FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — It didn't take long for Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to get his players' attention after last week's embarrassing loss at Carolina.
In a meeting with his players this week, Nolan began the session with encouragement, pointing out all that's gone right for a defense that ranks fifth in scoring average.
But Nolan then transitioned to the poor tackling and missed assignments that were a big reason Carolina scored 30 points and piled up 195 yards rushing.
The Falcons were negligent in their tackling technique all afternoon against the Panthers. Plays that should've been stopped in the backfield, at the line of scrimmage or short of a first down turned into huge gains.
Atlanta endured an ugly afternoon as the Panthers ran seven plays that gained between 16 and 22 yards and scored three touchdowns that covered 25, 53 and 75 yards.
"We just made some errors, but we also had several at the beginning — third-and-2s, third-and-shorts, third-and-5s — and they broke some tackles on a couple of runs and got 'em, and then we missed the slant play," Nolan said. "They out-executed us."
Nolan's job is to address the deficiencies quickly to ensure they don't become habit-forming, not with the New York Giants (8-5) visiting Atlanta (11-2) on Sunday and the Falcons still trying to earn a top conference seed.
"We don't need to be in a playoff game three or four weeks from now and have those things creep in," Nolan said. "It just shows that they can if you're not on top of your game."
A big area of concern is improving on third down, particularly after Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Carolina combined to average a 50 percent conversion rate over the last three games.
Atlanta's goal is to hold opponents to 33 percent or less.
"Getting stops on third down is almost as good as turnovers because after a special teams play, we're giving the ball back to our offense," free safety Thomas DeCoud said. "Those are things that can swing game momentum from one side to the other. It happened for them in their favor last Sunday."
The Falcons hope to get a boost in the secondary if cornerback Asante Samuel can return this week after missing most of the last two weeks with a right shoulder injury.