Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith said wide receiver Harry Douglas, who's coming off a foot injury, is essentially a game-time decision for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.

"Harry's done very well," Smith told the media in London on Friday. "He will be a decision that we make as we get closer to the game, but he's been able to come out and participate in practice the past two days, so he was a limited participant again today, but I like the progress he's made through the week."

Douglas missed the last four games with a deep bruise in his left foot. His return would give the Falcons yet another weapon against a stout Detroit Lions defense that is likely to force Matt Ryan to get the ball out quickly.

In other injury news, defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux's status looks in doubt as he continues to recovery from a foot injury. Babineaux did not practice all week and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game.

Babineaux has done a solid job with his pressure as of late, so that aspect would be missed. The Falcons might have to rely more heavily on Jonathan Massaquoi, who has emerged as a pass-rusher the past two games.

"He's in a position where he's able to use his athletic ability," defensive line coach Bryan Cox said of Massaquoi. "His strength is being able to move and contort and get himself into positions where he can get inside and outside. He's doing a nice job of what we're asking him to do within the system.''
Although Atlanta Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox emphasized how his unit has to do a better overall job, he's not totally disappointed with the line effort in terms of run defense.

The Falcons enter Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions in London ranked 27th in the league in run defense, allowing 137.7 rushing yards per game. But the number that makes Cox feel a little more at ease is 4.12 rushing yards per play, where the Falcons are ranked 16th out of 32 teams.

"We've gotten into some positions and situations where teams have been able to run the ball in volume 30 and 35 and 40 and 45 times, but when you look at the yards-per-carry average, it's not that bad," Cox said. "We've just been in positions where we've been down or we've been in positions where teams have been able to just run the ball for volume because they've had a lead on us. ... But we haven't given up the big runs.''

Well, the defensive line was responsible for at least one explosive run in Week 4 against Minnesota, when Vikings rookie Jerick McKinnon broke lose for a 55-yard pickup. A defensive lineman was out of his gap.

Still, Cox sees reason to be encouraged.

"The yards-per-carry averages, it could be better," he said. "But I'm excited about that. I think if we can improve on that some more, it will lend to us having a better run defense, which will help us overall as a unit."

The Lions, who have relied on their defense, sits 31st in the league in rushing at 82.4 yards per game. Running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell averaged 3.5 and 3.3 yards per carry, respectively. And Bush is dealing with an ankle injury, so his status in unclear.






BAGSHOT, England -- Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell has been so impressed with Atlanta Falcons returner Devin Hester throughout his career that he has changed the way returns and returners are viewed in football.

"He's made it an art form and cut a niche in there like no one else in the game," Caldwell said Friday. "There's been some great returners in the game, there's no question about that. Deion Sanders was one that was one of the guys that was dangerous in that regard.

"[Hester] is equally so and I think he will be one of the first guys to ever carve that niche out."

That niche, according to Caldwell, is a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The 31-year-old Hester holds the NFL records for most special teams touchdowns in a career (20) and most punt return touchdowns (14). He also helped revolutionize the position in the NFL.

Caldwell should also know his abilities well from Super Bowl XLI, when Caldwell was part of the Indianapolis Colts staff. Hester ran the opening kickoff back 92 yards for a touchdown against the Colts in a game Indianapolis won, 29-17.

"Any time he gets the ball in his hands he's a threat to go all the way," Caldwell said. "Very difficult guy to handle. We've faced some very good ones prior to this weekend and he's no exception.

"He's probably going to the Hall of Fame because he's a cut above maybe the rest."

(Read full post)


Matthew Berry discusses quarterbacks he loves and hates in Week 8.
Surprisingly, Atlanta Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox didn’t resort to foul language in describing the play of his unit thus far.

Cox, however, is far from satisfied with the effort. And he primarily pointed to one person in particular.

"Not good enough," Cox said. "At the end of the day, I’ve got to coach it better.

