Hot Topics with the Falcons

With Jacksonville allowing 282 rushing yards in a season-opening loss to Tennessee last week, the Falcons hope to kick start a running game that was relatively stagnant in their rough start at Minnesota.

Atlanta, which led the NFL in rushing the past three seasons, managed 96 rushing yards against the Vikings' stout run defense. However, there was no rhythm to the ground game and only one breakout run -- a far cry from the abundance of big hitters Warrick Dunn, Jerious Norwood and indefinitely suspended quarterback Michael Vick provided last season.

The Falcons are using a lot more of the zone-blocking schemes they used the past three seasons than initially anticipated, but against the Vikings there were fewer cutback lanes than usual. Atlanta is trying to figure ways to get more push up front, especially when it resorts to more traditional in-line blocking. Right guard Kynan Forney and right tackle Todd Weiner provide most of the muscle for the more traditional type of blocking.

Rookie left guard Justin Blalock had a pretty rough go of things against Minnesota's standout defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams. Things aren't going to get any easier for him this week with Marcus Stroud and John Henderson inside, so he has to make significant progress in a short period of time to help make the running game work.

To bolster the running attack, the Falcons might use fullback Ovie Mughelli a lot more than they did in the opener. Once Atlanta fell behind, it resorted to more one-back, spread sets, leaving Mughelli watching from the sideline. Mughelli could be needed this week to provide more run-blocking help. He also could be called upon to aid in the protection of quarterback Joey Harrington, who was sacked six times.

The Falcons feel that if they are able to establish any semblance of a running game early and pull at least one safety closer to the line of scrimmage, they will be able to take more downfield shots in the passing game.

    --QB Joey Harrington said he's not rattled or shaken up by his two interceptions, six-sack performance in Sunday's 24-3 loss to Minnesota. Most of his struggles came in the fourth quarter, when the Vikings had staked a 17-3 lead and turned the defense loose because the Falcons were in obvious passing situations, he said.

    "It wasn't like there were massive breakdowns," Harrington said. "We had two plays where the ball bounced the other way and that was the difference in the game. We played them in a very tight, hard fought game."

    --FB Ovie Mughelli could be more of a factor against Jacksonville, especially in pass protection. Atlanta might have to use more blockers from the skill position. With the Falcons trying to establish the run, Mughelli likely will be on the field more as the Falcons use more two-back sets.

    --RB Warrick Dunn said he did not feel any lingering effects of the surgical procedure he had just before the start of training camp. Other than typical bumps and bruises following the game, he said he felt fine.

    --RB Jerious Norwood will be utilized more as the Falcons try to figure out how to generate more big plays. Norwood is the team's most threatening big play back and he could be used a decent amount as a receiver Sunday.

    --Tight ends Alge Crumpler and Dwayne Blakley played a lot together, with both taking turns as H-back or motion men in both the run and the passing game. Blakley, a solid, rangy receiver, is rapidly emerging as a key element in Petrino's offense.

    --WR Roddy White's four catches tied the second-most ever he's had in a game. His career-best is five, which he reached just once.

    --FS Chris Crocker could return from a bone bruise in his right knee but it could be hard for him to unseat Jimmy Williams, who had a solid debut as Crocker's replacement.

    --DB Antoine Harris worked out well as the nickel back -- Chris Crocker is also the Falcons' nickel --- and he likely would remain in that role against Jacksonville.

    --Rookie CB Chris Houston could not beat out veteran Lewis Sanders for the starting job on the right side but Houston will play a lot in a three-cornerback, one-safety package implemented by defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

    --Rookie WLB Stephen Nicholas started and played the second half in place of regular starter Demorrio Williams. Coach Bobby Petrino said that was the plan since Williams was limited in preseason. Whether that will be the plan this week could be determined Wednesday. Nicholas had a very solid preseason and is a player the Falcons said they would have to find a way to get onto the field.

    --Two players the Falcons used as their top backup guard and tackle last season were inactive last week. Tyson Clabo, who started nine games, and Quinn Ojinnaka, were replaced on the active roster by C/G Ben Wilkerson and T Renardo Foster. It appears the Falcons will stick with that rotation for the time being.

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