Falcons' defense still dealing with injuries

It's not as if Ed Hartwell was dominating opponents like his mentor, Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary, before his season ended against the Patriots with a torn Achilles tendon.

Unfortunately, Hartwell showed against New England and Minnesota that he was understanding the scheme better, improving his technique in getting off blocks and filling the role for which the Falcons hired him: to fill his gap with a run-stopper who forces opponents to prepare as if the middle of the field already belongs to Atlanta.

Keith Brooking will adapt to the move inside. He's worked successfully inside, even making the Pro Bowl as an alternate NFC choice in 2001, but the Atlanta coaches must exercise patience with rookie Michael Boley, a first-time starter working the strong side, and Demorrio Williams, a first-year starter who has moved to the weak side.

"It wasn't pretty today, that's for sure," Brooking said of his effort Sunday against New Orleans. "There were so many mistakes out there. A lot of it, I think, was on us, the linebackers. We've just got to get better."

Added Williams: "It was a dogfight out there, but in the end, guys stepped up. We've still got to come back together and work this week and get a lot of stuff fixed."

All three are fast and strong enough to adapt, but Atlanta has major personnel concerns in the secondary. Safeties Keion Carpenter and Bryan Scott are struggling right now. Carpenter's problem is the fact that opponents know he lacks the speed and strength attributes necessary to make receivers think twice about crossing the middle.

With Scott, the difficulty most relates to recognition. He doesn't pick up quickly enough on tendencies and seems genuinely confused as he reads formations.

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