Cover 9@9: We have some football drama in the Branch

(Welcome all! With the NFL becoming more of a passing league, the “Cover 9@9” blog will become all of the rage. You can read it here every Wednesday at 9 a.m. throughout the season. We’ll try to get to everything about the Atlanta Falcons. -– D. Orlando Ledbetter)

1. WHO'S ON THE HOT SEAT?: Although HBO's Hard Knocks cameras have left, it appears that we have some real football drama in Flowery Branch.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnists Mark Bradley and Jeff Schultz have both  discussed the job security of head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff in the wake of the team's shaky 2-3 start.

Bradley asks, "Is the end nearing for Smith and Dimitroff?"  (Watch his recent video below.)

Schultz talked to owner Arthur Blank, who stopped short of giving the dreaded"'vote of confidence." History has shown that the dreaded vote of confidence is normally followed by a firing. "Blank stands by Smith, avoids mandates."

There's also the apparent riff between Smith and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan over the decision to go for it on fourth down in the Giants game.

The Falcons slide, I think, can be traced to the decision to close practice to the media in an attempt to block the reporting of changes to the starting lineup. With open media access the Falcons were 56-28 (67 percent). Since booting the media from practice after the 1-4 start last season, the Falcons are 5-11 (31 percent).

2. KOETTER ON ANTONE SMITH: Here's what Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter had to say about running back Antone Smith:

Caption
Atlanta Falcons running back Antone Smith, right, avoids the tackle of New York Giants strong safety Antrel Rolle during a scoring on a touchdown reception during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Atlanta Falcons running back Antone Smith, right, avoids the tackle of New York Giants strong safety Antrel Rolle during a scoring on a touchdown reception during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Caption
Atlanta Falcons running back Antone Smith, right, avoids the tackle of New York Giants strong safety Antrel Rolle during a scoring on a touchdown reception during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

ON GETTING SMITH INTO OPEN SPACES: “Antone is on a hot streak with the ball in his hands. I’ve never seen a guy on a streak where a guy is making this many big plays based on percentage of time he’s in there. Antone is improving in all areas but the thing he is best at is when he gets the ball in space. That’s his thing. He’s improving in all areas. He works at it. He’s playing the deepest position on the football team, halfback. Right now, we are trying to play four guys there. Antone is making the most of his chances and that’s all he can do.”

ON DEFENSES REACTING TO ANTONE NOW: “Last year when Antone got on this streak , it was like every time he went in the game people were like ‘hey, 35 is in the game.’ Because we have been playing Antone more—I know people think he hasn’t been playing enough—but we’ve been playing him more and he doesn’t get the ball every time he’s in. He is running between the tackles. He is protecting. He is doing all the things Steven Jackson does, all the things Jacquizz (Rodgers) does. It’s not as easy to say, ‘Hey, 35 is getting the ball’ when he comes in. I don’t think people are just keying on him specifically.”

ON WHAT’S IT LIKE TO HAVE SMITH AS ASSET IN HIS BACK POCKET: “We don’t look at it like that. The fact that Antone has been able to provide a big play, explosive play in almost every game, that’s a huge lift to our team. But we have confidence in all four of our halfbacks. Go back to New Orleans, all four had explosives in that game. Halfback has been consistent across the board and that includes Antone. We don’t think of it as, hey we are going to save Antone, we are going to slip him in here. We don’t look at it like that. He’s in the rotation and he’s made the most of his opportunities.”

2. ROAD TRIP!!!!: KISS 104.1's Art Terrell and Roy Wood Jr. are hosting an NFC South Rivalry Road Trip from Dec. 20 to Dec. 22 to watch the Falcons play against the New Orleans Saints. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.

4. DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS TAILGATE: The Cobb County "Pretty Girls" and "Twenty Pearls" come – the most gracious ladies of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the men of Chi Gamma Gamma chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. will join for a Domestic Violence Awareness tailgate at the Georgia Dome yellow lot at 2 p.m. before the Falcons face the Bears on Sunday.

