FLOWERY BRANCH, GA. -- On the last day of field preparation leading up to Monday night’s game, Atlanta Falcons defensive linemen Osi Umenyiora and Peria Jerry stood in deep conversation near the heavy bags.
Maybe they were trying to conjure up how to give the pass rush a little more punch.
The Falcons entered Week 5 ranked 28th in the NFL in sacks per pass play. They totaled just seven sacks through the first four games, led by Umenyiora with two. And they failed to record a sack against both the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots.
"No. 1, you have to get the offense in third-and-long situations in order to be able to really get after the quarterback,’’ Umenyiora said. "I don’t think that we’ve done a good job of that.
"You know, everything works together. The DBs have to cover. We have to play the run. All those things tie in together. So it’s not just one specific aspect that’s lacking. We all need to play better on defense.’’
But it all starts up front. Pressure on the quarterback is essential for a Falcons team that has given up a fair share of explosive pass plays.
Maybe facing New York Jets rookie Geno Smith is the cure. Middle linebacker Omar Gaither already talked about how "you start to lick your chops’’ when facing a rookie quarterback. Smith has thrown eight interceptions and has been sacked 14 times.
"We have to stop the run, first and foremost,’’ Umenyiora said. "If we do that, then we’re going to be able to mix up coverages, send a couple of things at (Smith) to see how he adjusts to that. It’s more important that we play our best game.’’
Umenyiora doesn’t believe he’s played his best just yet. The free-agent pickup signed a two-year deal with a maximum value of $12 ($5 million guaranteed) this offseason following a 75-sack career with the New York Giants. The two-time Pro Bowl defensive end posted double-digit sacks in 2005 (14.5), ’07 (13) and ’10 (11.5).
Umenyiora's biggest impact so far with the Falcons was a 68-yard interception return for a touchdown in a Week 2 win over the Rams -- his first home game in the new uniform.
"I’m doing OK,’’ Umenyiora said when asked to evaluate his play. "I’m not playing as well as I would like to. I think I’m capable of playing a lot better than I’ve been playing. So far, I’ve made a couple of plays. But I definitely need to make more.’’
The 31-year-old Umenyiora brings veteran leadership to a young defense still trying to find its way. He endured some rough starts to seasons in New York, yet walked away with two Super Bowl rings.
Which would explain why he is not overwhelmed by the Falcons’ 1-3 start.
"These are games, every single one of them, we should have won and we could have one," Umenyiora said. "In New York, we were getting blown out.
"This is a very good program over here. Things are going to get better for sure. All we have to do is believe in the coaches, believe in what they’re telling us, and believe in the players. And I think we’ll be all right."