Smith hopes Atlanta keeps creating turnovers

Falcons coach Mike Smith hopes his defense is finally starting

to understand how to create takeaways.

Despite being eliminated from playoff contention in a Week 11

home loss to New Orleans, Atlanta has four interceptions and eight

fumble recoveries in three games since.

Strong safety William Moore, rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant

and defensive lineman Jonathan Babineaux were the top catalysts in

helping the Falcons recover five fumbles and pick off two passes in

Sunday’s 27-26 win over Washington.

Smith, though, stopped short Monday of praising the defense too

much, particularly considering that the Falcons are still too

susceptible to mistakes.

Atlanta began the game ranked fourth-worst in NFL turnover

margin, and the abundance of what Smith calls explosive plays had

contributed to a fourth-worst ranking in average points

allowed.

”The first (point of emphasis) is winning the turnover battle

and the second one is winning the explosive battle,” Smith said.

”You put those two things together, and it’s the toxic

differential that you look at. More times than not, the teams that

are in the top 12, most of those teams are in the playoffs.”

Since losing last month to the Saints, Atlanta has allowed 21

plays of 15 or more yards.

Smith said he’s not too surprised considering how many young

players are on the field at the same time. Five rookies started on

defense against the Redskins, but even the most experienced rookies

– Trufant and cornerback Robert Alford – struggled at times.

Though he batted down a potentially devastating two-point

conversion pass on the Redskins’ final play and intercepted Kirk

Cousins earlier in the fourth quarter, Trufant had a major gaffe on

Pierre Garcon’s 53-yard touchdown reception in the second.

Trufant had already been flagged for holding Garcon on the play

before Garcon beat him to the ball.

”If you’re getting beat on a double cut and you’re going to

hold the defender, make sure you hold him good where he doesn’t

still get a chance to catch the football,” Smith said. ”You take

the 5-yard penalty on the defense.”

Earlier in the second, Alford gave up Aldrick Robinson’s 62-yard

reception, but rookie free safety Zeke Motta missed an assignment

and never had a chance to help over the top.

And in the first, the defense used poor alignment and technique

to give up a 37-yard run to Alfred Morris and 23-yard touchdown

catch by Fred Davis on the next snap.

”They’re all learning opportunities for our guys,” Smith said.

”As a coach, you want to have those positive learning situations.

We’ve had too many negative learning situations in this ballgame

and the entire season.”

When Atlanta (4-10) visits San Francisco (10-4) next Monday, the

defense will face a tough challenge. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick

has struggled with completion percentage this season, but he played

well in Sunday’s win over Tampa Bay and has some of the league’s

top playmakers in running back Frank Gore, receiver Anquan Boldin

and tight end Vernon Davis.

Babineaux, who recovered two fumbles against Washington,

believes the defense can build on its performance against the

49ers.

”I think the defense stepped up big by creating as many

turnovers as we did which put the offense in the best position to

score points,” Babineaux said. ”We have to continue to press

forward and find ways to win out the schedule.”

Notes: Smith indicated that LB Sean Weatherspoon should be able

to practice this week despite leaving in the fourth quarter and not

returning against the Redskins. … FS Thomas DeCoud, who missed

the game, is still in the NFL’s concussion protocol and has not

been cleared to return to practice.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org