FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) - The Atlanta Falcons are missing tackles left and right, and it’s no coincidence that they’ve dropped five straight games.
Defensive coordinator Richard Smith knows the Falcons (6-6) stand little chance to win Sunday at Carolina (12-0) if they don’t play proper technique.
They whiffed on 15 tackles two weeks ago against Minnesota and had double-digit misses in last week’s loss at Tampa Bay.
“We all know last week was our worst week of tackling,” Smith said. “Very disappointing, and I talked to the players. It needs to improve.”
In what’s likely the lowest point of the season defensively, Atlanta allowed Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston to scramble deep in its territory to convert a third-and-19 deep and set up the winning touchdown.
Linebackers Brooks Reed, Paul Worrilow and Justin Durant all took turns hitting Winston, but the rookie didn’t go down. Cornerback Robert Alford used a bad angle on his attempt, and Winston made defensive end Vic Beasley miss, too.
Defensive tackles Tyson Jackson and Jonathan Babineaux also joined the shenanigans, failing to speed their pursuit even though Winston was still on his feet.
“We called a zone coverage, four guys rushing and seven dropping to keep our vision on the quarterback,” Smith said. “For him to scramble for that was extremely disappointing. It was bad ball. That’s the difference in the game.”
Against Carolina, the Falcons will face the league’s third-best ground attack. Longtime running back Jonathan Stewart has caused opponents fits all season, but quarterback Cam Newton, at 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, is the focal point.
Newton is a load when he’s running, whether it’s from a shotgun formation or from a direct snap when runs inside. If Newton gets on the perimeter, smaller defensive backs have to tackle at his feet to keep from getting run over.
“That’s really where I think the difference takes place,” head coach Dan Quinn said, “because there’s some in the gun that have an option or a read element and then the ones under center that don’t.”
The Falcons ranked among the league’s best in stopping the run earlier this season, but they since have dropped to 16th.
One problem is poor performances from their top free-agent acquisition, linebacker Brooks Reed, and Beasley, the league’s eighth overall draft pick.
They have combined for just two sacks and 21 solo tackles.
Beasley can only hope for a big turnaround on Sunday. It won’t be easy against Newton, who has 40 rushing touchdowns and an average of 5.3 yards per carry in his five-year career.
“They are rolling right now,” Beasley said. “They are in a good position. He’s an awfully good and talented quarterback.”
Notes: WR Julio Jones, the NFL’s leader in catches and yards receiving, is listed as probable after fully participating in practice. He was limited the last two days with a sore knee. … NT Paul Soliai (calf) has been ruled out. Rookie Grady Jarrett will take his place. … PK Matt Bryant (right quadriceps) will miss his third straight game. Shayne Graham, his temporary replacement, is perfect on five field-goal and two extra-point attempts. … LG Chris Chester (shoulder, knee) fully participated after missing last week and is probable.
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