Running back Antone Smith, who injured his knee in last Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers, was sidelined for the second consecutive day Thursday. Smith told ESPN.com the injury was related to his patella.
Special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong discussed the possibility of playing without one of his primary special-teamers.
"We will go with probably one of the backup corners or the backup receivers," Armstrong said. "We have some options. We had some guys on Sunday that went in and actually did a pretty nice job. So, we'll pick from the active roster the guys that we feel give us the best chance to win that down."
Armstrong singled out rookie receiver Darius Johnson as one of the players who filled in after Smith banged up his knee.
Smith was on the field Thursday observing practice but had no helmet. There was no sign of starting safety Thomas DeCoud, who continues to go through concussion protocol after banging his head against the Packers.
``Not going to rule him out today,'' coach Smith said of DeCoud. ``If he doesn't get any better, tomorrow will be the day that we make that determination. He's still in the same stagre that he was yesterday.''
If DeCoud is unable to play, rookie Zeke Motta would step in as the starting free safety.
Both tight end Tony Gonzalez (toe) and wide receiver Roddy White (knee) were on the field for the viewing portion of Thursday's practice.
Gonzalez and White were limited along with linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (shoulder), linebacker Paul Worrilow (shoulder), and Motta (hand).
In Washington, tight end Jordan Reed (concussion) was the only player listed as not participating in practice for the Redskins.
"We’re really comfortable with Mike,’’ Weatherspoon said. "Everybody on our defense really speaks highly of him. They really enjoy working with him. We would hope that they keep him around here.
"But, you know, it’s a business, man. Things happen. And you just have to continue to keep your focus on the right path. You have to keep working regardless of the situation.’’
When asked point blank if he expected to come back next season, Nolan responded, "Come back? That’s the team’s decision, not mine.’’
Nolan went on to talk about the roadblocks encountered by the team this season, specifically the inordinate amount of injuries. He said he has been pleased with some of the defensive gameplans but not totally satisfied with the execution of those game plans.
Nolan’s defense ranks 30th (out of 32 teams) against the run, 29th in points allowed, and 26th in total defense as the Falcons prepare to face the Washington Redskins on Sunday.
On a positive note, the struggles of the 3-10 Falcons have allowed Nolan to get a closer look at some of his young defenders as the team continues to build toward the future.
"I think the future is bright,’’ Weatherspoon said. "I looked on the tape from last week and I remember one play – an outside running play to (Packers running back) Eddie Lacy – you see the guys who made the tackle were rookies. You look and see [Stansly] Maponga, Malliciah Goodman, [Paul] Worrilow. You see Joplo [Bartu]. You see [Desmond] Trufant.
"All the guys in the frame, they’re really stepping up here lately and playing a lot of ball. It gives you confidence going into the future. They’ll know what they’re doing. They’re going to be comfortable playing ball. And I think the only way to go is up for them.’’
Head coach Mike Shanahan is under fire. Second-year quarterback Robert Griffin III hasn't been himself. And the Redskins won't even get a chance to draft high, with their top pick set to go to the St. Louis Rams.
Despite all the drama in Washington, the Falcons still have a challenge on their hands. The Redskins named Kirk Cousins the starter for Sunday's game. When the teams met last season, Cousins completed 5 of 9 passes for 111 yards -- including a 77-yard touchdown -- after Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon knocked Griffin out with a concussion. Cousins also threw two interceptions in the Falcons' 24-17 win.
"I don't think they bat an eye if they have to go with Cousins," Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said.
Fans might want to cover their eyes if this battle of 3-10 teams is a dud. ESPN.com Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure and Redskins reporter John Keim discuss Sunday's game:
McClure: John, I thought the Redskins had a chance to be a playoff team after what I saw from them at the end of last year. Now, everything seems to be imploding. Can you talk about Mike Shanahan's status and why it has been such a difficult season for him and the team?
Keim: For now, Shanahan is the head coach of the Redskins; how long that lasts is anyone's guess. Safe to say it will not last into next season. Things are just too toxic, and the friction between the head coach, his offensive coordinator -- son Kyle -- and quarterback Robert Griffin III is at the heart of this situation. Shanahan has one year left on his contract, but it makes no sense for owner Dan Snyder to continue this relationship. That was an underlying concern in the spring and summer, but you figured if they won enough it could be overcome. But their defense has been abysmal, their special teams dreadful and their offense inconsistent.