Proceeds will be donated to the YMCA and several speakers will be on hand to discuss the perils of Domestic Violence. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.

5. BLACK COLLEGE HALL OF FAME FINALISTS: The Black College Hall of Fame, which Claude Humphrey mentioned in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech and thanked Falcons owner Arthur Blank for his support, has named 25 finalists who represent 14 NFL & Super Bowl Championships, 57 Pro Bowl selections and 31 Black College Football National Championships. Three are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Seven Inductees will be selected for the Class of 2015, which will be announced on Wednesday, November 5, 2014.

Inductees will be honored during the Black College Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony February 28, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Finalist include: Emerson Boozer (RB, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, 1962-1965); Roger Brown (OL, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, 1956-1959); Ken Burrough (WR, Texas Southern University,

Caption
Former Falcons defensive end Claude Humphrey waving to the crowd after receiving his gold jacket on Friday at the Canton Civic Center. (By D. Orlando Ledbetter/DLedbetter@ajc.com)

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Former Falcons defensive end Claude Humphrey waving to the crowd after receiving his gold jacket on Friday at the Canton Civic Center. (By D. Orlando Ledbetter/DLedbetter@ajc.com)
Caption
Former Falcons defensive end Claude Humphrey waving to the crowd after receiving his gold jacket on Friday at the Canton Civic Center. (By D. Orlando Ledbetter/DLedbetter@ajc.com)

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

1966-1969); Harold Carmichael (WR, Southern University, 1967-1970); Richard Dent (DE, Tennessee State University, 1979-1982); Hewritt Dixon (RB, Florida A&M University, 1959-1962); L.C. Greenwood (DE, University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 1965-1968); Harold Jackson (WR, Jackson State University, 1965-1968); Gary "Big Hands" Johnson (DL, Grambling State University, 1971-1974); Ernie "Big Cat" Ladd (DL, Grambling State University, 1957-1960); Leo Lewis (RB, Lincoln University, 1951-1954); Tyrone McGriff (OL, Florida A&M University, 1976-1979); Timothy Newsome (RB/KR, Winston Salem State University, 1976-1979); Jethro Pugh (DE, Elizabeth City State University, 1961-1964); Ken Riley (QB, Florida A&M University, 1965-1968); Donnie Shell (DB, South Carolina State University, 1970-1973; Otis Taylor (WR, Prairie View A&M University, 1961-1964); Emmitt Thomas (QB/DB, Bishop College, 1962-1965); Everson Walls (DB, Grambling State University, 1977-1980) and Aeneas Williams (CB, Southern University, 1987-1990). Coach and contributor finalist: Joe Gilliam, Sr. (Defensive Coordinator, Tennessee State University, 1963-1983); W.C. Gorden (Head Coach, Jackson State University, 1976-1991); Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones (President, Grambling State University, 1936-1977); Arnett Mumford (Head Coach, Southern University, 1927-1961) and William J. "Billy" Nicks (Head Coach, Morris Brown, 1930-1942, Prairie View A&M University, 1945-1965).

The Black College Football Hall of Fame was established in October 2009 to honor the greatest football players and coaches from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Its trustees are football legends Mel Blount, James Harris, Willie Lanier, Art Shell and Doug Williams. The Black College Football Hall of Fame is sponsored by the Shack Harris & Doug Williams Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, tax-exempt organization.

More information can be found at www.BlackCollegeFootballHOF.org.

6. KEY MATCHUP 1: Bears DE Jared Allen vs. Falcons LT Jake Matthews: Allen's 113-game streak was snapped after bout with pneumonia. He returned to play 59 of 66 snaps (89 percent) against Carolina last week. He

Caption
Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow knocks over a tackling dummy running a drill during team practice on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Flowery Branch. (By Curtis Compton/Ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow knocks over a tackling dummy running a drill during team practice on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Flowery Branch. (By Curtis Compton/Ccompton@ajc.com)
Caption
Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow knocks over a tackling dummy running a drill during team practice on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Flowery Branch. (By Curtis Compton/Ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

had seven tackles and a pass defense. Matthews had a lot of help from running back Steven Jackson with New York’s Jason Pierre-Paul last week.

