset can be."

The coach and quarterback always are primary targets of criticism in times like these. Ryan continues to shoulder his share of the blame for a sputtering offense, and Smith talked about folks doing some reflection to get matters corrected. It obviously irritated him how Seattle dominated the Falcons at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

"I think everyone in this organization and [on] our team needs to take a hard look at themselves, first," Smith said. "That's the most important thing that we need to do. And we will work through this together. When we've had success, we've done it together. And when we're not having success, we're going to do it together as well."

Of course, speculation about Smith's future has become a part of this disastrous season. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff dismissed such talk.

"Mike Smith is a hell of a football coach; he's the leader of this team," Dimitroff told ESPN.com on Sunday. "Mike's going nowhere."

The same unwavering support for Smith was expressed by his players. Safety William Moore surely wasn't going to blame Smith for the five plays of 30-plus yards surrendered by the defense on Sunday, including a 43-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse off a flea-flicker. And Moore wasn't blaming Smith for the defense allowing Marshawn Lynch to rush for 145 yards.

"I'm definitely standing behind Smitty," Moore said. "The type of guy Smitty is, he always says, 'Blame me.' But it's not Smitty. It's far from Smitty. He doesn't go out there and play. He calls the right calls. He puts us in the right position. We're coming up short as players."

Receiver Harry Douglas wasn't blaming Smith for the offense starting the game with two three-and-outs in its first three possessions, compiling just 226 yards in the game and going 4-for-12 on third down.

"We get paid to make plays and we've got to do a better job of it," Douglas said. "It surprises me when people blame [Smith], but that's our world we live in here in 2013. He's been a great coach."

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsMatt Ryan and the Falcons' offense have averaged a mere 11 points over the past three weeks.
Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez said critics of Smith shouldn't ignore the rash of injuries that have placed key players such as Julio Jones, Kroy Biermann and Sean Weatherspoon on injured reserve, although Weatherspoon is scheduled to return next week.

"It seems like it's the vogue thing to do: 'Oh, a team is losing, you've got to fire the coach; it's something wrong with our leadership,'" Gonzalez said. "There's nothing wrong with the leadership. It's nothing wrong with the effort. It's just that we got bit by the injury bug and we don't have the same players like we had last year.

"When you have injuries like that, it's tough to overcome. Not saying you can't overcome them, but we haven't been able to do it this year. And it has nothing to do with the coach."

That's not to say Smith should be absolved completely. He certainly has to shoulder some of the blame for calling a timeout that gave the Seahawks enough time to score a touchdown before halftime. And Smith might have to have one-on-one, heart-to-heart conversations with both offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to make the necessary changes in the game plan.

Whatever happens over the next few days, don't expect Smith just to blow everything up and start looking toward next season with the young players, even if the record indicates that would be the best move at this juncture. He didn't pull the starters at the end of Sunday's game, either.

"We're going to play every game to win," Smith said. "We owe that to the guys in that locker room. We owe that to our fans. We owe that to everybody that's associated with our football team. You only get 16 opportunities to go out and compete, and you want to win every single time you go out and play. And you want to put your best players out there."

The Falcons have seven more games to show they finally get the message. They should have gotten it seven games ago.

Baker back in the lineup for Falcons

November, 3, 2013
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CHARLOTTE -- Atlanta Falcons left tackle Sam Baker, who missed the last three games with a knee injury, is active for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.

Baker
Head coach Mike Smith said Baker would be in the starting lineup, if healthy. That means Lamar Holmes is likely headed to the bench, unless the Falcons decided to start Holmes at right tackle ahead of Jeremy Trueblood.

Also inactive for the Falcons are wide receiver Roddy White and linebacker Stephen Nicholas. White has not yet recovered from hamstring and ankle injuries, while Nicholas has been sidelined by a quad injury.

The other inactives are safety Kemal Ishmael, guard Harland Gunn, tackle Ryan Schraeder, wide receiver Brian Robiskie, and defensive tackle Travian Robertson.

Safety William Moore (hip) and defensive end Osi Umenyiora (knee) are active despite being listed as questionable coming into the game.