Griffin lost some explosiveness because of his knee surgery, but he is healthy. He's just not very good in the pocket, or, at best, he's inconsistent. The line is not built to protect a pocket passer, especially one who takes a bit longer. That clearly has held them back, but so has an average-at-best receiving corps -- although Pierre Garcon has been excellent. Until recently they've been rather healthy. It has been a typical Redskins disaster. Seasons that begin with high hopes rarely end with any fulfillment.
When you lose in Washington, things get out of control with various stories. We don't hear much from Atlanta. Why is that? How has this team dealt with having a similar situation as Washington?
McClure: I think a lot of that has to do with the head coach. Although some fans have questioned Mike Smith throughout this season, Smith has done a good job keeping things together and trying to remain positive. He received a vote of confidence from both owner Arthur Blank and general manager Thomas Dimitroff based on his track record, which included five consecutive winning seasons before this year. And Smith has the respect of his players, who have firmly supported him throughout. Not to mention the Falcons have a stand-up quarterback in Matt Ryan, who never points fingers, and a veteran spokesman in tight end Tony Gonzalez. I think the Falcons realized a team isn't going to lose its top playmaker (Julio Jones) and have a sudden rash of injuries every season, so they fully believe they can rebound next year.
At the same time, the Falcons know they have to improve up front along the offensive line and be better defensively in terms of limiting explosive plays. Although the Redskins have struggled, surely they see an opportunity to expose the Falcons in those two areas, correct?
Keim: Well, you would think. But the Redskins haven't had a lot of explosive plays and their rush hasn't overwhelmed anyone other than the Oakland Raiders. I will say, the Redskins' offense still gets players open, but for whatever reason -- lack of time, quarterback indecision -- they're not always hit. That's a big reason why their passing game has been inconsistent this season. A lot is on the quarterback, but it's not the lone reason. Defensively, Brian Orakpo is playing well, but they haven't had enough consistent pressure from anyone else lately. Until Sunday against Kansas City, the Redskins had done a good job of stopping the run and making teams one-dimensional. But Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs dominated them up front.
Why has the Atlanta defense struggled so much? Just injuries?
McClure: I think injuries have factored into the equation. Early in the season, the Falcons lost defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann (Achilles) for the year. Then linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, the spiritual leader of the defense and team, missed seven games after suffering a Lisfranc foot sprain. But a lot of the defensive issues have come down to fundamentals and technique. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan counted 28 missed tackles in recent games against New Orleans and Buffalo. Plus, the pass rush has been inconsistent all season, which has led to the explosive plays through the air.
On a positive note, some of the young players such as rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, and linebacker Paul Worrilow have come of age. How has the Redskins' 2013 draft class come along this season?
Keim: Their 2013 class hasn't been all that productive. Second-round corner David Amerson has been a regular all season as their No. 3, but he has been inconsistent. He has been more physical than I anticipated and he has made plays. But I'm not yet sold that he'll become a solid starter, which they definitely need. Third-round tight end Jordan Reed has been terrific -- when healthy. But he missed the past three games because of a concussion. I really like him, but durability was an issue for him entering the draft. The rest of the class hasn't done much. Safety Bacarri Rambo misses too many tackles and looks like a backup. Nobody else has done anything. So it's not as if the Redskins can develop a lot of young players from this group. I don't think this class will be one of their most productive.
The Falcons still have good talent on offense, but the numbers have been mostly dreadful since Julio Jones was hurt. Obviously he's a great player, but are you surprised at the impact his loss has had?
McClure: Not surprised at all, John. You can't take an explosive receiver such as a Jones out of a high-powered offense and expect things to flow the same. It changes the way defenses approach the game, when Jones is on the field. He had catches of 25-plus yards in four of five games before going out with the injury, including an 81-yard touchdown against the St. Louis Rams. Harry Douglas has done an admirable job filling the void, but he would be the first to say he's no Julio Jones. I'd put Jones in the same category as Calvin Johnson, when healthy. And where would the Lions be without Johnson? I expect a totally different Falcons team with Jones back next season, provided he returns to full strength with no setbacks.