7. KEY MATCHUP 2: Bears TE Martellus Bennett vs. Falcons FS Dwight Lowery: Bennett has 32 catches, the second-most for a tight end this season. He trails Jimmy Graham, who has 34 receptions. Bennett has 312 yards and four touchdowns. The Falcons held New York Giants tight end Larry Donnell to no catches last week.

8. KEY MATCHUP 4: Bears RB Matt Forte vs. Falcons LB Paul Worrilow: In the last meeting, Forte torched the Falcons in a Bears 30-12 win to open the 2011 season. Forte rushed 16 times for 68 yards and caught five passes for 90 yards and touchdown. He had 21 touches for 158 yards, which included a 56-yard touchdown catch-and-run on a screen play. The Falcons have had a tough time with smallish/fast backs like Cincinnati's Giovani Bernard and Minnesota's Jerick McKinnon.

9. OFFICIAL DEPTH CHART FOR BEARS GAME: The Falcons signed wide receiver Freddie Martino to the active roster and released wide receiver Courtney Roby on Tuesday.

Martino caught a 66-yard touchdown against Jacksonville during the exhibition season.

Martino, 6-0, 195 pounds, was signed by the Falcons as a college free agent out of North Greenville on May 12, 2014. He spent the first five weeks of the season on the Falcons practice squad. Martino was a four-year starter for the Crusaders where he caught 296 passes for 3,766 yards, and 26 touchdowns.

Roby, 6-0, 189 pounds, was originally selected by the Tennessee Titans in the third round (68th overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft. He was signed by the Falcons on June 24, 2014.

OFFENSE

WR 84 Roddy White, 83 Harry Douglas, 14 Eric Weems

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 73 Ryan Schraeder

LG 63 Justin Blalock, 62 James Stone

C 66 Peter Konz, 69 Harland Gunn

RG 75 Jon Asamoah, 69 Harland Gunn

RT 68 Gabe Carimi, 65 Cameron Bradfield

TE 80 Levine Toilolo, 86 Bear Pascoe

WR 11 Julio Jones, 17 Devin Hester, Freddie Martino

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 13 TJ Yates,12 Sean Renfree

RB 39 Steven Jackson, 32 Jacquizz Rodgers, 35 Antone Smith, 24 Devonta Freeman

FB 42 Patrick DiMarco

DEFENSE

DE 71 Kroy Biermann, 50 Osi Umenyiora, 90 Stansly Maponga

DT 99 Tyson Jackson, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 98 Cliff Matthews

DT 96 Paul Soliai, 91 Corey Peters

DE 95 Jonathan Babineaux, 94 Jonathan Massaquoi, 93 Malliciah Goodman, 54 Tyler Starr

LB 55 Paul Worrilow, 52 Nate Stupar

LB 53 Prince Shembo 59 Joplo Bartu

CB 23 Robert Alford, 28 Javier Arenas

CB 27 Robert McClain, 26 Josh Wilson, 28 Javier Arenas

S 36 Kemal Ishmael, 29 Sean Baker

S 20 Dwight Lowery, 41 Dezmen Southward

CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 28 Javier Arenas

SPECIALISTS

K 3 Matt Bryant

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 17 Devin Hester, 14 Eric Weems

PR 17 Devin Hester, 14 Eric Weems

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

GAME STORY: Giants storm back to beat Falcons 30-20

Falcons have not solved how to get Antone Smith the ball more

What the Falcons had to say after the loss to the Giants

Falcons lament blown scoring chances at the goal line

A sack but no victory in Osi Umenyiora's homecoming

About the Author

ajc.com

Editors' Picks