Cover 9@9: Here’s a plan to fix the penalty problem

caption arrowCaption
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn talks about the team's next steps after 1-2 start. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

Good morning! Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly list of nine things at 9 a.m. Wednesday that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.

1. Fixing the penalty problem. The Falcons are currently the second-most penalized team in the league.

Under former coach Mike Smith, the Falcons were one of the least penalized teams.

Perhaps coach Dan Quinn and steal a page from Smith’s coaching book and fix their penalty issues. It would be a blending of “The Brotherhood” going through “The Process.”

Smith's team established 16-game NFL record back in 2012 with all-time lows in penalties (55) and penalty yardage (415). The 2010 Falcons had the third-fewest penalties in NFL history, with 58.

Through three games, the Falcons, with 37 penalties for 264 yards, according to NFL’s games stats and information system which records the official stats for the league.

Cleveland leads the league with 46 penalties for 327 yards. New Orleans (35-205), Detroit (35-191) and Chicago (33-133) round out the top five.

Quinn was asked if their would be any punitive measures taken for repeat violators.

“We're close to DEFCON 1 or 5,” Quinn said. “Right now, what I'd like to get done is bring them to practice. We show them in the meetings when we go, and we obviously show them in the film on Mondays when we go through that as well.”

That doesn’t seem to work too well. Perhaps an extra lap around the fields or a couple of treks up that big hill.

“The next step, which is more punitive than that, is standing next to me on the sideline,” Quinn said. “So that's, to me, way more impactful than a lap. If we can get that part right, that would be the next step that takes place if we don't get those things squared away.”

Coach Smith used to start each team meeting on Monday with “the penalty report.”

Smith would go over the penalties and the violating players would stand up and address the team. Smith felt that being the least penalized team was a critical factor for the team’s success.

Players each week were met by a large penalty review chart, on which was listed each call against the Falcons from the previous game.

Each penalty was broken down by type and origin (offense, defense, special teams). With each, the net yardage lost on the play. For instance, while holding was a 10-yard penalty, if it nullified a 30-yard completion, then it had a 40-yard impact.

Certain penalties --- those on third down when a change in possession is at stake, those in the fourth quarter when it is time to seize a game --- were given special treatment as being especially critical.

The name of each offending player was prominently included on the chart.

"Embarrassment is a great teacher,” said tight end Tony Gonzalez in a 2012 column on Smith’s penalty chart. “Accountability is a great teacher."

Smith also kept a running season total for each player and for each type of infraction. The Falcons did not want to be listed among the team leaders.

Smith and Quinn scout the officials and try to see if they can find some tendencies.

Quinn said he plans to have a full officiating crew at practice this week.

“As we go through for the week, I do know that we're going to go address them,” Quinn said. “Starting off with the penalty side of things, we'll bring a whole crew to practice, full man crew to go through it.”

It might not go over too well with today’s players to make them stand up and be accountable to the team.

Penalty-shaming is probably frowned upon by these days.

“Usually, with penalties, there's a couple of violations that you say, ‘Okay, this part of your technique and hands,’ ” Quinn said. “For us, it appears to be holding offensively and defensively. Those are the ones that show up the most.”

The Falcons call their Monday meetings, “Tell The Truth Monday.” Perhaps, they need to start off with a penalty report.

2. Carter promoted to the roster: The Falcons worked out two veterans, but moved safety Jamal Carter up from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Tuesday, the team announced.

Veteran safeties George Iloka and T.J. McDonald had workouts with the Falcons on Tuesday, according to NFL media.

The Falcons added a safety after Keanu Neal suffered a torn left Achilles in the 27-24 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

In addition to moving Carter up, the Falcons placed Neal on injured reserve, released punter Matt Wile, re-signed offensive lineman John Wetzel and signed tight end Carson Meier to the practice squad.

Carter, 25, joined the Falcons' practice squad after spending the preseason with the Denver Broncos and recording five tackles. Carter signed with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent out of Miami in 2017; he recorded 11 tackles while being active for all 16 games in his first season.

Iloka, 29, played for the Bengals (2012-17) and the Vikings (2018). He’s played in 99 NFL games and made 79 starts. Last season, he played in all 16 games and made three starts for the Vikings.

Iloka, who’s 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, played at Boise State and was drafted in the fifth round by the Bengals in 2012.

McDonald, 28, played for the Rams (2013-16) and the Dolphins (2017-18). He’s played in 75 games, all starts.