It has nothing to do with the Atlanta Falcons rookie's performance on the field. It has everything to do with the cumbersome brace Motta has had to wear on his right hand the past few weeks after breaking a finger.
Motta gave his hand a chance to breathe when he removed the cast during open locker room on Wednesday.
"I think I'm supposed to be wearing it," he said with a sly smile.
"I thought he did a good job with the so-called 'live bullets,'" defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said, referring the Motta's first-extensive playing time against the Green Bay Packers last Sunday. "It wasn't too big for him. He didn't get all starry-eyed. He was good. He had blood all over his face. I don't know what busted open on him, but he was hitting people and doing a real good job."
Motta, a seventh-round draft pick Notre Dame, played a season-high 55 defensive snaps (out of 71 total) against the Packers after stepping in for an injured Thomas DeCoud. With DeCoud going through the concussion protocol right now, there is a chance Motta could start against the Washington Redskins this Sunday.
He seems well-prepared for the opportunity based of his performance last week.
"Going up there playing at Lambeau Field, wouldn't want it any other way, with the snow coming down and the freezing-cold weather," Motta reflected. "Those are moments you dream about. And I think going in there, I kind of prepared like I was going to play. So when my number was called, I just kind of stepped in and did what I knew how to do, and that's play ball.
"There are some things I can improve upon, certainly, which is each week. But I still felt like I played good. I was confident out there. And I was having fun and flying around."
Motta, a natural strong safety filling at DeCoud at free safety, displayed his ability to be a sure-tackler, something the Falcons have been lacking, at times, from the secondary this season. He was credited with 10 tackles against the Packers after the coaches reviewed the film.
"I thought he tackled well," Nolan said of Motta. "He missed an opportunity or two in there. I know he shook his own head about missing the interception on one of the plays. But I like the way he played. He's very aggressive. He defeated some crack blocks .... He had his share of a couple of mistakes, but so does everybody. But for the first time out, the tackling probably impressed me more than anything.
"As a matter of fact, one other thing that he did real was, he was really the main guy to allow William [Moore] to get the sack. What he did on that play was key in helping us out on that. Again, that's good awareness on [Motta's] part."
Motta responded to Nolan's high praise.
"That's nice to hear from the defensive coordinator, for sure," the safety said. "It's cool. I just have to keep working at my craft."
Based on the Falcons' ongoing youth movement, Motta should get plenty opportunity to mature as a player and prove his worth over the final three games.
Koetter interviewed for the Boise State head coaching position this week and was thought to be a frontrunner to return to the school he once guided to consecutive bowl victories. The Broncos hired former Arkansas State coach Bryan Harsin instead.
"Of course, we’re very excited that Dirk is going to be here and with us," Smith said. "We all know what happened and transpired today. Dirk’s been an integral part of the success that we’ve had. And we want him to be here. So, looking forward to continuing to work with him."
Quarterback Matt Ryan expressed similar feelings about Koetter sticking around.
"I think he’s a really good football coach and a really, really good offensive coordinator,’’ Ryan said of Koetter. "Like I’ve said, I’ve learned a ton from him in the two years that he’s been here. And I think we’ve worked well together. So I’m excited that he’s going to be here moving forward. I think continuity is helpful – from the players’ perspective – when you know what you’re getting."
Ryan had worked with two offensive coordinators since joining the Falcons: Mike Mularkey and Koetter. This season under Koetter, the offense has fallen off due to injury and poor offensive line play.
"We’ll both push this offseason to try and improve, and try and find ways to be better as an offense," Ryan said of himself and Koetter. "And I’m excited to work with him to try and do that."
It is not surprising that in a culture that has overdosed on confidence and swagger, we have little appreciation for understanding the importance of humility.
False confidence forms the foundation of our individual and collective distorted reality. We lie to young people with phony affirmation. We've spent the past 30 years handing out participation trophies, masking our insecurities with overpriced Air Jordans, cheap, gaudy jewelry and prescription, mood-altering drugs and baiting our youth to create and live in fraudulent realities they can now construct on Facebook and Instagram.
