The Atlanta Falcons wrapped up a week-long group of practice sessions Saturday as the team completely rearranged its schedule in preparation of the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs.
Atlanta was in this exact situation in 2010. The Falcons secured a first-round bye in the playoffs and had home-field advantage throughout. Head coach Mike Smith decided then to lay off the on-field work and rest his players during the bye week.
The team didn’t report to its Flowery Branch practice facility until Thursday of the bye week in 2010, and their work was more classroom and film related than on-field.
The Falcons lost to the Green Bay Packers in the Georgia Dome in 2010, 48-21.
“We are not going to do anything like we did last time,” Smith said.
Smith brought the team in on Wednesday and scheduled four practices, one per day, through Saturday. Since the team doesn’t know who it will play (since the Packers beat the Minnesota Vikings Saturday, Atlanta will play the winner of Sunday’s game between the Washington Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks) Smith scheduled “Falcons vs. Falcons” sessions.
This week’s practices focused on the Falcons offense learning and beating its own defense, and vice versa. Since this Atlanta team was 13-3, both units were up against a formidable foe.
Smith also said the work during the bye week would be a step back to working on fundamentals. He saw deficiencies this season in tackling and how his defensive players attempted to take a path to the ball carrier.
“You have to make sure that you wrap-tackle,” said Smith when he brought up the three possible teams Atlanta might face in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The running backs for Washington and Seattle ranked No. 2 and 3 this year in rushing yards. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson was No. 1. Atlanta will face the potent running attack of either rookie Alfred Morris, who gained 1,613 yards on the ground this season, or Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, who was right behind Morris with 1,590 yards,
“The best way stop a running game is to make sure you get multiple guys there,” said Smith. “You can have a free hitter, but you have to have guys beat blocks and that’s why some of the emphasis this week is on fundamentals—beating blocks, getting off blocks and being able to pursue the football.”
The answer to the question of which is better for the 2012 Falcons, rest versus work, won’t be answered until Sunday, Jan. 13. But tight end Tony Gonzalez said he was willing to do anything to meet the team's goal.
“If this is what it takes, us coming out here to keep our timing, I’m all for it,” said Gonzalez. “If we had to come up here for eight, nine, 10 hours (per day), I would do it, obviously to win a Super Bowl. That’s the mindset around here this week.”
Keeping the team’s momentum was an important goal for the bye week practices. A by-product of the Falcons getting four sessions in was it allowed some of the injured players to work into game situations in a controlled environment.
Cornerback Dunta Robinson was cleared from the league-mandated concussion protocol and returned to practice on Friday. Strong safety William Moore, who missed the final four weeks of the season with a hamstring injury, returned to practice on Saturday.
Smith said he felt defensive end John Abraham (sprained ankle) could return for Atlanta’s game next Sunday, as could cornerback Christopher Owens, who has been working on the side with Atlanta’s Athletic Performance Group
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.