Phillips promises to make changes

Originally Published: October 20, 2003
ESPN

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- With his defense on pace to allow the second-highest yardage total in NFL history, Wade Phillips has seen enough.

The Atlanta Falcons' embattled coordinator promised to make changes to a unit that allowed 118 points and 1,003 yards in the last three weeks. Phillips, who had yet to meet with coach Dan Reeves, declined to say which players could change positions or accept new responsibilities.

"You've got to change your philosophy," Phillips said Monday. "I think we can do some things better, but I've thought that all along and we haven't. So I've got be realistic."

Entering a bye week, Atlanta (1-6) owns a six-game losing streak primarily because the defense ranks last in total yardage (416.7), last against the pass (266.9) and last in points allowed (31.5).

Phillips' biggest concern is filling a huge hole in the middle of the defense after inside linebacker Keith Brooking sustained three small fractures in his lower back as the Falcons lost 45-17 Sunday to New Orleans. The two-time Pro Bowl selection likely will miss between two and six weeks.

Starting outside linebackers Sam Rogers and Will Overstreet already are gone for the season, but Brooking's injury will force Phillips' hand.

Phillips must decide if he's sticking with a 3-4 front or scrapping it for a 4-3.

If the 3-4 stays, he likely would start Matt Stewart and Karon Riley on the outside and move Keith Newman inside to play next to Chris Draft. Artie Ulmer also can play inside, but too many snaps could negate his effect on special teams. Twan Russell, who has a weak knee, and first-year player James Cotton, signed off the practice squad last week, are last-chance alternatives.

If Phillips installs a 4-3, he might improve Atlanta's pass rush by getting Ellis Johnson and Ed Jasper on the field simultaneously instead of switching them out constantly at nose tackle. Using a tandem of Johnson and Jasper, who have combined with Travis Hall to account for half of Atlanta's 15 sacks, could free left end Patrick Kerney and right end Brady Smith from double-teams that are stifling their effect.

Kerney and Smith combined for 37 sacks in 2001 and '02, but they have only two this year. There is no chance Kerney would move to outside linebacker, a position he experimented with in the offseason and the first part of training camp last year.

"I'm going to sound like a broken record, but you just have to keep fighting," Kerney said. "Until we're mathematically out of it, I'm still going to be fighting for a playoff spot. And even if that happens, I'm still fighting for respect on the field for myself and my teammates. That's the only choice you have in this profession."

As Atlanta's luck would have it, Brooking was injured as he accidentally stepped on the heel of right cornerback Tyrone Williams, who allowed receiver Donte Stallworth to break free for a 69-yard touchdown on the same play.

Phillips instantly benched Williams for the rest of the game. As he walked through the locker room Monday, Williams refused to answer questions. The eight-year veteran, who received a $3 million signing bonus as part of a five-year contract the Falcons paid him in March, served a one-game suspension three weeks ago for lashing out at coaches.

If Williams has so alienated himself that Phillips will make him inactive for the final nine games, troubled cornerback Juran Bolden might come off the physically unable to perform list for the Nov. 2 matchup with Philadelphia.

Phillips, whose unit has allowed 13 pass plays of 21 or more yards the last two weeks, refused to speculate about Williams' future and the possibility Tod McBride would take his place if Bolden doesn't.

Phillips also sidestepped whether left cornerback Ray Buchanan could replace free safety Keion Carpenter when strong safety Cory Hall returns from a knee injury next week.

"We've got to make some changes," Phillips said. "Some of them aren't going to like it, but coaching-wise and playing-wise we've got to make some changes."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index