FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- In assessing his group's performance over the first half of the season, Atlanta Falcons defensive line coach Ray Hamilton’s response was lukewarm.
"We’re doing OK," Hamilton said. "We have a lot of work to do, and a long way to go to get better in all phases. But we’re doing OK. I think we’re from a C to a low B."
The Falcons enter Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks ranked 22nd sacks per pass play. Of the team’s 18 sacks, 12 have come from defensive linemen, led by defensive end Osi Umenyiora with a team-leading 4.5 sacks.
"As defensive linemen, you always want to get more sacks," Hamilton said. "That’s what guys get paid to do, besides winning games. We’ve had some opportunities and we’ve had some chances. They’ve learned the techniques now and they’re getting better each week at it.
"We’ve done a lot better job, I think, of putting pressure on quarterbacks. We’ve been affecting quarterbacks pretty decently lately. You just don’t always see the results of it, because guys like Cam Newton can run. But we’ve been much better at affecting the quarterback."
The line will have to have an effect on Sunday against a dangerous quarterback in Russell Wilson. The Seahawks' rebuilt offensive line, playing without injured starting tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini, have allowed Wilson to be sacked 27 times. But Wilson is still capable of making big plays.
"I know all about him. We played him last year in the playoffs," Hamilton said with a laugh. "He’s a guy that you have to affect; try to get him to make some bad throws by putting pressure on him with the defensive line. And you’ve got to try and keep him in the pocket so you have a chance to sack him.
"They have given up some sacks this year. They have some injuries on the front line. But still, you’ve got to go out and play. And you’ve got to catch Wilson. He’s a tough guy to catch, so we’ll have our work cut out for us."
Not to mention the Falcons' defensive line also has to be stout against the run while facing the explosive Marshawn Lynch, the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher with 726 rushing yards.
Hamilton called defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux by far his most consistent player through the first eight games. He also likes the continued development of the defensive end foursome he calls the M&M boys: second-year players Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews, along with rookies Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan talked about the young players sometimes being hungrier than the veterans when a season doesn’t go as planned. Hamilton doesn’t see that being a problem with his group.
"You still have to play," Hamilton said. "You know what Herman Edwards said. You have to play every game to win whether you’re in the hunt or not. And I still think we have a chance. You never know what’s going to happen in this league. If you play hard all the time, you have a chance to win."