Enemy Lines Postgame: Atlanta Falcons
By Site Staff
Most fans probably want an update on the status of Michael Vick, but quarterback isn't the position that concerns the Falcons most right now.
Losing middle linebacker Ed Hartwell to a torn Achilles and nickel cornerback Chris Cash to a broken arm and wrist removes two important players from a defense that's coming off an ugly beating after New England scored 31 points and hammered out 483 net yards at the Georgia Dome.
Ike Reese, the logical candidate to replace Hartwell, showed some moxie in holding Corey Dillon and Patrick Pass to a combined two rushing yards on the three attempts the eight-year veteran had to make plays in the middle. As far as being a long-term solution, Reese might serve the team better as a backup because of the important roles he has on special teams.
That means rookie Antoine Cash, who made the final cut as an un-drafted free agent, will get a look in the middle. He was inactive the last couple of weeks with a groin injury, but has played only on special teams. Rookie Michael Boley, a fifth-round draft choice and a teammate of Cash's at Southern Mississippi, is better suited to play on the weak side.
Head coach Jim Mora met Monday with his veteran linebackers to gauge where they believe they can best help the defense in San Antonio Sunday. Atlanta certainly catches a break; playing the Saints after they've lost star running back Deuce McAllister for the rest of the season.
"What we have to do is consider not only the ramifications on defense but also special teams," Mora said. "Those guys do play a big part in our special teams packages. We have not made any decisions yet. We are just kind of hashing it out. I want to talk to Keith, Ike, Demorrio and Michael. I want to get their input and feeling, and then we will decide. We will go forward with what we think is the best decision to help us win both on defense and special teams."
Vick's status remains uncertain. Whether he plays or not against the struggling Saints is likely to depend on whether he can practice by Thursday.
--If the safeties play any worse than they did against New England, the Falcons are in trouble. Keion Carpenter and Bryan Scott were routinely not even in the same vicinity as the New England receivers while Patriots quarterback Tom Brady carved up the secondary.
"They're a great team or they wouldn't have won three out of the last four Super Bowls," Carpenter said. "But we gave them 21 points yesterday. We gave it to them. I don't take anything away from Tom Brady or Bill Belichick and that staff -- they did a great job of game planning. They came out and played great, but we looked at the film and we gave those guys 21 points. And I don't care who you're playing. If you give somebody points like that, it's going to be hard for you to win and you put your back against the wall."
--First they lost Kevin Mathis. Now they're without Chris Cash. That means the personnel department began exploring alternatives Sunday afternoon. Atlanta can survive a week by plugging in somebody already on the roster, but no current player can hold down the slot position if the Falcons are to return to the playoffs this season.
"Guys like Les Snead, Ray Farmer, and Rich McKay will go out and say, 'Is there someone else that fits that mold that we can bring in?' If there is, then we will do it," Head coach Jim Mora said. "If there is not, then Omare Lowe, Leigh Torrence, Christian Morton, and Allen Rossum have to fill that role, and they will. They will. That is what we expect."
--Count running back Warrick Dunn among those giving props to Matt Schaub after the backup quarterback held the offense together and produced four touchdown drives. Dunn was relieved that the offense didn't fall apart without starter Michael Vick in uniform.
"No, we didn't miss a beat and I think that's the good thing about the offense and this team is that Mike wasn't in there and we still went out there and played well and made plays," Dunn said. "We didn't make plays early. We made plays late, and I think that's what hurt us. But you could see that it's not just built around one guy. This is a team, and I thought it was important that we just went out and played well. Schaub did a great job coming in."
--RB T.J. Duckett averaged six yards on five carries. He deserves credit for showing patience, making excellent reads and hitting holes hard.
--TE Alge Crumpler showed again why he is an elite player. He was the first read for QB Matt Schaub, who delivered a perfect spiral down the seam for a 25-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
--LT Kevin Shaffer limped off the field in the third quarter with an undisclosed leg injury, but he didn't miss a snap and returned to help the offense score two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
--FS Bryan Scott, depending on which statistical service you choose, either had one tackle or none. That kind of production is inexcusable for a third-year veteran who started and took every defensive snap.
--SLB Demorrio Williams all but disappeared on some plays and was flattened on others as New England pulled guards to get him out of the way on big gains. Hopefully, Williams can use this letdown as a learning experience.