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  1. #1
    txramsfan's Avatar
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    Atlanta's D Line shifts from worst to first

    http://www.sportsline.com/nfl/story/8090077

    Atlanta's defensive line shifts from worst to first
    Jan. 11, 2005
    SportsLine.com wire reports

    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- They've known what it means to be a laughingstock, the supposed first line of defense for a team that gave up yards at an alarming rate.

    No one's laughing anymore.

    Bolstered by a new scheme, a key free-agent signing and better depth, the Atlanta Falcons' front four is now recognized as one of the best in the NFL.

    The numbers sure back it up. The Falcons led the league with 48 sacks and ranked eighth against the run -- a stunning turnaround for a team that surrendered a franchise-worst 6,108 yards just one season ago.

    "It confirms to these guys that, 'Yeah, you are good,' " said defensive line coach Bill Johnson, who actually got a little choked up while pondering how much things have changed. "They've worked so hard, come through so much, going back to when everybody thought they were the worst in the league."

    Patrick Kerney gets much of the notoriety, a Pro Bowl end who ranked fourth in the league with 13 sacks. But he's quick to point out that it's hardly a one-man show in the trenches.

    Just take a look at tackle Rod Coleman, signed as a free agent after five seasons with the Oakland Raiders. Even though he missed three games recovering from injuries sustained in a car wreck, Coleman still managed 11 sacks, forced a team-high five fumbles and broke up six passes.

    Most telling, the Falcons had only one sack in the games Coleman missed. He's a disruptive force in the middle of the line, often tying up several blockers and freeing up plenty of space for his teammates.

    "The best thing about Rod is he came here from a different system, a different philosophy, and he bought in to what we wanted to do," Kerney said. "You've got to have four guys pushing the pocket together, not four guys rushing individually."

    Led by Michael Vick and a resurgent defense, the Falcons won only the third division title in franchise history. After getting a first-round bye, they are hosting the St. Louis Rams in an NFC playoff game Saturday night.

    Kerney and Coleman are joined along the front four by end Brady Smith, who has six sacks, three forced fumbles, two recovered fumbles, and tackle Ed Jasper, whose numbers are more modest because he missed the last four games of the regular season with a wrist injury.

    The changes began shortly after Jim Mora was hired as coach and brought in Ed Donatell, formerly of Green Bay, as defensive coordinator.

    The new staff quickly switched to the 4-3 scheme, which has definitely been a better fit for Kerney than the previous three-man front. He can rely on his speed and quickness to rush the quarterback from the outside, instead of matching up head-on with much bigger linemen.

    The coaches also knew that more depth was required. Kerney figures he took every defensive snap in at least six games a year ago, and it was about the same in 2002, as well.

    "It builds up when you don't have a chance to recover," Kerney said. "It's like the energy bar on the video game. I could never get it back to full strength."

    It's not that way anymore.

    Fifth-round pick Chad Lavalais has bolstered things on the inside. After Jasper was hurt, the rookie stepped in without any noticeable drop-off..

    Jasper has recovered in time for the playoffs, but Lavalais -- along with Antwan Lake -- will be ready to provide a breather. Ditto on the outside, where former starter Travis Hall is standing by when Kerney or Smith needs a break.

    Johnson, in his fourth season as the Falcons' defensive line coach, points to another factor that contributed to the improvement this season.

    It's not something that shows up in the statistics, but the coach sees it everyday. They guys really seem to care about each other, whether they're practicing, sitting in a meeting room or getting together away from the field. What makes it more amazing is their disparate backgrounds and personalities.

    Kerney is a notorious free spirit from suburban Philadelphia. Jasper is a laid-back country boy from Texas. Hall was raised in Alaska, which undoubtedly accounts for his reserved demeanor. Smith grew up near Chicago. Lavalais hails from rural Louisiana.

    Somehow, all those unique pieces managed to fit. Kerney gave a canoe to Jasper, an avid fisherman. Jasper keeps an eye on Coleman, who is going through a divorce. During the holidays, they all got together at Hall's house.

    "They don't just work together," Johnson said. "They're the greatest group of guys I've ever coached from a personality standpoint."


  2. #2
    elAcky Guest

    Re: Atlanta's D Line shifts from worst to first

    they may be reusing this same column next year but replacing Atlanta with StLouis, Kerney with Hargrove etc.

  3. #3
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    Re: Atlanta's D Line shifts from worst to first

    Let's keep things in perspective. If GraniteFeetWilliams hadn't shown Kerney the hulu-hoop move early in the season, Kerney may never have acquired the confidence to make a difference to Atlanta's D the rest of the year.

    The point? What the Rams made in game 2 they can unmake on Saturday. Saipia can quietly take Kerney out of the game by himself - leaving the rest of the line to make whatever blitz adjustments they have to, and MB to find the open target.

    Worst to first means nothing if the O-line is ready.

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    Re: Atlanta's D Line shifts from worst to first

    I invite the birds to blitz; see what happens.
    A four man rush won't get it done.
    JUST WIN ONE FOR THE FANS


    "HIT HARD, HIT FAST, AND HIT OFTEN"
    Adm. William "Bull" Halsey

  5. #5
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    Re: Atlanta's D Line shifts from worst to first

    Quote Originally Posted by RAMMAN68
    I invite the birds to blitz; see what happens.
    A four man rush won't get it done.
    Falcons don't blitz often, and when they do its typically a zone blitz.

    Sonja Grimes, My Cousin, We Miss and Love You.
    The Falcons Flock Message Board

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