Originally created 09/21/00

Third-down problems concern Reeves



FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons have so many problems on offense that coach Dan Reeves can't legitimately pin the blame on one particular shortcoming.

In fact, until the Falcons improve their NFL-worst 23.7 percentage on third downs, Reeves doesn't want to try.

"We are not executing," he said Wednesday. "I am certainly not taking credit away from anyone else, but we are not executing ourselves."

A few of the formulas that led the Falcons to the 1998 NFC championship still hold true. Atlanta (2-1) has won both games in which Jamal Anderson ran the ball 20 or more times. Quarterback Chris Chandler, who has remained healthy this season, improved his career Falcons record to 22-8 when he starts and doesn't leave a game due to injury.

It's no secret, though, that even with Anderson, Atlanta's rushing attack is on life support. The Falcons rank fourth-worst in the NFC with 3.3 yards per carry and 88.3 yards per game.

Exacerbating the situation this week is the Falcons' high-octane opponent. St. Louis (3-0) is putting up a strong defense of its Super Bowl championship by manufacturing points at an alarming rate. The Rams have NFL-leading averages in total yardage (512.7), points (39.7) and passing yards (407).

Their 63.3-percent conversion on third downs is also tops in the league.

"We don't stand a chance unless we establish the run," Anderson said. "Not taking anything away from our defense, but everyone knows they're going to put some points up. That's what they do, move the ball down the field and score. It's up to us to make sure our defense doesn't stay on the field all day."

One source of Atlanta's problems is an unstable offensive line. Calvin Collins is in his first full year as a starting center. Left guard Bob Hallen is playing sporadically enough that he's sharing time with Chris Banks, who was signed off waivers Aug. 28. Right guard Anthony Redmon, signed as a free agent in the offseason, has been ineffective, too.

Right tackle Travis Claridge has played consistently, but Redmon's difficulties have forced the Falcons to play the rookie occasionally at guard as Ephraim Salaam, the former No. 1 right tackle, works his way back from arthroscopic knee surgery. Left tackle Bob Whitfield has performed as expected, good but not great.

Tight ends Reggie Kelly and Brian Kozlowski have combined for only four receptions, and Kelly has not caught a pass since the season opener.

One Falcon who asked that his name not be used believes hard feelings among some linemen have resulted in communication problems across the position.

Reeves bristled at such talk.

"I think if that is where you are getting it from, that is probably the root of the problem right there, because they are looking for excuses," he said. "You can always find excuses. It doesn't make a damn who is in there, you have to execute and we are not executing. Whoever is in there needs to execute.

"If a guy is having trouble with communication, he better look within himself. That is what we are going to find out, what five guys can communicate, because apparently we are not."

Regarding problems on third downs, Chandler believes some of the difficulty can be traced to waiting too long to make a big play.

"We definitely can leave ourselves some shorter conversions," Chandler said, "and the ones we do have, we need to be executing better."