Posted: Thursday, October 3rd 2013 at 8:53pm
Falcons' O-line still trying to get comfortable
By The Associated Press
FLOWERY BRANCH -- If the Atlanta Falcons are going to get back on track Monday night against the New York Jets, they'll have to do it with an offensive line that has not yet proven to be ready for prime time.
Left tackle Sam Baker did not practice Thursday is likely to miss his second game, leaving Atlanta with two tackles - Lamar Holmes on the left and Jeremy Trueblood on the right - who were not expected to be starters.
The Falcons (1-3) have fallen short of preseason expectations and most of their problems have been on offense, especially in the red zone where blocking issues are magnified. The Jets (2-2) use a dizzying array of pass-rushing schemes, and are tied for third in the NFL with 14 sacks.
"The front seven is the strength of their team," said Falcons coach Mike Smith. "They have four first-round draft choices in that front seven."
New York defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson, Kenrick Ellis and Sheldrick Richardson and linebackers Quinton Coples, DeMario Davis, David Harris and Calvin Pace are not all that the Atlanta blockers are trying to familiarize themselves with.
They're still getting used to working with each other.
Left guard Justin Blalock is the only Atlanta O-lineman playing in the same spot where he finished last season. Holmes, Blalock, center Peter Konz, right guard Garrett Reynolds and Trueblood are trying to learn one another's habits and those of the Jets.
"It takes time to get used to how certain people react to certain situations. They might (make) a different call perhaps," Blalock said. "Things like that you have to iron out, and it does take time, unfortunately.
"You can get an idea from watching film but no matter how much you watch . . . it's a little bit different when you go out there."
Atlanta is 23rd in the NFL in rushing (82 yards per game), and the Jets are allowing just 79.3 yards on the ground.
While quarterback Matt Ryan has been sacked a modest seven times and Atlanta is third in passing yardage (317 per game), their schemes have modified to where Jets coach Rex Ryan commented that the Falcons have gone more to a quick-passing attack to protect the passer.
"That's the way it's been up to this point," Matt Ryan said. "We've done some things getting the ball out fairly quickly. We've been pretty effective. We haven't scored as much as we'd like to. We've gone against some good front sevens, and when you do that you have to get the ball out."
Atlanta is throwing downfield a little less frequently, and troubles mount once inside the opposing 20-yard-line. Atlanta has scored on just 7-of-18 red zone attempts (38.5 percent, No. 28 in the NFL) and just one of those has come on a run.
The Falcons are having a hard time getting push up front.
Trueblood started 84 games for the Buccaneers from 2006-'12, and he's a right tackle by training, but his learning curve has been steep.
"The more reps you get together, you get a comfort level with the guy that's next to you . . . just little things like footwork, and how a guy sets up a (combination) block for you," Trueblood said. "There's definitely more to look for in the pass rush, and you don't want to get your quarterback killed."
For the Falcons, the only solution may be time . . . in practice and in games.
Notes: Baker, starting linebackers Paul Worrilow (knee) and Akeem Dent (right foot), and cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh) did not practice. Only Baker and Dent were ruled out. Dent was wearing a walking boot. Running back Stephen Jackson did not practice, either, but head coach Mike Smith said, "We're not going to rule him out." Wide receiver Julio Jones (knee) returned to practice after missing Tuesday's session.
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