FLOWERY BRANCH —
It was a coach’s nightmare.
Flags were flying everywhere, and the normally sure-tackling team was whiffing at a high rate.
The Falcons needed a walk-off sack on a fourth-and-goal play Sunday to overcome and earn a messy 23-17 win over the Chicago Bears in their season opener.
Afterward, Falcons coach Dan Quinn wanted to eliminate those mistakes immediately.
He suspects that a similar effort would be unacceptable when the defending NFC champs face the Green Bay Packers at 8:30 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“The fouls and the missed tackles, that was really the driving message when we got back Monday morning,” Quinn said Thursday. “That part, we know we can control. That’s why we are so optimistic about those things because they are correctable.”
The Falcons have spent a great deal of time this week working to erase those 11 missed tackles and eight penalties for 73 yards. Three of the penalties occurred on special-teams plays.
The Falcons finished the bulk of their practice Thursday. All that is left is a couple of walk-throughs and some team meetings.
Fixing the tackling was handled on the field.
“When we got back out (Wednesday), it was very much in the front of our thinking during our individual work,” Quinn said. “We tried to create as many space spots as we could.”
The Falcons used speedy wide receiver Marvin Allen, who’s on the practice squad, to get in the open field.
“We were trying to put him in space so they can make space tackles,” Quinn said. “He’s one that really jumped out. I do like those good-on-good opportunities in practice.
The linebackers worked against running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
“Although they are not going to the ground, we tried to emphasize that really hard because this team can create space opportunities as well,” Quinn said. “You better be on point in terms of tackling.”
Cornerback Desmond Trufant said the defensive players have received the tackling message.
“Just going back to our fundamentals,” Trufant said. “That’s what it comes down to. We definitely had too many (missed tackles and penalties). I was the first game, but we have to clean it up and keep pushing.”
A couple of the penalties were easy for the coaches to fix.
On the opening kickoff, Kemal Ishmael was called for a block-in-the-back penalty, but if he hadn’t push the free-running Josh Bellamy, who was unblocked, he may have blown up returner Andre Roberts at the 12.
However, Ishmael should not have pushed Bellamy because a blocker in the wedge was set to level him.
“It was a trap block,” special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong said. “It could have went either way. He was loose, but we had somebody for him. One of the guys in the wedge had him. He just didn’t get there yet.”
C.J. Goodwin and Robert Alford ere also were called for penalties on special-teams plays.
“They called them. When they call them I don’t ever get into arguments with those guys,” Armstrong said. “You are on the sidelines, and the momentum of the game is going.
“If you start arguing with the referees, you’re going to get more penalties. We’ve got to coach it better. We’ve got to take care of our business. I’ll take that one.”
Deion Jones was called for an unnecessary-roughness penalty after he flipped Chicago running back Tarik Cohen out of bounds. Jones just lost track of where he was as the play started near the sideline.
“We just have to get to our style of play,” Jones said. “It was the first game, but that’s not an excuse. Now, we get the chance to settle down. All the jitters are gone. Now, we can get back to our style of play.”
Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews and left guard Andy Levitre both had holding penalties. The Falcons overcame Matthews’ penalty and scored a touchdown in the second quarter to make the score 10-3.
Levitre helped to stall a promising touchdown drive that was at the Bears’ 10. The Falcons went back to the 20 and ended up settling for a field goal.
“Some of it’s just playing,” Matthews said. “There’s not one magic word to say. Obviously, pre-snap stuff we’re hard on ourselves about, stuff we can control, false starts and stuff like that. Just working and drills, tight hands and all that. We can improve on that.”