[+] EnlargePaul Soliai and Tyson Jackson
Jason Getz/USA TODAY SportsPaul Soliai and Tyson Jackson were signed as free agents to shore up Atlanta's run defense, but the D-line has continued to struggle.
"We’ve got to play together better. And we have to do a better job in order to help us be successful."

The lack of pressure up front has been one of the biggest issues plaguing the 2-5 Falcons as they prepare to face capable Matthew Stafford and the 5-2 Detroit Lions on Sunday in London. The Falcons have allowed an NFL-high 8.3 yards per dropback. They are tied for 27th in the league with just seven sacks and are tied for 29th in sacks per pass attempt.

"I don’t get caught up in [statistics]," Cox said. "At the end of the day, we have a job to do. At the end of the day, it’s about wins and losses. And right now, we don’t have enough wins.

"To get caught up in the reason behind on dropbacks and this and that … at the end of the day, let’s do a better job and find a way to win some games. If you do that, I think we’ll all be happy and nobody will pay attention to the numbers. Sometimes, numbers don’t mean a whole lot."

It does mean something, however, when opposing quarterbacks get all day to find their receivers. And it means something when defensive back have to defend down field for an inordinate amount of time or have to resort to holding because there is no push up front.

The 24 pass plays of 20-plus yards surrendered by the Falcons through seven games have had a lot to do with the lack of pressure up front. That number of plays could increase on Sunday, particularly if Lions standout receiver Calvin Johnson returns from an ankle injury and the Falcons fail to get pressure on Stafford.

Cox singled out Jonathan Massaquoi and Corey Peters as two players who have made strides as pass-rushers. Their contributions haven’t been nearly enough to compensate for the struggles.

"We’ve got to do a better job collectively: me coaching; them playing," Cox said. "And we’ve got to stick together because it’s a point in time when people want to start pointing fingers. But as a person who has been a competitor at this level and a person that has coached at this level and played at this level, the teams that find a way to stick together and come together are the teams that usually find a way to have success and get out of slumps.

"It ain’t a surprise to any of us that people are calling us out for not doing well. We’re not doing a good enough job."

That carries over into the run defense as well. There have been a handful of times when defensive linemen have been out of their gaps, leading to big run plays. The Falcons are 27th in run defense, allowing 137.7 rushing yards per game.

The free-agent additions of Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson were expected to help the Falcons stuff the run. Such hasn’t been the case, at least not consistently. Both Soliai and Jackson have talked about being disappointed with their respective performances.

"We don’t talk about the things that we can do better," Cox said in reference to the specific shortcomings for Soliai and Jackson. "What they do well is they eat blocks. They take double-teams. Anytime you see our linebackers have success with 14, 15 double-digit tackles, that means that (Soliai and Jackson) are doing their jobs. We’ve had some games where Paul Worrilow has had some double-digit tackles.

"When you (take on blocks), you sacrifice yourself for the good of the team. They eat double-team blocks. Their numbers are not what some people would want. They’ve never been pass-rushers. Their job is to eat blocks, and they’ve done a good job with that."

Inside Edge: Lions-Falcons

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23


ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando delivers stats to help you make a pick for Detroit at Atlanta.
Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, who was limited during Wednesday's practice in London, was back to full participation Thursday as the team continued to prepare for the Detroit Lions.

Maybe the Falcons will have their full complement of receivers healthy for Sunday. Harry Douglas, who missed the past four games with a deep bruise in his left foot, returned to practice Thursday and was limited.

Jones wasn't the only Falcon back at full strength. Left guard Justin Blalock, coming off a back injury, was a full participant after being limited Wednesday.

Jones' left ankle has given him issues early in the week ever since the Minnesota game, but constant treatment has allowed him to be ready by game time.

Blalock's change in status is good news for the Falcons. He struggled in last week's loss at Baltimore as his back obviously wasn't 100 percent. He missed the Giants game due to the injury.