Upon Further Review: Falcons Week 8

October, 28, 2013
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A review of five hot issues from the Atlanta Falcons' 27-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals:

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsFalcons QB Matt Ryan spent much of Sunday's game trying to avoid being hit by Cardinals defenders.
Big problem: The Falcons' defense continues to give up big plays, surrendering a backbreaking, 80-yard touchdown run to speedy Cardinals rookie running back Andre Ellington. Defensive tackle Corey Peters and linebacker Paul Worrilow missed the initial opportunity to bring Ellington down up the middle. Then Ellington bounced outside and sprinted by linebacker Joplo Bartu and safety Thomas DeCoud. Safety William Moore, who was on the other side of the play, tried to explain what happened. "Leverage is the name of the game," Moore said. "One person misses their leverage and some more people have to come put their hats on the ball. He got outside the defense, and that's going to happen nine times out of 10 when he gets outside. ... That's one of those plays where everybody could have gotten to the ball a little better." The Falcons have surrendered 11 plays of 40-plus yards this season.

No pointing fingers: Although quarterback Matt Ryan could have used much better protection -- he was sacked four times and hit 11 times -- no one in the locker room said the offensive line needed to do a better job protecting. Wide receiver Harry Douglas even seemed to take offense when it was implied that the offensive line didn't do its job. "I'm not singling anybody out," Douglas said. "We win as a team. We lose as a team. We glorify each other as a team. And we're going to fix it as a team. I think everybody across the board -- offense, defense and special teams -- we all could have did something better to win this football game and step up."

Top target: Speaking of Douglas, he finished with another stellar effort in the loss, catching 12 passes for 121 yards. He was targeted a team-high 18 times. The effort came a week after Douglas posted a career-high 149 receiving yards against Tampa Bay. With Julio Jones out for the season following foot surgery and Roddy White missing his second straight game due to hamstring and ankle injuries, Ryan looked to Douglas often. The Falcons need Douglas to continue that production when White returns to the lineup. Drew Davis, who had a career day versus the Cardinals with five catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, also could be a key part of the equation when White returns.

Tight spot: Tony Gonzalez caught three passes for 26 yards to extend his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 202. But all the talk over the next two days will likely relate to whether the Falcons might consider trading Gonzalez to a contender so he can have the chance to retire with a Super Bowl ring. Gonzalez maintains he wants to finish things out in Atlanta, but he's obviously frustrated by the team's 2-5 mark. Ryan was asked if he talked to Gonzalez following Sunday's game. "Talked to him briefly and same as after we lost in the past," Ryan said. "I think everybody takes it personal. He certainly does, and I do. I think the message across the board is that we just have to get back to work."

Rotating line: When defensive coordinator Mike Nolan addresses the media on Tuesday, he's sure to be asked about his defensive line rotation. Against the Cardinals, veteran starters Osi Umenyiora and Jonathan Babineaux were pulled from the lineup on a few series, including when Ellington broke loose on that 80-yard touchdown run. Cliff Matthews and Peria Jerry were on the field with Peters and Jonathan Massaquoi. Babineaux said it was just the rotation that was decided upon. We'll see how that rotation pans out for the remainder of the season.

Locker Room Buzz: Atlanta Falcons

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
9:10
PM ET
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observed in the locker room after the Atlanta Falcons' 27-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday:

Jackson
No rush: Steven Jackson, in a burgundy sport coat, was dressed to impress following Sunday’s game. But during the action, he was all dressed up with nowhere to go after rushing for just 6 yards on 11 carries in his return from a hamstring injury suffered in Week 2. "It was tough sledding today," Jackson said. "The Arizona defense came out there, did a really good job against the run. Definitely not the production that I wanted to see out of myself."

Big-play problem: There were a lot of long faces in the locker room, and the defensive players seemed to be sulking a little more after surrendering an 80-yard touchdown run to Cardinals running back Andre Ellington. "Leverage is the name of the game," safety William Moore said. "You’ve got to hold leverage. He got outside the defense, and that’s it." Ellington finished with 154 rushing yards on 15 carries. The Falcons also surrendered a 51-yard pass play.

In the rotation: Starting defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux was not on the field for Ellington’s touchdown run. Neither was fellow veteran Osi Umenyiora, the starter at right defensive end. True, the Falcons have been using a rotation along the defensive line while working in young players, but the move seemed a little curious at the time. "You know, we have our rotation on the D-line. I just wasn’t in that series," Babineaux said.

Protection issues: Being behind forced Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan to attempt a career-high 61 passes. The high number of dropbacks meant more opportunities for Ryan to get hit, of course. He was sacked four times, and the Cardinals were credited with 11 quarterback hits. Asked if the offensive line took those stats personally, left tackle Lamar Holmes responded, "You’ve got to. Once we go back and watch the film, we need to see just exactly what happened. We just have to come to practice and work on things that seem to break down."
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- On Thursday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent out a letter to fans emphasizing the league’s safety programs as concussions continue to be a hot topic. In the letter, he talked about rules changes made through the decades to increase the protection for defenseless players.

