Falcons must survive injuries

sports@macon.comSeptember 17, 2013 

Rams Falcons Football

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) stretches after making a catch against St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins (21) and St. Louis Rams defensive end Eugene Sims (97) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, in Atlanta.


The Atlanta Falcons are in trouble.

Yes, injuries happen in the NFL. It’s football. People get hit and they get hurt. But the injury bug that hit the Falcons on Sunday was like a bad episode of “M*A*S*H.”

You just felt Hawkeye was going to run out with Hot Lips Houlihan to grab all of the Atlanta players and take them back to the 4077.

But like many of those episodes, things just might turn out OK in the end for this football team.

The process, however, might be painful to watch.

For the next month, the Falcons must be in survival mode, just like they were in the second half when the St. Louis Rams made the push and almost caught Atlanta. This team just has to be good enough at the right time, and that might not mean in mid-September.

The injuries to defensive end Kroy Biermann and fullback Bradie Ewing will hurt, particularly Biermann. He symbolized the flexibility defensive coordinator Mike Nolan liked with the ability to play defensive end or drop back and play linebacker.

Jonathan Massoquoi, Cliff Matthews and Malliciah Goodman are going to have to pick up for Biermann on the line. But they’ll need the secondary to continue playing well. If those three young players struggle getting a pass rush, the Falcons will need even better play from William Moore and Thomas DeCoud -- two of the best safeties in the NFL -- and cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, two rookies who are doing well so far.

Veteran cornerback Asante Samuel is also banged up, and the Falcons should simply get him healthy. They would be better off having Samuel take a month off to get 100 percent healthy than push him back in a hurry -- as long as the two rookies corners continue playing well.

But there’s more trouble for the defense with the news that Sean Weatherspoon will be out two months. How can a team that loses two starters on defense survive?

Well, the Falcons might have to simply outscore opponents, but now that we know running back Steven Jackson is out for two or three games, the offense has a major concern. Will the Falcons now become a one-trick pony, relying mostly on the passing game?

The danger in that is the protection of quarterback Matt Ryan, or potential lack of it. The Falcons’ offensive line played decent Sunday, but it will need to continue to improve if Ryan is to remain on his feet. And with questions with the running game, he’ll have to. If Ryan goes down, go ahead and start hoping they’ll collapse so Atlanta can be in the Jadeveon Clowney sweepstakes.

Jackson was so important in the offensive strategy. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, and this mountain of a man has a motor when he’s running at full speed. But the Falcons now have to turn to Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling, who may also have to play fullback with Ewing gone.

There’s no doubt this is a pass-first team, and rightfully so with Ryan’s weapons like Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. But even the Steelers’ teams of the 1970s that had Terry Bradshaw throwing to two of the greatest receivers of all-time in Lynn Swann and John Stallworth also had two huge players in the backfield to hand the ball to. Those teams wouldn’t have won without Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier running the football, and Atlanta will have trouble if Jackson can’t stay healthy.

This week’s game with the Dolphins is big. A win on the road would get the Falcons above the .500 mark, and then they would have three straight home games with New England, the New York Jets and Tampa Bay. Those should be winnable games, even against New England next Sunday night.

The key for this Falcons team is to be healthy and get hot once the second half of the season rolls around. But if the injuries cause a tough stretch, the Falcons don’t want to be in position where they have to try and catch New Orleans in the NFC South.

The NFC right now looks like there will be a few teams at the top -- Green Bay, Seattle and San Francisco. Atlanta needs to be in that mix, but the ability to survive through this initial test will be crucial.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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