We've produced a generation that values swagger over self-awareness and humility. We wrongly believe confidence is more essential to success than humility.
Football coaches, particularly old-school ones, don't buy this notion. Football coaches recognize the transformative power of humility. They understand how essential it is for development.
At this point, it is easy and pointless to rearticulate the numerous mistakes Mike Shanahan has made during his four-year tenure as the Grand Poobah of the professional football team in our nation's capital. In three weeks, when the regular season is complete, Shanahan and his son are done running Daniel Snyder's franchise.
Two players were held out of Wednesday's practice: safety Thomas DeCoud and running back/special-teamer Antone Smith. DeCoud is going through stage one of the concussion protocol, although he has not been ruled out of Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins just yet. Coach Mike Smith said DeCoud still has to be cleared by an independent neurologist. DeCoud suffered the concussion attempting to tackle Green Bay Packers rookie running back Eddie Lacy.
Smith, who injured his knee playing special teams against the Packers, is day to day. He told ESPN.com his injury was related to his patella. It is not believed to be a serious injury. Smith observed Wednesday's practice without a helmet.
Four other Falcons were limited along with White: Tony Gonzalez (toe), Zeke Motta (hand), Sean Weatherspoon (shoulder), and Paul Worrilow (shoulder).
"You know, Kirk can throw the ball pretty well," Weatherspoon said. "He did a great job last year when he came in; kept them in the game. Ultimately, he was just a rookie, so we sat back on him in some zone coverage when they had to go down the field, ended up getting a couple of interceptions there at the end to close it out.
"We expect him to be prepared. He knows he’s the starter this week, and that’s always great as a player – when you know early. So he’ll be coming in with some confidence. We just look forward to going out there and just doing our job against him."
Cousins pointed out how last year’s game against the Falcons represented his first NFL regular-season action.
"Did some good things, but also made some mistakes," Cousins said. "Every chance I’ve gotten to play – whether in practice or in games – I’ve learned something from those reps. And I’ve learned from my mistakes. And I’ve learned from my successes."
Cousins might not get much protection from his offensive line, but he could get a boost from a strong running game that ranks second in the NFL, led by 1,000-yard rusher Alfred Morris.
The Falcons won’t have to contend with Griffin's version of the read-option. But they still have to stop the ground game – something they’ve been unable to do consistently all season.
Although Samuel is still listed as the starter on the team's depth chart, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan previously announced his intentions to get a closer look at Alford over the final three games of the season.
Samuel went on to say he's not really thinking about next season right now.
The Falcons have a decision to make with several veteran players, including Samuel. He is signed through 2014 and will carry a cap number of $5.125 million next season. Alford and fellow rookie Desmond Trufant have a combined cap figure of $2.628 million next season.
The 32-year-old Samuel has 51 career interceptions but just one this season. He is the only player in NFL history to register at least one interception return for a touchdown in each of his first six NFL seasons.
Teammates figured Samuel would handle the demotion like a pro.
"[Samuel] is a vet," linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. "He's being doing this a long time. He's going to get a yellow [Hall of Fame] jacket. He's got a lot of money. He's getting more money. And he's trying to help the younger guys."
Samuel has dealt with a lingering thigh issue this season and missed two games due to the injury. He did not play at all last week against the Green Bay Packers.
Koetter addressed the situation briefly Tuesday and only confirmed he had talked with the school. He served as Boise State's head coach from 1998-2000 and compiled a 26-10 record. His accomplishments included two consecutive bowl victories and the Big West Coach of the Year award twice. Plus Koetter grew up in Pocatello, Idaho, and played at Idaho State.
In others words, Koetter was interested in the job, from all indications.
More than anything, the news of Harsin's hiring takes a distraction away from what already has been a difficult season for the 3-10 Falcons. Players such as quarterback Matt Ryan won't have to answer questions about the possibility of losing his offensive coordinator. And head coach Mike Smith won't have to face inquiries about possible replacements for Koetter -- at least not immediately.
That being said, folks will wonder about Koetter's future with the team regardless. And the same goes for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Such is inevitable when a 13-3 team suddenly falls to the bottom of the NFL standings.