Held out of practice was defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux with a foot injury. Coach Mike Smith mentioned the possibility of Babineaux returning on Friday.

Also, rookie linebacker Prince Shembo remained limited with a knee injury.

For Detroit, receiver Calvin Johnson practiced for the second consecutive day and was limited coming off an ankle injury while running back Reggie Bush did not practice due to an ankle injury.

Christopher Harris recommends IDP options for Week 8.
Atlanta Falcons receiver Harry Douglas, who has missed the past four games with a deep bruise in his left foot, is scheduled to return to practice Thursday in London.

Coach Mike Smith made the announcement to the media and said Douglas would be limited. Douglas' status for Sunday's matchup with the Lions remains unclear.

Douglas started to show signs of progress last week as his began catching passes on the side during practice. He obviously wasn't able to run and cut like he's used to after suffering the injury in Week 3 against Tampa Bay. Douglas had 12 catches for 121 yards and a touchdown prior to the injury.

The Falcons obviously miss Douglas and his ability to make the offense that much more dangerous.

"It just affects us in so many different ways because he's in so many different personnel groupings and some of the stuff he can do," Roddy White said recently of how Douglas' absence changes the offense. "He's really good at the insides and seam routes. We're missing him a whole lot and his ability to kind of control the middle of the field."

Both the Atlanta Falcons and the Detroit Lions spent the early part of the week soaking in the sights and sounds of London. Now it's time to get to work.

We will see if either team shows lingering effects from the trip across the pond as they prepare to do battle at Wembley Stadium on Sunday. The 2-5 Falcons will try to end a four-game losing streak, while the 5-2 Lions hope to remain atop the NFC North. Technically, it's a home game for the Falcons, whose only two wins came at home this season. The Lions are 2-1 on the road.

ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure and ESPN Lions reporter Michael Rothstein break down the matchup:

McClure: Mike, I see the Lions were able to win against the Saints without Calvin Johnson. I'm not sure where he stands right now coming off the ankle injury, although he expressed optimism upon arriving in London. What do you expect from the Lions if they have to play without him? Who will pick up the slack?

Rothstein: If the Lions are without Johnson again this week, I expect something similar to what we've seen the past two weeks: a more even run/pass split and heavy usage of receivers Golden Tate, Jeremy Ross and Corey Fuller, who caught the game-winner Sunday. Tate has played exceptionally well in Johnson's hobbled state and then his absence the past two weeks, going over 100 yards in three of those four games. Tate has blossomed into a true No. 1 receiver with Johnson out.

A lot more concern should be on the other Lions' injuries. Beyond Johnson, the Lions have Reggie Bush (ankle), Eric Ebron (hamstring), Joseph Fauria (ankle) and Brandon Pettigrew (lower body) who are at least nursing some sort of injury. That's a lot of guys to deal with in an offense that so often shifts formations.

Atlanta's defense, meanwhile, seems like it can't stop anyone. How do the Falcons game plan for Tate and Joique Bell along with the rest of the Lions' options?

McClure: Well, there's an interesting side story in terms of defending Tate. Falcons free safety Dwight Lowery, who played with Jacksonville last year, was unable to finish the season due to an illegal block thrown by Tate when Tate played with Seattle. I don't see Lowery going the cheap-shot route to get back at Tate, but you better believe he'll try his best to make sure Tate doesn't beat the secondary with a long ball.

The biggest thing for the Falcons is getting pressure up front, and the sudden emergence of Jonathan Massaquoi has helped them improve in that category. In terms of stopping the run, yes, the Falcons have had their issues, allowing 137.7 yards per game. I'd like to see them try a little more run blitzing. Despite being woeful most of the season, the Falcons actually showed remarkable signs of improvement in Baltimore.

When I think of the Lions, the second name that comes to mind after Johnson is Ndamukong Suh. I've head the talk about this contract and I've heard the trade rumors. How has he adjusted to the outside chatter? And surely he knows he can feast on this beat-up Falcons offensive line, right?

