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Backs have little room to run against Falcons

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Dan Parr

dparr@pfwmedia.com
Associate editor

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Posted Nov. 28, 2011 @ 2:34 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

The Falcons survived a second-half rally from the Vikings in Week 12 and won for the fifth time in their last six games, improving to 7-4.

Atlanta led 17-0 at halftime, but the Vikings cut the lead to three with 13:13 left in the fourth quarter. The Falcons' run defense came up big down the stretch, though, holding the Vikings — who were without injured RB Adrian Peterson — to 11 yards on seven carries in the fourth quarter. No stop was more crucial than the one on Minnesota's drive following a 104-yard kickoff return by Percy Harvin. The Vikings, trailing by 10 with 6:28 to play, took over at Atlanta's 3-yard line. QB Christian Ponder was sacked by blitzing CB Chris Owens for a loss of two on first down, and Harvin was stuffed on the next two plays, bringing up 4th-and-goal from the Falcons' 1-yard line.

RB Toby Gerhart plowed up the middle to try to get the ball into the endzone, but OLB Sean Weatherspoon, who had three tackles for loss and a team-best 10 tackles in the game, helped stop him and it was ruled that the ball did not cross the plane. The Falcons took over on downs and the Vikings never touched the ball again as Atlanta continued its push for a spot in the playoffs.

The PFW Spin

The Falcons' pass rush broke out Sunday, as the defense racked up four sacks and seven QB hits, but shutting down backs is nothing new for Atlanta. The run "D" is ranked second in the league and the Falcons have not allowed a back to rush for 100 yards in 14 consecutive games dating back to last season.

In fact, Atlanta has not allowed a back to rush for more than 70 yards since Week Three.

Running backs just don't have much room to run when they play the Falcons. Atlanta hasn't allowed a running back to make a rush longer than 16 yards in the past four games. Give credit to starting DTs Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux for getting a push up front and clogging the middle, but it takes a complete defensive effort to keep backs from slipping through and struggling to get to the second level as much as they have against the Falcons.

The Vikings were held to 64 yards on 24 carries (2.7 average) and one rushing TD Sunday (Gerhart had a one-yard run for a score), and the Falcons obviously caught a big break by not having to face Peterson.

The good fortune appears to be continuing for the Falcons heading into Week 13, when they will travel to face the Texans. Houston is expected to start third-string QB T.J. Yates, a rookie fifth-round pick, with Matt Schaub on injured reserve and Matt Leinart likely to join him there after breaking his collarbone Sunday.

Expect the Falcons to crowd the box with eight defenders and take their chances against Yates, who completed 8-of-15 passes for 70 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions in the Texans' win over the Jaguars on Sunday. Atlanta's rock-solid run "D" will face one of the league's most formidable RB tandems in Arian Foster, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in four of his nine games this season, and Ben Tate, who also has four 100-yard rushing games in 2011.

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