Falcons Ray Edwards focusing health, improved production to back up his big contract
Quote:Falcons DE Ray Edwards focusing health, improved production to back up his big contract
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Ray Edwards longs to prove that the Atlanta Falcons were wise to sign him to a $30 million contract.
With two sacks, five quarterback hits and two fumble recoveries in nine games, Edwards, like many Atlanta fans, is disappointed in his lack of production.
The sixth-year defensive end, who had 16 1-2 sacks in 2009-10 with Minnesota, doesn’t believe he’s making enough plays.
“It’s all been a little rough for me, and I’m definitely letting my team down in not getting enough pressure on the quarterback and things like that,” Edwards said Friday. “It’s started a little rough for me, but I’m a fighter and I’ll keep fighting.”
Even so, these aren’t exactly terrible times for Edwards, who is guaranteed $11 million in his new five-year deal. His new team in Atlanta is 5-4 and in playoff contention. His old team in Minnesota is 2-7 and tied for last in the NFC.
Unfortunately for Edwards, his first season with the Falcons has come with some difficulties. He underwent knee surgery during the lockout and still lacks full mobility when trying to beat blocks.
Another adjustment is adapting to Atlanta’s eight-man rotation on the defensive line. With the Vikings, Edwards was accustomed to playing every snap.
“In Minnesota, I didn’t come out of the game, so I’m definitely still getting used to coming out of the game,” Edwards said. “You’ve still got to keep the high energy up when you’re rotating in and out. I’m still kind of battling with that, but that’s what the coaches want me to do, so I’ll continue to play to the best of my ability.”
Some of Edwards’ frustration manifested itself recently in his refusal to talk to reporters, but he broke a month-long silence in an interview with The Associated Press. He still won’t discuss the extent of his injury and declines to say if his offseason training as a boxer affected his knee.
“It’s all been a little rough coming off the surgery,” he said. “I’m still trying to get my legs to 100 percent. Well, one leg is 100 percent, one’s not. So I’m trying to get that back together and still go out there and produce. That’s the plan.”
Falcons line coach Ray Hamilton uses a rotation of four ends and four tackles. Edwards starts at left end, four-time Pro Bowl selection John Abraham starts at right end, and both are spelled frequently by Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury.
All four ends are cross-trained to play both sides of the field.
“I’m moving around a little bit and still getting used to that,” Edwards said. “I played some right (side) at the start of my career, but once Jared (Allen) came (to Minnesota in 2008), I played left all the time. And I’m getting used to the changes in the body mechanics. People don’t understand that your body works different from one side to the other when you’re used to doing it a certain way.”
Head coach Mike Smith, whose Falcons host Tennessee (5-4) on Sunday, oversees a defense that’s been stout against the run and suspect against the pass. Atlanta is tied for third in run defense, but ranks 22nd in net yards passing per play and 28th in sacks per pass attempt, an eight-spot drop from the disappointing ranking it held at the end of last season.
A week after managing no sacks and in an overtime loss to New Orleans, Atlanta will need a quick approach against Tennessee, which gives up a sack of Matt Hasselbeck once every 27 passing attempts, the NFL’s third-best percentage.
The Falcons combined for 11 sacks in four games before last week, but none of their lineman has enjoyed a dominant season. Even Abraham, who has 105 1-2 in his career and 52 since his Atlanta debut in 2006, has only three this year.
“One of the things that we talk about all the time, and it was something that we didn’t do very effectively (against the Saints), is affecting the quarterback and moving him off the spot and to force some disruption in the timing of his routes,” Smith said. “We did not do that, but Ray Edwards has been playing extremely hard for us and has been doing what we’ve asked him in terms of how we want him to play.”
Edwards worries that the line isn’t giving Atlanta’s linebackers and defensive backs enough support.
“We getting better, but we’re not still affecting the quarterback enough,” he said. “We’re putting too much stress on our back end and giving their quarterback too much free reign, so we’ve got to work on getting there better and beating the max protections looks that we get.”