Worrilow hopes to lead a defensive turnaround

Falcons inside linebacker Paul Worrilow, in his first season as the signal-caller of the defense, is off to a solid start.

He leads the NFL in tackles with 29, according to league stats. The Falcons’ coaches film-review stats credit him with 31 tackles, 14 solo tackles and 17 assists.

The analytics website profootballfocus has him with 18 tackles, six assists, three missed tackles and 10 stops, which are plays that result in an offensive failure.

Worrilow, who had to take on a key role in the defense after linebacker Sean Weatherspoon went down with a ruptured Achilles on June 10, has played 148 snaps, including 74 run snaps, 10 pass rushing plays and 64 plays in pass coverage.

While the production is strong, the Falcons have given up 472 yards per game, which ranks last in the league. They have given up 154.5 rushing yards per game, which ranks 26th.

Falcons coach Mike Smith appreciates the production, but needs more of a playmaking impact from Worrilow and the rest of the defense.

“Worrliow is a very smart player,” Smith said. “Again, we are making too many hits, when I say hits, I mean contact, too far down the field.”

Worrilow is playing behind massive nose tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson, the team’s major offseason free-agency signings on defense.

“We’ve got to be better in defending the run,” Smith said. “We will improve.”

Worrilow will need to lead the charge against the Buccaneers, who unleashed running back Bobby Rainey on the Falcons last season. Rainey, a Griffin native who played at Western Kentucky, rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns in the Bucs’ 41-28 victory over the Falcons in November.

“Definitely, after they watch the film, we expect them to come in and try and run on us,” Worrilow said. “We have some familiarity with him from last year. (Rainey) had kind of a coming-out game against us. Run fits are going to be good. It’s just stopping the run with some physicality up front. That’s one of the things we need to improve on.”

Worrilow made the team last season as an undrafted free agent from Delaware. Because the Falcons were hit with injuries, he started 12 games and led the team in tackles with 137.

Worrilow is part of the re-tooling at linebacker position that had its pass-coverage weaknesses exposed in the playoffs in 2012. The three linebackers who started in the NFC Championship game are no longer with the team or injured. Stephen Nicholas was released, Akeem Dent was traded to Houston and Weatherspoon is out for the season.

Worrilow believes he can help lead an immediate turnaround.

“We are confident,” Worrilow said. “It’s going to take some work. We haven’t been as good as we want to be. We have to toughen up.”

Smith believes Worrilow, along with defenders, needs to be more dynamic as they try to play more cohesively. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan would not comment about Worrilow specifically. He said everyone on the defense needed to step forward and make some plays.

“We’ve got to cut it loose and go make plays especially in our run defense,” Smith said.

Worrilow received the message.

Etc.: The Falcons signed punter and kickoff specialist Matt Bosher to a five-year contract extension and long snapper Josh Harris to a four-year contract extension. … Falcons wide receiver Roddy White (hamstring) was listed on the official injury report as questionable for the game. Wide receiver Julio Jones (ankle), linebacker Prince Shembo (knee) and left tackle Jake Matthews (ankle) were listed on the injury report as probable after fully practicing for the second consecutive day.