DeCoud
Moore
If the league is indeed dissecting hits closer these days, then Atlanta Falcons safeties William Moore and Thomas DeCoud felt the effects of that increased scrutiny this week.

Both Moore and DeCoud were fined $15,750 each for plays in last week’s 30-23 loss to the Patriots. Moore was fined for unnecessarily striking defenseless Patriots receiver Kenbrell Thompkins in the head with his forearm, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty. Moore seems likely to appeal after publicly denying he did anything wrong and explaining how he tried to make the hit "as legal as I could" based on his momentum.

DeCoud was fined for hitting Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson in the end zone. DeCoud was not penalized, as he lowered his shoulder and caused Dobson's head and neck to bend awkwardly. It appeared DeCoud was simply trying to make a play, not swarm in for a head shot. Dobson has been limited in practice this week and his status for the Patriots' game on Sunday is in question.

In terms of his fine, DeCoud never mentioned it this week. But he had plenty to say about the play involving Moore.

"That was a little bit questionable,’’ DeCoud said. "It didn’t seem to me like he really made contact with the guy's head or that there was any malicious intent in his attempt to hit him. But the front office, they saw it a different way.’’

No doubt the players will continue to differ with the league about legal and illegal hits. Some have gone as far as to say the NFL is turning into flag football. Whatever the case, the rules are the rules.

Moore might have been one of the first players to be docked pay as a result of a newly implemented rule. He was fined $21,000 after Week 1 against the Saints for initiating contact with the crown of his helmet. Moore was not penalized.

The fallout surrounding that rule mostly related to running backs lowering their heads to run over defenders. But the rule, of course, applies to defensive players as well.

Since Moore has been fined at least twice already this season, one has to wonder if he might tone down his hard-hitting style a tad to avoid penalties and fines. He leads the Falcons with 39 tackles.

"The kind of football player he is and the kind of competitor he is, you can’t just turn off the way you naturally play the game,’’ DeCoud said of Moore. "You can be more mindful of it, but it’s not going to happen overnight.’’
Based on the mood inside the locker room Wednesday, the Atlanta Falcons seemed rather relaxed for a 1-2 team. But they obviously have a sense of urgency going into Sunday night’s matchup with the 3-0 New England Patriots.

If they don’t, here is a number they should be aware of: Since 1990, only 9 percent of teams -- 22 of 258 -- have started the season 1-3 and advanced to the playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The last team to accomplish the feat was the 2011 Denver Broncos and Tim Tebow.

"It strikes some awareness to you,’’ safety William Moore said of the numbers. "It strikes some awareness in that it’s time to buckle down. No more last-minute comebacks and all that. We’ve got to play four quarters from the jump.

"But you can’t focus on those (numbers). If you think like that, you’ll end up 1-15. It would take some momentum away from you down the stretch of the season, and you’ve got to finish the season regardless.’’

Quarterback Matt Ryan carried the same attitude in terms of the numbers working against the Falcons. He was asked about falling too far behind the NFC South rival Saints, who are off to a 3-0 start.

"I think first and foremost, we just need to worry about us,’’ Ryan said. "We can’t worry about what everybody else is doing at this time of the year.

"As far as bouncing back, I think that’s something that we’ve taken pride in around here for a long time. You’ve got to stop that streak at win one, you lose one. You can’t put back-to-back losses together. … We’ve done a pretty good job at that the last five years. But it’s an important football game for us because it’s the next one.’’

Under coach Mike Smith, the Falcons are 22-3 coming off losses. As for Ryan, the last time he was below .500 during the regular season was after Week 5 of the 2011 season. The Falcons were 2-3 at that time but went on to win three in a row en route to a 10-6 record and first-round playoff loss to the Giants.

In order to beat the Patriots, the Falcons have to be more efficient on offense and more effective on defense. Ryan expressed tremendous respect for what New England does defensively.

"They play a lot of man-to-man coverage,'' Ryan said. "They're very sound at what they do. They're in their right spots. They play their scheme really well. And they do a great job with their front seven of creating pressure both in the run game and in the pass game.

"I think first and foremost, we've got to worry about oursevles and concentrate on blocking well, running the right routes, being on time as a quarterback, putting the ball in the right spot. And if we do that, I think we'll execute well against the Patriots defense this week.''

And maybe improve to 2-2.

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