Missed tackles, penalties thwart defense’s effort

Through their first two games, all eight touchdown that the Falcons’ rebuilt defense has given have come on drives of 75 yards or more — including two drives over 90 yards — as they head into their Monday night showdown with the New Orleans Saints (0-2) at the Superdome.

With the extra time to prepare, head coach Dan Quinn, defensive coordinator Richard Smith and the rest of the defensive staff did a film study of the drives which reached three conclusions. The Falcons are stressing to eliminate their penalties, stop missing tackles and come up with more turnovers.

“We did have an opportunity to go back and do some self-scouting,” Quinn said. “To have 10 missed tackles in a game (last week against the Raiders) was very disappointing for us. That part of our game, we know can get better.”

The defense has faced 23 possessions and has only had four three-and-outs and forced nine punts.

Of the eight long scoring drives, four were aided by penalties: Adrian Clayborn jumping offsides on third down, Robert Alford being called for unnecessary roughness, Alford on a pass interference and Dashon Goldson and Justin Hardy miscommunicating which led to a 12-men-on-the field penalty.

“It’s like you’re killing yourselves,” Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “We have to be on point this week. We can’t extend their drives. Every time we extend people’s drive (they score). That’s the key, making sure everybody is locked in.”

Missed tackles are a carry-over concern from last year.

“Tackling, that’s effort. That’s grit. That’s passion,” Weatherspoon said. “That’s something that we all need to work on. The linebacker group led the team in missed tackles. Our goal this week is to not lead the team.”

Better pursuit to the ball could help, too.

“We are going to miss some (tackles), but we have to have guys flying to the ball,” Weatherspoon said. “If we miss one, it won’t matter if the other guys are rolling around to the ball. That’s what we are going to have to do, help each other out. I think we can do that.”

There have been some highlights like a Desmond Trufant interception and the defense stopping the Raiders on a fourth-and-2. Two drives ended as time expired. Opponents have made one field goal and missed another.

The Falcons will also add some new looks to their defense scheme that they plan to unveil against the Saints.

“The things that we do, we need to do better,” Quinn said. “With the addition of some new looks that we plan on having not just this week, but every week.”

Trufant almost had a second interception against the Raiders. Alford had an interception wiped away on a pass interference penalty. The team has yet to force a fumble.

“We’ve got to get our ball-hawking going, the mindset for going for it,” Quinn said. “Some of those long drives can get stopped by the turnovers. We only have one so far. We are going to keep going for it in every way. That part of our game we always talk about.”

Penalties remain troubling.

“The one drive there where we had 12 men on the field, we didn’t come back and respond real well,” Smith said. “That part is not like us.”

After the Falcons went up 35-21 with 2:37 remaining last week, Smith went into a prevent defense and the Raiders repeatedly passed underneath to running backs. The Falcons missed four tackles on that drive alone.

The Falcons know they have formidable foe in Saints quarterback Drew Brees. They can’t afford to provide him extra chances.

“I think he is playing as good as ever,” Smith said. “He’s their coach on the field.”

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