Inside slant: Atlanta Week 16 preview

Here's the "Inside Slant," your twice-weekly source for news about the Bucs' NFC South rivals. Today's edition previews Week 16's games, including personnel news, analysis and insider matchups for the Atlanta Falcons. It's a premium service from Bucsblitz.com.

Where do the Falcons go from here?

The question is a root with several stems. General manager? Coach? Image?

Bill Parcells' decision to pull out of an agreement reached with team owner Arthur Blank on Wednesday left the franchise a punch line once again in a season filled with so many disappointments.

"When the franchise is in the state that we're in right now, you've got to get the biggest name possible to try and breathe some kind of life into the situation," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said sarcastically. "That's what they're going to do. We'll see."

Blank has been left high and dry in a span of eight days, first by miscast Bobby Petrino, who bolted with three games left to take over at the University of Arkansas, and now by Parcells, who apparently leveraged the Falcons to get a better deal from the Miami Dolphins.

That Blank ignored signs that both men had histories of pulling out of commitments -- or thought that they would change their stripes because he is a well-paying, trusting owner -- left him vulnerable to even more criticism and embarrassment.

What makes the latest transgression even more painful is that Blank pursued Parcells with little or no input from any people on his staff with the Falcons.

Even with Parcells out of the picture, Rich McKay has had his general manager duties stripped from him -- a fall from grace for a longtime NFL man who was actually up for the NFL commissioner's job last year. McKay will hold GM duties until a replacement is hired, Blank said.

The stability of the franchise is very shaky right now. The remaining coaches figure that they are on borrowed time. Now, the personnel staff and other employees figure they could be shipped out. And players are beyond eager for the season to end so they can get away from this mess.

Interim coach Emmitt Thomas said once everyone is on the field, the distractions evaporate, but in losing the last five games, the Falcons have not shown much will to uphold their duties as football players.

"We don't have an answer for that," Thomas said about the constant barrage of distraction. "Things we can't control we're not going to worry about."

SERIES HISTORY

24th regular-season meeting. The Falcons trail the series 13-10 but have won the last four. Atlanta last defeated Arizona 32-10 in 2006 after scoring 23 unanswered points. The Cardinals last beat the Falcons in 1997 in Phoenix, 29-26.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Falcons fell to last in the NFL in scoring after putting up just three points in last week's 37-3 loss to Tampa Bay.

--Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt interviewed for the Falcons' head coaching job last season but was bypassed in favor of Bobby Petrino. Whisenhunt played tight end for the Falcons.

--Arizona QB Matt Leinart replaced Kurt Warner in the fourth quarter of the teams' most recent meeting. Leinart completed five of eight passes for 49 yards.

--The Falcons kicked six field goals in their 22-point victory over Arizona in 2006.

--RB Jerious Norwood's 78-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of last season's game is the longest touchdown run in Falcons history.

BY THE NUMBERS: 6

Seasons the Falcons have gone since not having a player selected to the Pro Bowl. They were shut out again this year.

QUOTE TO NOTE

"I can't deal with another crazy coach. I can't say 'crazy,' but I can't deal with another coach who takes the fun out of the game." -- CB DeAngelo Hall.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

In an attempt to get QB Chris Redman into some type of rhythm after last week's disastrous performance, Atlanta could use a no-huddle offense. Redman sees the field well if allowed to establish a tempo, especially early.

The no-huddle strategy also could be a way to get the offensive line dialed in. Individuals in the group have lost focus at times, and if they're not given much time to ponder things, it could keep them in line.

--Linebackers coach Brian VanGorder has accepted the job as the University of South Carolina's defensive coordinator. VanGorder will coach with the Falcons through the end of the season before joining Steve Spurrier's staff. VanGorder returns to the SEC, where he served as Mark Richt's defensive coordinator at the University of Georgia.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--Rookie LG Justin Blalock will be back in the starting lineup after being inactive the past two games. The coaching staff felt that Blalock had hit the rookie wall, so he was given a few weeks to get physically and mentally refreshed.

"They drafted him the second round, and we think there's a high ceiling for this young man," interim coach Emmitt Thomas said. "Because of the length of the season, (offseason workouts) and everything, we think he got in a rut, so we wanted to give him a rest and look at the other guy (D'Anthony Batiste) a little bit. I think we're going to bring him back and let him finish out the season."

--With rookie CB Chris Houston nursing minor knee soreness, the Falcons are going to get fellow rookie David Irons on the field, interim coach Emmitt Thomas said. Irons is the team's top special teams player, and the Falcons want to see how well he can play in defensive situations.

--In addition, Brent Grimes, an undrafted second-year player, also will get some playing time at cornerback. He is an incredibly gifted player who has been beset by injuries. Grimes arguably has the best coverage skills among the corners besides DeAngelo Hall, but he's been kept on the practice squad because of his inability to stay healthy.

GAME PLAN

Defensively, the Falcons will have to get creative to get pressure on QB Kurt Warner. With DE John Abraham bothered by a sore left knee, OLB Michael Boley could line up in a variety of positions and either bring heat off the edge or run twists with the defensive end to get through tackle-tight end gaps.

With the offense being incredibly anemic, the defense has to try to keep Arizona deep in its territory in hopes that the Falcons can at least move the ball far enough beyond midfield to kick a few field goals.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Falcons CB Chris Houston vs. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald. With Houston standing 5-foot-10, teams have been targeting him with fade routes in the end zone. Houston is a physical player, but he's had trouble consistently getting his hands on receivers to knock them off routes. Atlanta must provide over-the-top help with a safety to protect Houston.

INJURY IMPACT

The possible inability of Abraham (knee) to play will call for Chauncey Davis to try to generate some pass pressure. Davis has two sacks this season and has been very physical in the limited number of snaps he's played. With little pressure being created by DTs Montavious Stanley and Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta also is going to blitz a lot, leaving the zones open for intermediate routes.


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