Falcons’ Alford drawing penalties with ‘too aggressive’ play

There will be times on Sunday when Bears wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery will try to get open by using their considerable size advantage over Falcons cornerback Robert Alford.

Alford has to push back or he has no chance. Somehow, he has to do it without drawing penalty flags.

The player whose nickname is “Rocky” must master the art of aggressively covering bigger foes while staying within the rules. After Alford’s nightmarish, four-penalty game against the Giants last Sunday only one player in the NFL has drawn more penalty flags this season.

“He’s way too aggressive,” Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “That’s what you love about him, he’s an aggressive, competitive guy. That’s why he gets tangled up with these guys. When you are told to cover a guy, the objective is not to get away from him; the objective is to cover him. As competitive as he is, he gets real close. He has to learn how to gauge that.”

It must be a difficult balance for Alford to strike. His aggressive style, along with superlative speed, got him drafted in the second round out of Southeastern Louisiana in 2013 and made him a starter in his 13th game as a rookie.

Yet that same tenacity has contributed to Alford being tied for the second-most penalties in the NFL with six (four were offset or declined). Remarkably, four of those flags came in the second half against the Giants. Alford had been called for just one penalty in coverage in the previous four games (the other was for an illegal block on special teams).

The penalties have detracted from Alford’s otherwise good work in pass coverage this season.

“Everybody has a bad game,” Alford said. “It’s a different guy every week. It depends on how you bounce back the next week. I feel like I’m going to bounce back.”

The penalties against Alford during the 30-20 loss to the Giants showed how difficult it is for Alford (5-10, 186) to jostle with bigger receivers without being penalized.

In the third quarter Alford was called for two penalties on the same play. He held Odell Beckham with left arm well beyond the of scrimmage (illegal contact) then hit him as Eli Manning’s pass floated down field (pass interference). That set up the Giants at the Falcons’ 45-yard line and they went on to score a touchdown to pull within 20-17.

In the final period Alford grabbed Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham off the line (holding), somehow ended up behind Beckham, and then couldn’t recover as Beckham turned to make a 15-yard TD catch that put the Giants up for good..

“On the touchdown, he was completely out of position,” Nolan said.

The NFL’s points of emphasis for officials this season include illegal contact and defensive holding. On each of Alford’s penalties against the Giants, the wide receivers were creating contact as much as they were taking it but they were more subtle than Alford.

“I’m a very competitive and physical guy to be my size,” Alford said. “The league came down with a new rule. I have to adjust to it and still be physical and aggressive.”

Nolan said Desmond Trufant, the other starter at cornerback, has a better feel than Alford about how to be physical without drawing a flag. Trufant has been penalized twice in coverage this season, both times for holding.

Trufant and Alford will be tested by Marshall (6-4, 230 pounds) and Jeffery (6-3, 216). Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has a strong arm and is willing to throw the ball into tight spaces.

Alford and Trufant will have to stay close to Marshall and Jeffery and not allow them to use their size and strength to get separation.

“Cutler, he’s a good quarterback, very strong arm,” Alford said. “Jeffery and Marshall, they are two big, good receivers. Tall receivers, big receivers who like to use their body. We just have to go out there and use our technique.”

Alford has do it without drawing flags.

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