The Falcons have some tough decisions to make, for sure. But cutting ties with Koetter shouldn't be one of them. He was handcuffed by the situation this season, particularly after losing top receiver Julio Jones to a season-ending foot injury after Week 5. It took the explosive element away from a high-powered offense. Such is hard to replace.
Not to mention Koetter hasn't had a fully healthy Roddy White all season, hasn't seen the best of Steven Jackson until as of late, and hasn't been helped by inconsistency along the offensive line.
Koetter absorbed his share of blame throughout the season, particularly with some goal-line play calls earlier in the year. He fully realizes expectations haven't been met.
"Personally, it's tough on everybody when you don't live up to your own expectations," Koetter said Tuesday. "I know [Smith] tells you guys all the time that nobody has higher expectations for the Falcons than the players and the coaches do. So, we haven't lived up to expectations. We have not played as well as we're capable of on offense. And when you're a football player or football coach, losing -- whether you like it or not -- it works on your ego side.
"But basically, life is good. I'm a football coach in the NFL. I'm doing what I love to do and I'm working with great, great guys; players and coaches. But we need to win more games, plain and simple."
When the offense is back at full strength, Koetter should help the Falcons get back to their winning ways.
ASHBURN, Va. -- The rumors swirled about, as they often do in Washington. Mike Shanahan was benching Robert Griffin III to force his own ouster. He was doing it as a parting shot to an organization he wants to leave at season's end. Or to upset a player with whom he does not get along.
Shanahan said the move had nothing to do with any of that. Rather, he said Griffin has been hit too much in recent games and the coach wanted to make sure that the quarterback reaches the offseason healthy -- something he did not do last season because of torn ligaments in his knee, missed time that cost him a chance for more success this season.
Therefore, Shanahan said Kirk Cousins will start Sunday against the Falcons in Atlanta, and Griffin will not play again the rest of the season. Rex Grossman will be the backup. All of this comes amid the backdrop of Shanahan's uncertain job security, with his return for a fifth season in serious jeopardy. He said all of that is not relevant to Wednesday's decision.
"The best thing to do is give him an opportunity to go into that third year injury free to get a chance to get better in the offseason," Shanahan said. "I know that will be the difference in him being 100 percent healthy and him going to the offseason being the leader. I think it would set him back so much if he missed another offseason, which could happen. I didn't think the risk-reward was worth it.
"When you take a look at a quarterback who is your franchise quarterback, he's your future. If you miss two offseasons in a row it'd be the hardest thing to recover from."
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan already noticed a difference in Moore’s play. Nolan pointed to last Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers as proof.
"There was a play where [Paul] Worrilow knocks the ball down on a seam route, right down the middle of the field where ... and William kind of pulls off,’’ Nolan said. "In a normal situation, I think William’s going in headfirst. So I think he’s learning. I think he’s getting better. Probably saved himself 15 grand, maybe. Maybe Paul saved it for him because I think if Paul hadn’t knocked the ball out, [Moore] would have made sure that he did.
"I'd liked to think he’s getting better, but I know what his intent is. William’s intent is to play football and be physical. If they all looked like me, nobody would be watching the game. William’s an exceptional athlete with a lot of power and explosion, and people like to watch him play.’’
Moore explained part of the reason he has made a conscious effort to change his tackling style. He recently had a conversation with Tennessee Titans safety Michael Griffin, who was suspended for one game this season following a collection of illegal hits.
"I’m good friends with Mike and actually talked with him about it,’’ Moore said. "He just straight up told me just be careful. He told me to be careful as far as leading with my head and stuff like that. He told me to try and play within the rules.
"He was frustrated and all that; not so much with the decision from the NFL, but that it’s the same game we’ve been trying to play since Day 1 – being physical. And for this type of stuff to happen ... nothing against the NFL because they make the rules and we’ve got to follow by them. But it’s kind of difficult to adjust to them after playing 15 years of football. You know, just playing one way.’’
Moore escaped a fine after he was flagged for a hit on Buffalo Bills receiver Robert Woods a few weeks ago. Now he has three games left in the season to avoid the same.
"Guys will adapt, man, without a doubt,’’ Moore said. "We’ll change the way that we run through. It will take a season or two, an offseason to try and work on it. But, we’re going to have to adapt.’’