Atlanta Falcons Blog

Atlanta Falcons blog by D. Orlando Ledbetter, the pro football and Atlanta Falcons reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

COVER 9@9: Bowles was interviewed for Falcons head coaching spot


Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It's our weekly blog of nine things at 9 a.m Wednesday that  you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons (3-3). The defending NFC champion Falcons are set to face the New York Jets  at 1 p.m. on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

1. BOWLES IN TOUGH SPOT. Jets coach Todd Bowles entered the year as a lock to be the first coach fired during the 2017 season.

But after the front office dumped all of the key veteran talent, Bowles is bucking the odds as he has the Jets off to a 3-4 start with Josh McCown as his quarterback.

The Jets are set to face the Falcons (3-3) at 1 p.m. Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Bowles was interviewed for the Falcons vacant position after Mike Smith was fired. Falcons coach Dan Quinn, with his ties to New Jersey, was thought to be the leader for the Jets job.

But Quinn thought the Falcons, with an established quarterback in Matt Ryan, was a better move than hitching his wagon to Gang Green and Geno Smith.

Bowles was one of the hottest candidates out on the NFL head-coaching circuit back then. He’d also interviewed with the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers. He was picked to follow Rex Ryan.

Bowles, a former NFL player, started his coaching career as the defensive coordinator/secondary coach at Morehouse in 1997.

Bowles was hired as the Cardinals defensive coordinator on Jan. 21, 2013 after spending the 2012 season with Philadelphia Eagles.

He was 14-year NFL assistant who had also coached with the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins.

Bowles played defensive back in the NFL for eight seasons with the Washington Redskins (1986-90; 1992-93) and San Francisco 49ers (1991). He was a member of the Redskins team that won Super Bowl XXII.

He played collegiately at Temple (1982-85) where he was a team captain under Arizona coach Bruce Arians in 1985 and played with Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong (running back/defensive back 1983-86).

2. THE RETURN OF SPOON, PART 2: The Falcons re-signed linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, for his third tour of duty with the team. Also, rookie weakside linebacker Duke Riley suffered a knee injury against New England on Sunday and is set to have surgery.

“Spoon is back where he wanted to be,” his agent, Ryan Williams, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. “He’s healthy and ready to go.”

Weatherspoon, 29, will be a popular addition in the locker room and for the fan base. The Falcons selected him 19th in the 2010 draft.

Photos: A look at Sean Weatherspoon’s career

Weatherspoon was on his way to Pro Bowl status until a rash of injuries knock him off his course in 2013. He has started 44 of 65 games.

After 2013, he left for Arizona as a free agent because they guaranteed more money. The Falcons offered an incentive-laden deal based on playing time. He returned to the Falcons in 2016 only to suffer a ruptured Achilles in Week 5.

He was a starter on the 2012 defense that reached the NFC Championship game and came within 10 yards of reaching the Super Bowl.

“Everything was a factor for him,” Williams said. “They have a phenomenally talented team. He loves the city.

“He definitely loves everything about it. It was a no-brainer for him to come back and contribute.”

Weatherspoon has been angling for a return since the offseason. He has been a regular at Falcons’ home games and he let team officials know that he’s in shape if needed.

In six seasons — five with the Falcons — Weatherspoon racked up 338 combined tackles, eight sacks, 15 pass deflections and one touchdown.

Riley appeared in all six Falcons games, including five starts. He had eight tackles and 11 assists. The Falcons have not announced that Riley will require surgery.

To make room for Weatherspoon, the Falcons waived defensive lineman Joe Vellano.

The team also made two practice-squad moves, signing defensive lineman Taniela Tupou and waiving defensive lineman Jonathan Woodard.

3. SKRINE STRUGGLING: The Jets’ major problems has been penalties.

The Jets have committed 67 penalties for 546 yards. They are fourth in the league. Only Seattle (70), San Francisco (68) and Kansas City (68) have more.

The Falcons have 46 penalties for 333 yards.

The Jets have been called for 13 offensive holding penalties and 10 defensive holding penalties. They has 12 penalties for 124 yards in the loss to Miami. The Jets have had 10 or penalties in three games this season.

Claims of undisciplined play have been levied by the New York media.

“The penalties are very frustrating,” Bowles said. “The guys understand it’s important. We’ve got to have more poise under pressure.”

Defensive Buster Skrine, who played at Etowah High and Tennessee-Chattanooga, is second on the Jets with six penalties for 71 yards and struggled in coverage against Miami’s Jarvis Landry last week.

“He had some technique errors,” Bowles said. “There are some things we can work on.”

4. FALCONS RUN DEFENSE: The Falcons run defense continues to slide in the league rankings.

After giving up 162 yards to New England, the Falcons dropped from 11th in the league to 16th. They are now giving up 112 yards a game.

