Smith needs to fix the Falcons’ defensive woes

Putting aside their lackluster effort Sunday in New England, the Atlanta Falcons have more than enough offensive talent to reach the Super Bowl. They have a rising superstar at quarterback in Matt Ryan, a solid back in Michael Turner and two excellent receiving weapons in tight end Tony Gonzalez and wideout Roddy White.

But the Falcons aren’t going anywhere unless Mike Smith fixes the issues on the defensive side of the ball.

Atlanta’s game plan in its loss to New England on Sunday was befuddling. They often only rushed four down linemen and allowed Tom Brady to stand back in the pocket for seconds, minutes and even hours (maybe not hours, but it sure seemed like it) on end. What should frustrate the Falcons is that Brady wasn’t very good, especially in the first half. He routinely overthrew his receivers and often failed to hit them in stride despite having loads of time to get the ball out of his hand.

I want to meet the person for the Falcons that watched the tape of the Jets’ win over the Patriots last week and decided not to attack Brady with multiple defensive fronts. I get that Atlanta didn’t want to be burned deep by Moss and was getting beat by New England’s screen passes in the first half, but why the Falcons didn’t get more aggressive in the second half is beyond me.

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Don’t let New England’s win fool you – the Pats are far from fixed

Patriots 26, Falcons 10.

The Patriots are back right? They rolled over a good Falcons team today and they’re back. They’re ready to take control of the AFC East again and stomp everyone in their way.

Uh, not quite.

The Patriots definitely deserved to win Sunday because they were the better team. But the Falcons should be embarrassed by their effort, because they were outplayed and outcoached in every phase of the game. Simply put, Atlanta wasn’t ready to go into New England today and earn a victory.

This game is a perfect example of how stats sometimes lie. Tom Brady threw for 277 yards and a touchdown on 25 of 42 passing, but if he were more efficient, his numbers should have been dazzling. The Falcons were brutal defensively. They generated zero pressure, allowed Brady to sit back in the pocket for minutes at a time and were completely unimaginable in their play calling.

Brady had all day to throw and yet he could only muster 277 yards. Don’t be fooled by his stats – he wasn’t that impressive today as he consistently overthrew open receivers and benefited from the horrendous play of Atlanta cornerback Chris Houston and one of his offensive lineman holding on a fourth quarter touchdown pass to Chris Baker to seal the game. (Seriously, John Abraham was molested as the New England O-line bear-hugged him and the refs did nothing.)

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NFL Week 3 Snapshot Previews

Here are quick-hit previews for all the Week 3 games in the NFL.

Redskins (1-1) at Lions (0-2), 1:00PM ET
Don’t be shocked if the Lions end their massive losing streak today at home against a very average Redskins team. Thanks to Jim Zorn’s conservative play calling, Washington’s offense has become unimaginable and bland. If Matthew Stafford limits the turnovers, the Lions have a shot.

Packers (1-1) at Rams (0-2), 1:00PM ET
St. Louis played well defensively last week and Green Bay has major issues along its offensive line – could this be an upset in the making? Probably not. The Rams’ offense has looked atrocious in the first two weeks of the season and although Dom Capers’ defense looked horrendous last week, the Packers should manage to beat a bad St. Louis team. (Although this game might be tighter than most expect.)

49ers (2-0) at Vikings (2-0), 1:00PM ET
This is the only matchup in Week 3 that features two 2-0 teams. This game will be the Vikings’ first real challenge after earning victories against the lowly Browns and Lions in the first two weeks. The key for the 49ers will be stopping Adrian Peterson, because Brett Favre won’t find much success through the air against San Fran’s solid secondary. Can Shaun Hill make enough plays in the passing game to lead his team to victory once the Williams Wall takes away Frank Gore?

Falcons (2-0) at Patriots (1-1), 1:00PM ET
This game will be a great test for both teams to see where they are at this point in the season. A win for the Falcons and they’ll be viewed as one of the elite teams in the NFC, while a loss for the Patriots means that it could be panic time for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Conversely, if Atlanta loses then everyone will question whether or not the Falcons can beat the top teams in the league, while a win for New England will quiet some of the concerns surrounding the Pats.

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Patriots need a win this week

The general consensus surrounding the New England Patriots these days is that the sky is falling.

Tom Brady doesn’t look the same.

Bill Belichick can’t win without his coveted videotapes.

The entire defense is a mess.

It’s true – the Patriots are in trouble. Brady didn’t look comfortable last week as the Jets’ defense used multiple looks to confuse him at the line. He generally looked confused and befuddled as Rex Ryan sent extra defenders from all angles and for Brady to look confused and befuddled is a telltale sign that things aren’t right in New England’s world.

But doubting Brady and Belichick when their backs are against a wall is about as smart as taking anything Skip Bayless says to heart. It’s just not wise to write off the Pats, especially coming off a loss.

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2009 NFL Picks & Predictions: Week 3

Here are my four predictions for Week 3 in the NFL. Last week I went 3-1 straight up (friggin’ Titans) and 1-3 against the spread so as usual, gamblers should have no qualms about fading. (These are also my season totals since I didn’t make any predictions for Week 1.)

Titans (0-2) at Jets (2-0), Sunday, 1:00PM ET
It would be foolish to pick against a hot team with everything working in their favor right now…right? Well, I’m going to do it anyway. Jeff Fisher’s team is too good to be 0-2 and while I love what Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez have brought to the Jets, the law of averages suggest that a rookie quarterback is going to struggle at some point. Tennessee’s defense has a way of making opposing quarterbacks look bad (save of their performance last week against Matt Schaub, who threw four touchdown passes) and I’m willing to bet Sanchez suffers some growing pains this week. The key for the Titans is whether or not Kerry Collins can avoid turnovers while facing a New York defense that will use multiple fronts and attack him from all angles. Getting Chris Johnson involved in screen and draw plays would be beneficial for Tennessee, especially if the Jets’ defense continues to be aggressive under Ryan. I don’t see the Titans falling to 0-3 and I think Ryan and Sanchez’s come down to earth a bit this week.
Odds: Jets –3.
Prediction: Titans 16, Jets 13.

Falcons (2-0) at Patriots (1-1), 1:00PM ET
This is the most intriguing game on the Week 3 schedule because it will serve as a great indication of where both of these teams are right now. The Falcons are 2-0 after beating two playoff teams from a year ago (the Dolphins and Panthers, respectively) and Matt Ryan is off to a tremendous start (108.5 QB rating). But Atlanta’s defense will be tested this weekend against a New England offense that was held to only nine points a week ago and will no doubt be focused on rebounding. Tom Brady hasn’t looked comfortable on his surgically repaired knee and seemed confused by the amount of looks that the Jets’ defense gave him last week. If the Falcons can get creative with their front seven, they might be able to generate pressure on Brady and come up with a couple of turnovers. If that happens, Ryan has more than enough weapons (Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, etc.) in the passing game to pick apart a Patriots’ defense that is riddled with holes right now. It’s usually unwise to go against Bill Belichick and the Patriots when they’re pissed off and needing a win, but this isn’t the same New England defense that we’ve seen throughout the years and I think Ryan will lead Atlanta to a huge victory at Foxboro.
Odds: Patriots –4.
Prediction: Falcons 30, Patriots 27.

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