Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Darius Johnson (13) was one of the changes made during the teams bye week moving from the practice squad to the No. 3 receiver. Johnson celebrates with wide receiver Harry Douglas (83) celebrates a touchdown in the first half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Georgia Dome. (USA TODAY Sports: Daniel Shirey)
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith promised intense scrutiny of the entire football operation during the team’s bye week.
While some changes were necessitated by injuries, others were not as the team wanted to move past it’s disappointing 1-4 start.
“We talked during the bye week, if you had a Falcons logo on your helmet you were expected to step up and make plays,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “Whether a young guy, old guy, we all needed to do that, and I thought we did that.”
The Falcons improved to 2-4 with a 31-23 victory over Tampa Bay.
“We made a lot of corrections in the bye week,” Smith said. “They didn’t all show up this week, but we are going to continue to work and take it one day at a time, one game at a time.”
Some of the changes were more obvious than others.
The Falcons moved defensive coordinator Mike Nolan down to the field and out of the press box. The goal was to get better communications with the players and help some of the younger players through any assignment issues.
In addition to moving rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant to nickel back to replace Robert McClain, the Falcons went to heavy eight-man rotation along the defensive line.
Three of the four starters had their playing time reduced as reserves Malliciah Goodman (35 of 86 snaps; 42 percent), Cliff Matthews (21 snaps/ 25 percent), Stansly Maponga (21 snaps/25 percent) and Jonathan Massaquoi (17 snaps/20 percent) played at least 20 percent of the snaps.
Here’s the snap count for the starters — Jonathan Babineaux played 69 snaps (83 percent), Osi Umenyiora (65/78 percent), Corey Peters (59/71 percent) and Peria Jerry (49/59 percent).
Before the bye week against the Jets, Babineaux and Umenyiora played 98 percent of snaps. Peters played 70 against the Jets, so his snaps basically stayed the same and Jerry played 67 percent.
On offense, the Falcons stayed with their three-receiver formations for most of the day.
Drew Davis (41 of 46 snaps/89 percent) and Darius Johnson (35/76 percent) played significant snaps. Brian Robiskie played two snaps and Kevin Cone played one snap.
“I thought we put together a very good plan to utilize the strengths of our players,” Smith said. “I thought the coaching staff did a great job.”
The Falcons were able to get better pressure on the quarterback with a deeper defensive line rotation.
“We had a rotation that was a little bit different in terms of who was actually participating,” Smith said. “We were going to look at everything, and there were a lot of changes out there on the football field, on the sideline, in the press box. We looked at everything.”
With Julio Jones and Roddy White both out for the first time this season, Darius Johnson, who was called up from the practice squad, played a lot as the No. 3 receiver.
“He’s done a very good job,” Smith said. “He has earned the right to go out there and play. He had a crucial catch for a first down in the game. He is a very athletic, not a big receiver, but athletic receiver with good speed. It was good to see him get his first catch in the National Football League.”
On Sunday against Arizona and quarterback Carson Palmer, who has been interception-prone this season, the Falcons are hoping they can continue to improve their turnover differential numbers.
“We only had one, it’s a start,” Smith said. “We had some opportunities, we had some ball disruption. I thought there were a couple other opportunities to take the ball away. There was a ball on the ground on a sack they ended up recovering, which we would have liked to get that turnover, but it is a step in the right direction in terms of what we want our defense to do.”