Rothstein: He hasn't talked about it, but there is no doubt he and the rest of the Detroit defensive line will see the numbers and the turnstile the Falcons have become on the offensive line and be pretty excited about it. On the field, Suh has been exactly what he has been in the past -- a dynamic force who makes opposing offenses pay attention to him. As far as his contract situation, he doesn't talk about it, won't talk about it and became somewhat agitated after it was reported he was planning on leaving the Lions after the season. On the field, though? It hasn't been an issue at all.

Since you mentioned Suh, Matt Ryan has been sacked on 5.3 percent of his attempts this season and he's facing a defense that's fifth in the NFL in sack percentage. How does Atlanta keep him upright?

McClure: Maybe the Falcons can borrow a couple members of the Queen's Guard in London to help protect Ryan. Obviously, it's going to be even more of a challenge now with Ryan ready to take snaps from his third starting center. Undrafted rookie James Stone will get the start, and that is likely to be quite an adjustment for Ryan and the rest of the offense.

Ryan needs better play all-around, particularly from tackles Jake Matthews and Gabe Carimi. Matthews is gutting through an ankle injury, while Carimi didn't show as much fight as he had the last time out. Left guard Justin Blalock also struggled against the Ravens, which is bad news if he can't provide adequate help for Stone. The Falcons could use more chipping from the backs and tight ends, but then that takes away from what they want to do with their multiple-receiver sets. Another option? Ryan can get on his knees and pray for help.

The last I read about Matthew Stafford, he was stuck on the interstate trying to get to work. I never viewed him as a special quarterback when I used to cover the Bears in the NFC North. Although the Falcons are shaky on defense, why should they fear Stafford?

Rothstein: They should fear Stafford because when he is on point, he has one of the strongest arms in the game and two receivers who, when healthy, can crush defenses. That has been the issue with him, though. He intermittently goes from being a quarterback who is about to jump to the next level to one who just won't get there. He hasn't been taking as many deep shots this year and I think that has helped him in some ways. But make no mistake, he is still learning the new scheme from Joe Lombardi -- one that will look somewhat familiar to Falcons fans who don't like the Saints. But Stafford has the potential to be a top-level quarterback in this league and that's why they need to fear him.

The toughest thing for Stafford this season has been the pressure he has been facing on a regular basis. Does Atlanta have enough to get up in his face and make him wish he never came across the pond, or will this be easy going for him?

McClure: As I mentioned earlier, I do believe Massaquoi has elevated his game in recent weeks. And this would be an ideal time for London-born Osi Umenyiora to have a breakout game. But I don't see the Falcons bringing consistent pressure. That's why they're allowing an NFL-high 8.3 yards per dropback. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has tried to dial up some different pressures, but he has limited personnel as his disposal. I still believe the Falcons need to try to blitz more, and linebacker Paul Worrilow got a sack blitzing last week. So to answer your question, Stafford has an opportunity to put up big numbers.

Atlanta Falcons free safety Dwight Lowery is well aware of at least one opposing player he'll face in Sunday's London matchup against the Detroit Lions.

There is a little bad blood between Lowery and Lions receiver Golden Tate. Last season, when Lowery played for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tate for the Seattle Seahawks, Tate blindsided Lowery with an illegal hit that resulted in a concussion. Lowery landed on injured reserve after playing in just three games in 2013, then was released by the Jaguars once he was cleared. Tate subsequently was fined $21,000 for the hit.

When he first discussed the Tate incident this offseason, Lowery sounded eager to get revenge, within the rules. His tone softened while reflecting on it before the Falcons left for London.

"I don't care. I don't got time for that," Lowery said. "I just think if you get your energy all focused on other stuff, you start doing [stuff] that you shouldn't be doing. Just do your job and play your best. I'm more worried about adjusting to the time and the whole experience. The other stuff is no big deal."

