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Monday, December 16, 2013
Upon Further Review: Falcons Week 15

By Vaughn McClure

ATLANTA -- A review of five key issues from the Atlanta Falcons' 27-26 win over the Washington Redskins on Sunday at the Georgia Dome:

For starters: Osi Umenyiora, who started all 13 games leading into Sunday, suddenly came off the bench against the Redskins as the Falcons started second-year defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi at Umenyiora's usual right defensive end spot. On first look, it appeared to be another veteran being benched as part of the team's youth movement. But coach Mike Smith quickly dismissed such a notion. "We wanted to work Osi in our sub package, and the way that they presented the formations early in the ballgame, he was not out there," Smith explained. "But Osi, we wanted to put him on a pitch count and get him ramped up rushing the passer. And I think it paid dividends. He did a very good job rushing the passer for us in basically a [designated pass-rusher] role." Umenyiora had the team's only sack and forced a fumble. It will be interesting to see how he is utilized over the final two games.

On the line: Starting undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder at right tackle wasn't the only change made along the offensive line. The Falcons also inserted Harland Gunn at right guard on occasion for starter Peter Konz as Gunn was active for the first time this season. Gunn made at least one key block to spring Steven Jackson's 11-yard run. "It was pretty exciting, man," Gunn said. "I hadn't been out on the field for a while. It was good being out there with my teammates. They pulled me along throughout the game. It just felt good contributing to a win." As for Schraeder, he allowed Ryan Kerrigan to sack Matt Ryan in the second quarter, leading to a Ryan fumble and Falcons turnover. Schraeder quickly settled down. "Obviously, I had one play I wish I could take back,'' he said. "[Kerrigan] just made a good play on me. It just ended up bad. And then, I had a false start. But other than that, I felt like I played really well."

Action Jackson: The final numbers showed Jackson running for just 38 yards on 15 carries, with an average of 2.5 yards per carry. Yet two of Jackson's carries went for touchdowns, which is the kind of production the Falcons need from the bruising, veteran running back. Jackson gave the offense great balance on the Falcons' opening 14-play, 83-yard drive that ended with his 3-yard touchdown burst on which he blasted Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson. "You know, you're going to have someone that's going to be in the hole, and I was able to square him off and get underneath him and try to deliver a blow and set a tempo for the game," Jackson said. It's the kind of tough running the Falcons will need from Jackson moving forward. Now, they just have to get better blocking in front of him, as a failed fourth-and-goal showed.

Man down: Injuries have been a key factor in the Falcons' demise this season, and another one hit the team Sunday. Linebacker and defensive leader Sean Weatherspoon, who missed seven games earlier in the season with a Lisfranc foot sprain, suffered a knee injury and did not return to the game. Smith did not update Weatherspoon's status afterward. Weatherspoon was limited with a knee injury leading up to the Green Bay game, so the injury could have lingered or been aggravated. "Anytime Spoon is out there, he's on another level performing," fellow linebacker Paul Worrilow said of his teammate. "It sucks anytime anybody gets injured." At least Stephen Nicholas stepped into the lineup after Weatherspoon's injury and caused a fourth-quarter fumble, recovered by Jonathan Babineaux.

Always ready: Safety William Moore said last Friday he would have to step up big while playing alongside three rookies in the defensive backfield. Moore followed through with a key third-quarter interception -- which he nearly returned for a score -- to set up a Jackson touchdown right after the Redskins had a goal-line stand. Moore also came up with a fumble recovery after a forced fumble by Robert McClain. "William made some game-changing plays," Smith said. "He has over the last month, in terms of his ability to change the game." When you've surrendered as many explosive plays as the Falcons have, you need someone who is willing to step up and make a game-changing defensive play.