in Mike Zimmer from the Cowboys to upgrade an inconsistent defense that five
times held opponents to 10 points or fewer but four other times surrendered 30
or more. Zimmer is attempting to transform the Falcons' D into a conservative
first- and second-down unit that puts itself in position to pressure the
quarterback on third-and-long. "The new defensive staff has this philosophy
where you have to earn the right to rush the quarterback on third down,"
says veteran strong safety Lawyer Milloy. "And they're a lot more
in-your-face than the old staff."
significant questions on the defensive side: Will John Abraham give the Falcons
more than six healthy games? Will veteran cornerback Lewis Sanders, signed in
the off-season from Houston, hold down the side opposite DeAngelo Hall, who
seldom gets tested?
But those seem
like minor matters on team fighting larger turmoil. "Losing Mike doesn't
make us a better team," says Milloy. "But are we going to spend the
year using that as an excuse?"
The good news is
that expectations are so low, Petrino's Falcons will almost surely exceed
(M) Monday (T)