NFC South: Henry Ellard

METAIRIE, La. -- Very quietly, and it’s hard to imagine he’d want it any other way, Marques Colston turned 30 on Wednesday.

Not even receivers coach Henry Ellard was aware his best receiver was celebrating a significant birthday.

“Really?" Ellard asked when a reporter informed him it was Colston’s birthday. “OK, well, all the young guys will have to sing 'Happy Birthday' to him in the meeting room.’’

None of that is surprising. In a sport where there is a long history of wide receivers with diva personalities, Colston is the anti-diva. He’s quiet and shies away from attention.

“He’s truly special,’’ Ellard said. “I can’t really put it into words. The things he does are special. He doesn’t care for the hoopla. He just comes to work and aims to please, and you couldn’t ask for a better guy than that.

“I was blessed to have a Torry Holt (when Ellard coached for the St. Louis Rams) and Isaac Bruce was the same way. They were very quiet, went about their business and took a lot of pride in what they did, and Marques is the same way.’’

But a 30th birthday isn’t always a great day for a wide receiver. Many people say receivers tend to start slowing down once they hit their 30s.

Ellard doesn’t see any signs that Colston is ready to slow down.

“No, not at all,’’ Ellard said. “He takes great care of himself. He’s lasted a long time, and he’s going to last a lot more time. The weight program we have going on this year I think is going to make him a little more stronger, and more durable, and I think that’s really going to pay off.’’

Plus, there is tangible evidence that Colston isn’t anywhere near the end of his career. He caught 83 passes for 1,154 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. That yardage total was the best Colston has produced since 2008.
With some help from ESPN Stats & Information and the Atlanta Falcons' media relations department, let’s take a look at some statistical superlatives on the 30-17 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
  • Philadelphia changed defensive coordinators, from Juan Castillo to Todd Bowles, during its bye week. But that didn’t really matter. Like Castillo, Bowles didn’t use the blitz much at all. The Eagles sent four or fewer pass rushers on 30 of quarterback Matt Ryan’s 33 dropbacks. Ryan responded by completing 73.1 percent of his passes in those situations for an average of 8.7 yards per attempt with three touchdowns. All three of those were season highs against the Philadelphia defense when sending four or fewer pass rushers.
  • This might be my favorite stat of the day. Ryan completed nine of 10 screen passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. We’ve talked before about how new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has made the screen pass a bigger part of an Atlanta offense that rarely threw screens when Mike Mularkey was calling the plays the previous four seasons. But attempting 10 screens in one game? That’s not just a big deal by Atlanta’s standards. No quarterback in the league had attempted more than eight screen passes in a game before Ryan did it Sunday.
  • Ryan has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 22 straight games. That’s the third-longest active streak in the NFL, behind Drew Brees (49) and Tom Brady (40). Ryan has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 37 of his last 39 games.
  • The victory was the 50th of Ryan's career. Ryan tied Ben Roethlisberger among active quarterbacks by getting his 50th win in his 69th career start. The only quarterback to get to 50 wins faster is Tom Brady, who did it in 65 starts.
  • Ryan had three touchdown passes. That’s the 15th time in his career Ryan has thrown at least three touchdowns and the Falcons are 15-0 when that has happened.
  • Ryan’s 137.4 passer rating was the third-best of his career. The Falcons are 28-0 when Ryan has a passer rating above 100.
  • Ryan’s 63-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones was his longest scoring strike of the season.
  • Jones finished with five catches for a season-high 123 yards (a 24.6-yard average). Jones has seven career 100-yard games and all of them have come on the road. In 11 career road games, Jones has 10 touchdown catches. He also has a touchdown catch in his last seven road games.
  • Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said he wanted to use last week’s bye to try to improve a run defense that wasn’t very good early in the season. Whatever he did worked. An Atlanta defender made contact with running back LeSean McCoy behind the line of scrimmage on five of his 16 rushes. The Falcons held the Eagles to 92 yards on the ground.
  • The Falcons became the first team to beat the Eagles after a bye since Andy Reid became the coach in 1999. Prior to Sunday, Reid’s teams were 13-0 coming off the bye.
  • Atlanta scored a touchdown on its opening possession. Since coach Mike Smith’s arrival in 2008, the Falcons have scored a league-high 200 points on opening possessions.
  • The Falcons continue to get second-year running back Jacquizz Rodgers more involved in the offense. Rodgers finished with 110 all-purpose yards. He rushed for 60 yards on eight carries, had 20 yards on five receptions and 30 yards on two kickoff returns.
  • Tight end Tony Gonzalez moved into ninth place on the all-time receiving yardage list. Gonzalez now has 13,797 yards. He passed Henry Ellard, who had 13,777 yards.
  • Defensive end Kroy Biermann had his best game of the season, making seven tackles (five solo) with one sack, one tackle for a loss and a quarterback hit.
  • Defensive end John Abraham recorded his seventh sack of the season and the 119th sack of his career. Abraham is the league’s active leader in career sacks.

Around the NFC South

March, 15, 2012
The third day of free agency is starting off much more quietly in the NFC South than the first two. Let’s see if it stays that way and let’s kick it off by taking a look at the latest headlines around the division.

It took quite a bit of time, but the New Orleans Saints finally have found a replacement for Curtis Johnson, who left to become the head coach at Tulane. He’ll be replaced by Henry Ellard, who played for the Redskins and Rams and has spent the past three seasons coaching receivers for the Jets.

Jeff Duncan writes that the Saints’ offense won’t get any worse after the loss of guard Carl Nicks and receiver Robert Meachem. I’ll go ahead and agree with that, but I’ll also say I don’t think the offense will get any better. Then again, there’s not a lot of room for improvement.

D. Orlando Ledbetter reports the Falcons still are interested in defensive end Kendall Langford, who has visited with the Bengals. I’m still convinced the Falcons will add a pass-rusher somewhere in free agency. And probably a left tackle, too.

Baltimore free-agent safety Haruki Nakamura will visit the Carolina Panthers. Don’t get too excited. Nakamura has been a career backup and special-teams player.

We already told you linebacker David Hawthorne will be visiting the Saints. But the team also is showing interest in Denver linebacker Joe Mays.