FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - Keith Brooking is still disgusted with his team's run defense.
The Atlanta Falcons, losers of two straight home games, are coming off a setback in which Tampa Bay rookie Carnell Williams rushed for 42 yards in the fourth quarter and ran for the tying touchdown in the final two minutes.
Brooking, a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker, knew Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden had identified and attacked the biggest weakness in Atlanta's defense.
"On that last drive, they kind of pounded us," Brooking said Tuesday. "It was like three and four yards. That was very frustrating for me. If you look at our games, a lot of teams haven't done that to us."
With the Falcons (6-4) visiting Detroit (4-6) on Thursday, Brooking and his teammates had just one day of practice this week to fix the problem. The linebackers and defensive linemen worked on improving their technique in beating blocks and making tackles.
"That's what's happened to us a lot in this running game, where it's one guy that's not in his spot, and they take advantage of it," Brooking said. "That's the way our defense is set up."
In beating Philadelphia, Minnesota and the New York Jets this year, Atlanta held each opponent under 63 yards rushing. The Falcons have allowed an average of 148.4 yards in their other seven games.
Brooking was aware Tuesday that Green Bay's Samkon Gado, an undrafted rookie out of Liberty University, gained just seven yards on 10 carries in the Packers' loss to Minnesota the night before.
As he made his starting debut the previous week at the Georgia Dome, Gado racked up 103 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns.
Williams' pedigree is more impressive. He starred last year in Auburn's undefeated season, and Tampa Bay drafted him No. 5 overall. Even so, a foot sprain had limited Williams to an average of just 1.8 yards per carry in his previous 45 attempts.
"We have to get past these last two terrible performances," starting defensive end Patrick Kerney said. "That's what they've been, letting teams run on us like they have, and it's been a problem this year. There's only been three, maybe four, games where we've played the run the way we want to."
Losing middle linebacker Ed Hartwell to a torn Achilles in Week 5 was a significant blow to Atlanta, which also placed rookie linebacker Jordan Beck, a third-round draft pick, on injured reserve before the season opener.
In their first game without Hartwell, the Falcons allowed a New Orleans offense lacking star running back Deuce McAllister to rush for 211 yards.
Atlanta won 34-31 as Brooking moved from weakside to start his first game at middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme since 2001. Rookie Michael Boley debuted as the strongside starter. Demorrio Williams, a first-year full-time starter, switched from strongside to weakside.
Despite the changes, the Falcons thought they had turned a proverbial corner in Week 7 after holding the Jets and Curtis Martin to 34 yards. Beating New York was costly, however, as starting right end Brady Smith dislocated his right big toe. He hasn't played since.
Rookie Jonathan Babineaux, a second-round pick drafted to play tackle, has struggled to fill the void. Against the Bucs, Atlanta was also without starting nose tackle Chad Lavalais, who has a sprained foot. Instead, Antwan Lake and rookie Darrell Shropshire took his place, but combined for just one assisted tackle and two penalties.
"The other night, everybody needed to make one play, and we would've been in business," defensive line coach Bill Johnson said. "That's where we're at."
Notes: Head coach Jim Mora listed right guard Kynan Forney (foot), right tackle Todd Weiner (elbow) and Smith as questionable. All three players missed practice.... Lavalais is probable.... No. 2 quarterback Matt Schaub, sitting in his locker next to starter Michael Vick, wore a Virginia Tech shirt after his alma mater, Virginia, lost to the Hokies last week. Vick, who played at Virginia Tech, laughed about winning the bet. "It's the worst thing I've ever worn," Schaub said. "Disgusting."
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