Unite or Die: The Revolution in Georgia.
ATLANTA — The Falcons have work to do heading into their off week, time they’ll spend looking for ways to improve the running game, stop opponents from running so effectively and evaluating a couple of players who might bolster the secondary.
Atlanta (2-1) was overpowered by New England 26-10 on Sunday, a game that exposed weaknesses on both sides of the ground game.
The Patriots rushed for 168 yards on 39 carries, a large reason for their huge advantage in time of possession (39:49 to 20:11). That wasn’t a good start for a revamped defensive line, which had to make up for the loss of first-round pick Peria Jerry to a season-ending knee injury the previous week.
Thomas Johnson moved up to start in place of Jerry at defensive tackle, and Trey Lewis got on the field for the first time in nearly two years. He missed all of last season recovering from a knee injury, and wasn’t active for the first two games this season.
"He definitely had some rust on him," coach Mike Smith said Monday. "Trey can play better than he did. We know that. But just because we had Trey and not Peria Jerry at defensive tackle, believe me that was not the reason we didn’t defend the run."
Smith blamed all three parts of the defense: linemen, linebackers and secondary.
"We weren’t gap sound," the coach said. "Anytime you’re giving up 6-, 7- and 8-yard runs, someone is probably out of their gap. That was definitely an issue. We definitely need to evaluate not only the defensive line and the secondary. All three units are involved in defending the run."
While the problems stopping the run might have been anticipated, especially with New England frequently using two and three tight ends, Atlanta’s ground game was a major disappointment. Michael Turner, the NFL’s second-leading rusher a year ago, managed only 56 yards on 15 carries. Overall, the Falcons ran the ball just 17 times for 58 yards.
"It wasn’t a good surprise," Smith said. "The main tenet of our offense if being able to run the football. When we run it successfully, we enhance our chances of winning the game.
"I think the guys are blocking well up front. We just haven’t run it as well as we would like. That’s something we will address and are addressing right now."
The Falcons will practice three times this week and plan to use those sessions to get a long look at cornerback Tye Hill and rookie safety William Moore.
Hill, a former first-round pick by St. Louis, was acquired late in the preseason and sat out the first two games while learning Atlanta’s defensive scheme. Moore, a second-round pick out of Missouri expected to contend for a starting spot, underwent minor surgery on his left knee during camp and has yet to play.
Both should be available when the Falcons travel to San Francisco to face the 49ers on Oct. 11, according to Smith. Hill could give a challenge to cornerbacks Chris Houston and Brent Grimes, while Moore might contend for playing time with strong safety Thomas DeCoud.
"We’re not in a game-planning situation," Smith said. "Tye is going to get an opportunity to play in our scheme this week. We’re going to take a good hard look at Tye this week in terms off verbiage and understanding our scheme."
As for Moore, "he’s been practicing over the last week and we’re going to amp him up this week."