Over the past three games, all losses, the Falcons have given up 117, 138 and 162 yards to drop from ninth in the rankings to 16th.

5. JETS RUSHING ATTACK: The New York Jets, who feature running backs Bilal Powell (4.7 per carry), Matt Forte (4.4 per carry) and Elijah McGuire (4.0 per carry), average 103.3 yards per game, which is ranked 19th in the league.

“Like a lot of runs that happen, somebody is in the wrong spot, in the wrong gap,” Quinn said.

Which means they got blocked out of their spot. They aren’t trying to give up their spot. The players must defeat the blocker to stay in their gap. Vellano was losing his matchups and now he's out of a job.

He played 18 of 74 snaps (24 percent) against New England and has one assisted tackle. He played 14 of 67 snaps (21 percent) against Miami and had one assisted tackle.

He was only on the field because the Falcons cut RaShede Hageman, Jack Crawford suffered a torn biceps injury and Courtney Upshaw was out with an ankle injury. The Falcons signed Ahtyba Rubin, a 310-pound 10-year veteran last week.

“That’s usually what takes place when a run gets manufactured, especially an explosive one,” Quinn said. “We’re more of an eight-man front team. When you get out of the gap, there are going to be consequences to that. When we get to playing, it’s better to be on third down, but also stop some drives too. Then they get another shot at it, another shot at it, and another shot at it.”

The Bills were led by LeSean McCoy and quarterback Tyrod Taylor as they rushed for 117 yards.

Against Miami, Jay Ajayi had 130 of the 138 yards.

Against New England, running backs Dion Lewis (76 yards), Rex Burkhead (31), Mike Gillislee (31) and James White (19) all did some damage against the Falcons’ run defense.

Quinn doesn’t believe its an issue of not being physical enough up front on defense.

“I know you certainly could see it that way when you look at just a stat number as it goes,” Quinn said.  “But I thought Ish (Kemal Ishmael) really tackled well, and I thought Keke (Keanu Neal) really tackled well.

“Inside, I thought Grady (Jarrett) and (Dontari) Poe were square and strong inside. So those things are what I was looking for in the game. At the end, no, I’m not happy with the result of the numbers of rushes and the yards, but the tackling was improved.”

6. COLEMAN IS A WEAPON: Last season, the Falcons’ Tevin Coleman led all running backs with 2.54 yards per route run and averaged 13.3 routes run per game, according to

Through four games this year, Coleman averaged the same 13.3 routes run per game and increased his efficiency to 3.00 yards per route run.

In the past two games, however, Coleman has run just 16 total routes, and seen only two targets for four yards.

7. DEEP BALL WOES:  In the case of the Falcons’ deep passing attack, practice makes perfect.

And the Falcons didn’t get a lot of time to practice.

The downfield passing attack has struggled this season for the Falcons, 3-3 after a 23-7 loss to the Patriots Sunday night. One theory is that the Falcons didn’t get to work on the timing of their deep passing game over the offseason because Julio Jones (toe) and speedy wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (lower leg) were out injured.

The Falcons continued to miss on those deep passes in the latest loss. Quarterback Matt Ryan was 0 of 4 when throwing deep passes of 20 or more yards. He is 4 of 23 on deep throws this year and has a 74.4 passer rating on those throws, which ranks 24th out of 33 quarterbacks, according to

8. SERIES HISTORY: This will be the 12th meeting. The Falcons lead 6-5. The Jets won the last meeting 30-28 as Geno Smith tossed three touchdown passes on Oct. 7, 2013 at the Georgia Dome.

9. DEPTH CHART: The Falcons released their depth chart for their game against the New York Jets.

Weatherspoon is listed as the third-string middle linebacker behind Deion Jones and Jermaine Grace.

Former safety Ishmael took over for Riley after he suffered a knee injury against the Patriots last week.

Ishmael played 28 of 74 defensive snaps (38 percent) and finished third on the team with nine tackles.

Here’s the depth chart:


WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 19 Andre Roberts

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo

LG 67 Andy Levitre, 64 Sean Harlow

C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland

RG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 63 Ben Garland

RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 68 Austin Pasztor

TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 85 Eric Saubert

WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 17 Marvin Hall, 15 Nick Williams

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub

RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward

FB 40 Derrick Coleman


DE 50 Brooks Reed, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takk McKinley

DT 92 Dontari Poe, 79 Ahtyba Rubin

DT 97 Grady Jarrett

DE 91 Courtney Upshaw, 90 Derrick Shelby

LB 44 Vic Beasley Jr.

LB 45 Deion Jones, 56 Jermaine Grace, 54 Sean Weatherspoon

LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 52 Jordan Tripp

CB 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson

CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole

S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Damontae Kazee, 20 Sharrod Neasman

S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael


K 3 Matt Bryant

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy

PR 19 Andre Roberts, 18 Taylor Gabriel

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 5 Matt Bosher

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.