Atlanta trying to clean up special teams problems
Coach Mike Smith is grateful that Matt Bryant bailed out
Atlanta’s kickoff coverage units with winning field goals the last
He doesn’t want him to have to do it against Cleveland on
”As special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, tells his guys
all the time about, that one play is their series,” Smith said
this week. ”It’s not like you’re going out there and having a
10-play drive on offense, or a three or four or five-play drive on
defense. It’s one play.”
Without Bryant’s last-second heroics, the Falcons might be two
games under .500. When Atlanta (3-1) plays at the Browns (1-3) on
Sunday, special teams will need to be on their games to contain
Browns return specialist Josh Cribbs.
Cribbs ranks fifth on the NFL career list with 10 touchdown
returns. Eight have come on kickoffs, including three last
Though Cribbs hasn’t run back a TD this season, in a home win
last week over Cincinnati he had his 32nd game with at least 100
kickoff return yards.
”It’s a huge challenge,” said Falcons punter and kickoff
specialist Michael Koenen. ”We’ve got a lot of things to get right
before we face a guy like that.”
Ovie Mughelli, in particular, struggled badly against the San
Francisco 49ers last week.
His 9-yard holding penalty on a kickoff return forced the
Atlanta offense to start a drive at the 7. Four plays later, San
Francisco fooled Mughelli, the upback, by overloading the left side
of the formation.
With Mughelli’s attention focused to his right side, Dominique
Zeigler ran easily past long snapper Joe Zelenka, who was blocking
the man in front of him, and had a clear path to block Koenen’s
end-zone punt for a touchdown.
”It’s a mistake I made and a mistake that I will clean up,”
Mughelli said this week. ”I’ve watched extra film to I can prepare
because their idea is to try and come back with something like that
again, but they’ll be sorely disappointed because it won’t happen
Considering how Armstrong’s coverage units have played since he
joined Smith’s staff before the 2008 season, the Falcons could
correct their problems quickly.
Atlanta ranked first in opponents’ starting field position last
year and second the season before. In ’08, the Falcons set an NFL
record with 43 total net punt return yards allowed.
”People have been getting on our special teams,” Mughelli
said. ”It’s not our coordinator (Keith Armstrong). It’s not our
scheme. It’s just a few players, and last week I was that
Other mistakes have been equally glaring.
At New Orleans two weeks ago, Lance Moore returned Koenen’s
first kickoff 72 yards to the Atlanta 6, and the Saints took a
seven-point lead three plays later.
After the Falcons forced a 7-7 tie on the next possession,
Courtney Roby returned the ensuing kickoff 39 yards, but he might
have scored if not for Koenen’s tackle.
”Everybody’s got to do their job,” Koenen said this week.
”Obviously, if I’m making tackles, then they’re getting past where
we want them to do, but if I have to I will.”
In the season-opening loss at Pittsburgh, Mughelli had a 9-yard
holding penalty that wiped out Eric Weems’ 19-yard return, and six
plays later, after Koenen punted from the Atlanta 9, the Steelers
won the game.
”We have got to be more effective and efficient on special
teams,” Smith said. ”It’s really one third of the game.”