Falcons fire offensive, defensive line coaches

Coach Mike Smith took his first steps to help the Atlanta

Falcons return to NFL relevance, firing defensive line coach Ray

Hamilton and offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn on

Monday night.

One day after ending a 4-12 season, Smith said the team must get

tougher to win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the line.

Smith said that defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, offensive

coordinator Dirk Koetter and special teams coordinator Keith

Armstrong will return next season.

The firings of Hamilton, Hill and Dunn were hardly surprising as

Atlanta’s offensive and defensive lines rarely won game-long

battles on the line of scrimmage.

Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked a career-high 44 times. Poor

play on the defensive line led to Atlanta entering Week 17 ranked

last in third-down efficiency, 29th in scoring and 28th in total

yards.

General manager Thomas Dimitroff lamented ”missed assessments”

on acquiring some players and letting others go and how those moves

affected the entire team.

When training camp started, neither Smith nor Dimitroff

envisioned holding a news conference to discuss anything worse than

a loss in the Super Bowl after the Falcons narrowly lost the NFC

title game last season.

But injuries to star wideout Julio Jones, left tackle Sam Baker

and defensive end Kroy Biermann were too much to overcome. Sean

Weatherspoon, supposed to be Atlanta’s only every-down linebacker,

was hurt and limited to just seven games. Receiver Roddy White and

running back Steven Jackson played injured most of the season.

”We believe we have a talented football team here and that we

need to make adjustments,” Dimitroff said, ”but I really, truly

believe we have the nucleus and the coach and the leadership to

turn this around quickly within our offseason.

Though Smith and Dimitroff wouldn’t cite specific players, they

didn’t dispute that the offensive line was a disaster.

Peter Konz was overmatched as a starting center and starting

right guard. The right tackle position remained in flux all season,

and Lamar Holmes was inconsistent at left tackle.

No discrepancy was worse than in the 21-20 season-ending home

loss to Carolina.

Ryan was sacked nine times and hit 14 others. Panthers

quarterback Cam Newton was sacked once and hit once.

Ryan, as he’s done throughout his six-year career, refused to

blame his teammates for the poor protection.

The two-time Pro Bowl QB, who signed a new five-year, $103.75

million contract last summer that guarantees $59 million, was more

disturbed about his interception that Panthers cornerback Melvin

White returned for a 3-yard touchdown.

”It’s the end of the season, and I’m healthy, but we all have

to improve,” Ryan said. ”I have to play better. We have to play

better up front. We have to play better on the outside.

Collectively, we didn’t play good enough to win.”

Atlanta’s defensive line wasn’t much better. Releasing veteran

end John Abraham last March proved to be a bad decision after he

put up big numbers for Arizona. His replacement, free agent

acquisition Osi Umenyiora, was unable to hold onto the role he

wanted as an every-down end.

But Smith and Dimitroff were proud of the performances of rookie

cornerback Desmond Trufant, a first-round draft pick, and rookie

linebacker Paul Worrilow, an undrafted free agent.

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