McDonald, who’s 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, was drafted in the third round of the 2013 draft out of USC.

3. Next up: The Falcons (1-2) will host the Tennessee Titans (1-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This will be the 15th meeting. The series is tied, 7-7. The Falcons won the last meeting 10-7 on Oct. 25, 2015 in Nashville.

4. Neal is out for the season: For the second straight season, strong safety Keanu Neal, who suffered a torn Achilles on Sunday against the Colts, was knocked out by an injury. Last season, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the opener against Philadelphia.

The Falcons plan to have players in for tryouts on Tuesday and will add a safety. Chris Cooper and Jamal Carter are on the practice squad and can be called up.

In addition to Kemal Ishmael and Ricardo Allen, the Falcons have safety Sharrod Neasman on the 53-man roster.

5. Running back watch:  Running backs Ito Smith and Kenjon Barner are the league's concussion protocol program.

Brian Hill and rookie Qadree Ollison would be next in line. If Barner can’t play, the Falcons will need new returners.

Justin Hardy was the punt returner last season, while Calvin Ridley returned two kickoffs for 50 yards in 2018.

6. Jarrett watch: Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett suffered a toe injury, but is expected back by the end of the week, according to coach Dan Quinn.

7. Remember the Titans: The Titans, who led by quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back Derrick Henry, opened the season with a 43-13 win over Cleveland on the road. The Titans lost to Indianapolis 19-17 at home and to Jacksonville 20-7 on the road.

In the Jacksonville game, the Titans’ offensive line was exposed as a weakness as they gave up nine sacks and 13 quarterback hits.

8. Koetter on Ridley: One of the interesting stats was Calvin Ridley catching his only target for 6 yards against the Colts.

“We did a good job of spreading the ball around with one exception,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “We have to get Calvin Ridley more involved…. That has absolutely nothing to do with how he’s playing. That guy is playing awesome in practice, but that hasn’t been the case the first two games.”

The Falcons plan to get Ridley more involved against the Titans.

“In this game we have to find some ways to get Ridley involved,” Koetter said. “That’s my job. I have to do a better job of that.”

Koetter then broke down what happened against the Colts.

“It really had nothing to do with what he did,” Koetter said. “They were playing a lot of Cover 2 (zone). In essence, they were doubling both of our outside guys. Usually your Z receiver plays to the wide side of the field and your X receiver plays more to short side of the field in your formation. If everything is balanced, it’s a little easier to work the short side of the field. That was were Julio (Jones was) and we did that a lot.”

Ryan was 22 of 23 in the second half as he worked the middle of the field, the soft spot in the Cover 2.

“Rid was open on some of the same balls we threw to Julio on some of those third downs,” Koetter said. “We had mirrored routes with Rid on the other side. It’s just a matter or working with short side of the field verses the wide side.”

Koetter has a plant to free up Ridley.

“So, what we can do to help that out, not so much on third down, but on first and second down, we can formation some things where Rid gets more in a featured role,” Koetter said. “It’s worked well in the first two games where he had 10 targets in both games. It just did not work out very well this game.”

9. Depth chart: Here's the official depth chart for the Titans' game:

WR 11 Julio Jones, 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage
LT 70 Jake Matthews, John Wetzel 
LG 68 77 James Carpenter, 71 Wes Schweitzer
C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer
RG 68 Jamon Brown, 71 Wes Schweitzer
RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 74 Ty Sambrailo, 73 Matt Gono 
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Luke Stocker, 87 Jaeden Graham
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 25 Ito Smith, 38 Kenjon Barner, 23 Brian Hill, 32 Qadree Ollison
FB 40 Keith Smith

DE 98 Takkarist McKinley, 99 Adrian Clayborn
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford
DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 94 Deadrin Senat
DE 93 Allen Bailey, 50 John Cominsky
DE 44 Vic Beasley
LB 59 De'Vondre Campbell, 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 42 Duke Riley
LB 45 Deion Jones, 53 Jermaine Grace
CB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 27 Damontae Kazee, 20 Kendall Sheffield
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 28 Jordan Miller
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman
SS 36 Kemal Ishmael, Jamal Carter

K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 5 Matt Bosher, Matt Bryant
P 5 Matt Bosher, (Mohamed Sanu)
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher
KOR 38 Kenjon Barner
PR Kenjon Barner, (Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy in practice)

About the Author

Editors' Picks