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Falcons looking for ways to fix penalties, slow starts

September 23, 2019
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Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper (81) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
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Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper (81) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Ricardo Allen says the Atlanta Falcons can’t afford to assume talent will make up for the team’s 1-2 start.

Instead, the safety says the Falcons must make changes now if they want to expect different results.

“I don’t care how much talent you have,” Allen said Monday. “If you’re not finding a way to win with it, you’ve got to shake something up. Something has to be different.”

Allen didn’t have a quick answer on what changes are needed.

The bigger mystery is how the Falcons can fix their startling three-game trend for penalties that extend opponents’ drives and stop their own.

Sunday’s 27-24 loss at Indianapolis increased the pressure on coach Dan Quinn to eliminate mistakes.

The Falcons committed 16 penalties for 128 yards against the Colts and fell behind 20-3 at halftime. They have 35 penalties through three games.

Until the Falcons play a clean game, Allen says the record must be believed.

“You have to take it for what it is, you’re a 1-2 team,” Allen said. “You’re not an overly talented team. You’re a 1-2 team. You’ve got to be realistic with it. You’ve got to get better. You’ve got to get back to the drawing board.”

Allen said he remains loyal to Quinn, who is in his fifth season.

“Until the clock hits 0:00, I’m going to fight with him until there ain’t no tomorrow,” Allen said. “That’s all I can do.”

Quinn said Monday he’ll have a full crew of officials calling penalties at practice this week. The Falcons normally have a partial crew at practice.

“We’re going to address it right now and we’re not waiting,” Quinn said.

Asked if he’ll have punishment for penalties, such as running laps, Quinn said he’ll instead have guilty players stand beside him on the sideline. He said that punishment is “more punitive to me.”

If the heat on the coach continues to intensify, standing next to Quinn could become increasingly uncomfortable for players.

WHAT’S WORKING

The offense recovered from a slow start to enjoy its best balance of the season and strong production from Matt Ryan . Devonta Freeman ran for a season-best 88 yards, including a 28-yarder. His 18 carries show he can handle a big workload. Backups Ito Smith and Kenjon Barner left the game with concussions, so the team’s confidence in Freeman is especially important.

Ryan threw two scoring passes to tight end Austin Hooper and completed eight passes for 128 yards and an impressive 10-yard touchdown to Julio Jones. The three second-half scores only made the first-half struggles more frustrating.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The defense managed only one sack and couldn’t stop the Colts, who had 29 first downs.

The inability to produce big plays on defense and the wave of penalties combined for another awful start. After trailing 21-0 at halftime of their opening game at Minnesota, the Falcons trailed the Colts 20-3 at the break. That’s a combined 41-3 halftime deficit in two road games, prompting Quinn to make a postgame demand for his players to find their road mentality.

STOCK UP

Hooper, who made his first Pro Bowl last season, continues to emerge as one of Ryan’s top targets. The tight end had his first two-touchdown game, and his six catches marked his third straight game with at least four. Hooper, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu should continue to benefit from extra defensive attention devoted to Jones.

STOCK DOWN

Of the team’s 16 penalties, 10 were called on the defense. Quinn says pre-snap penalties are most damaging, and defensive tackle Jack Crawford had two neutral zone infractions in the first half.

INJURED

Losing the game was tough. Perhaps more painful was the loss of safety Keanu Neal, a leader of the defense, to a torn left Achilles tendon. The injury ends his season after he missed most of 2018 with a knee injury. Kemal Ishmael is expected to replace Neal at strong safety.

Brian Hill could be next in line to serve as Freeman’s backup if Smith and Barner can’t return from concussions. Rookie Qadree Ollison also could have a bigger role.

KEY NUMBER

51 — Jones had his 51st game with at least 100 yards receiving. Only three receivers have more: Jerry Rice (76), Randy Moss (64) and Marvin Harrison (59).

NEXT STEPS

The Falcons (1-2) return home to face Tennessee on Sunday. They then face two straight road games at Houston and Arizona, making this week’s home game especially important.

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