But there's no doubt Lowery has Tate's "cheap shot" in the back of his mind.

"I don't like it when it happens to other guys either, but it's part of the game," Lowery said. "That's how some people make their money. You just have to understand that when you have a different color jersey on, nobody's looking out for you except the same guys that have the same jersey as you. That's how you have to approach it."

Lowery has started all seven games for the Falcons this season. He sustained the fourth concussion of his football career during training camp but overcame it without much issue.

The NFL Live crew make their picks for Detroit at Atlanta.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, still recovering from an ankle injury, continued his usual routine of being limited to start the week during Wednesday's practice in London.

Jones' ankle typically is sore early in the week and fine by game time. It's been the same process since the Minnesota game in Week 4.

Also limited Wednesday were left guard Justin Blalock (back) and linebacker Prince Shembo (back). Wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot) and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (foot) were held out of practice. Babineaux was on the injury report with a knee injury last week but still played.

For Detroit, receiver Calvin Johnson was listed as limited coming off a sprained ankle, while offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle's status has become a concern due to a concussion.
QB Matt Ryan addressed the media in London on Wednesday as the Atlanta Falcons began preparation for Sunday's matchup against the Detroit Lions. And Ryan expressed optimism despite the team's 2-5 record and four-game losing streak.

"We're in a point in the season, with where we're at moving forward, we're going to have to win," Ryan said. "And we feel like we're going to have to start winning this week.

"With that said, in the division, there's reason to be optimistic. As bad and kind of as ugly as it's been the last couple of weeks, we're still right in the mix. And that's one of the reasons I think there's a lot of optimism and a lot of energy within our building. ... I think guys have the right mindset."

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMatt Ryan and the Falcons offense haven't been as successful making plays of 20-plus yards this past few weeks like they were the first quarter of the season.
The Falcons are third in the NFC South behind the 3-3-1 Carolina Panthers and the 2-4 New Orleans Saints. The Falcons are 2-0 in division play.

But in order for the Falcons to generate any type of winning streak, Ryan and the offense have to get back on track. The Falcons had a season-low 254 total yards and scored just one touchdown in their 29-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. The Falcons had the league's top offense in terms of yardage the first four weeks of the season, but they've dropped to sixth in yards per game.

Against the Ravens, Ryan and the offense generated four plays of 20-plus yards. In two wins this season, the Falcons compiled 15 plays of 20-plus yards, including six plays of 35-plus yards.

"I think last week, really the first three quarters, we were kind of out of rhythm," Ryan said. "In getting the ball downfield, we've got to do a great job both running the football and pass protecting. I think both of those things kind of allow you to do some of your play-action and to take some more time in the pocket and throw it down the field a little bit more.

"We've also, when we've had opportunities with one-on-ones, and guys like Julio [Jones] and Devin [Hester] having some deeper routes on the outside, we've got to take chances at it. We're going to make the adjustments, certainly. It's a big part of what we've been here in the past, this kind of explosive offense. So we've got to find ways to create more explosive plays than we did last week."

It will be quite a task against the Lions' top-ranked defense, which surrenders just 290.3 total yards per game. DT Ndamukong Suh and the defensive front is sure to put extreme pressure on Ryan, who will be working with an undrafted rookie center, James Stone; an ailing rookie left tackle, Jake Matthews (ankle); a veteran left guard coming off a back injury, Justin Blalock; and a slumping right tackle, Gabe Carimi.

Ryan said Suh, DT Nick Fairley & Co. are among the premier defensive linemen in the league.

"We're going to have to be solid up front," Ryan said. "We really are. We're going to have to play well up front and have a good plan to account for where those guys are at."

Falcons searching for answers in London

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure says Matt Ryan and the Falcons, who are struggling on both sides of the ball, still have a shot to contend in the NFC South despite their 2-5 start – but they need to right the ship right away, starting with Sunday's game against Detroit in London.