Falcons seek answers in private, close practice

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Off to a 1-2 start for the second time in coach Mike Smith's tenure, the Atlanta Falcons opted to close practice Wednesday in order to focus on fixing the team's woes.
Smith who did not reveal the extent of wide receiver Roddy White's high ankle sprain was not happy when some of the team's personnel moves were reported. With Sam Baker out of the lineup, untested right tackle Lamar Holmes moved over to left tackle, where he spent all of his rookie season. Jeremy Trueblood, the former Tampa Bay Buc, moved to right tackle.
Smith called the decision to close practice a football decision. The team announced that it was closing practice to the media other than the "first 30 minutes or until the start of 'team' work" that is required by the NFL's 2013 media relations policy.
He doesn't believe the team is over-reacting to a bad start when they were projected by many to be a Super Bowl contender.
"Absolutely not!" Smith said. "You can't concern yourself with anything but this game, and that is the mindset that we take each and every week. We've been doing it that way since we've been here, and we will continue to do it that way."
The Falcons (1-2) face the second of three consecutive AFC East opponents with a game against New England (3-0) Sunday night at the Georgia Dome.
The Patriots earned narrow victories at Buffalo (23-21) and at home over the Jets (13-10) before thumping the Buccaneers 23-3 on Sunday in Foxborough, Mass. New England is 3-0 for the first time since 2007.
The Falcons might be New England's toughest test to date. The Bills (1-2) and Jets (2-1) each started rookie quarterbacks and the Buccaneers are winless.
The Falcons have a handful of issues that need to be addressed if they are going to offer the Patriots a stiff challenge. They have to score touchdowns in the red zone, protect quarterback Matt Ryan and put a plan in place to defense New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, who might be back this week.
The Falcons have scored touchdowns on only 50 percent (6 of 12) of their red-zone possessions.
In their 27-23 defeat at Miami, the Falcons scored touchdowns on just two of five trips inside Miami's 20. They settled for two field goals and kicker Matt Bryant also missed a 35-yard attempt.
Ryan wasn't sacked against the Dolphins after he was dropped three times in the opener at New Orleans and twice against St. Louis.
But that doesn't mean Ryan didn't feel Miami's pass rush. The Dolphins hurried Ryan 13 times and hit him twice on 39 drop backs. The Patriots totaled seven sacks in their past two games.
Gronkowski, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, could make his season debut after sitting out because of injury. Gronkowski had 55 receptions for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 11 games in 2012. In 2011, he totaled 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The Falcons have never opened a season 1-3 under Smith.
"Well this is the most important game for us because it is the next one," Smith said. "You're guaranteed 16 opportunities and you want to make the best out of each opportunity. I think everybody in this league has that same mindset where the next game is the most important one."

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