Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) avoids Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu after making a catch for first down in the second quarter of a preseason NFL football game on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
FLOWERY BRANCH, -- Linebacker Curtis Lofton knows the Atlanta Falcons' poor outing in Pittsburgh shows some gaps in their defense.
But the defensive captain cautions not to read too much into a preseason game.
"It's critical that the first and second units have done a solid job in stopping the run," Lofton said Tuesday. "Everyone knows you've got to have that foundation as the core of your belief system. We won't let you run on us, but we've got some things to clear up against the pass."
With the season opener at Chicago 12 days away, the Falcons will use the exhibition finale Thursday against Baltimore to fine-tune a pass rush that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gouged for 214 yards passing and two long touchdowns in the first half last week.
Two defensive starters, cornerback Dunta Robinson and nose tackle Corey Peters, are injured and will not play against the Ravens. The Falcons were trying to sign safety James Sanders, who was released by New England, to shore up a secondary that lacks depth at all four positions, but Atlanta coach Mike Smith wants to see the problems fixed regardless of personnel.
"We've spent time as a coaching staff and we've spent time with the players going through it," Smith said. "Any time you don't play efficiently, especially on third down, it is a concern. I think everything that took place is very easily correctable."
Against Pittsburgh, the second quarter was a worst-case scenario for the defense, which allowed Antonio Brown to catch 77- and 44-yard TDs on consecutive possessions. Both plays came on third down and followed scores by the Atlanta offense.
Lofton saw no symbolism in Brown's second TD, which unfolded while Ray Edwards, the prized new defensive end, was on the ground. Roethlisberger quickly stepped up in the pocket and aired out a bomb to the end zone.
"Ray is going to make for more big plays for us than he's going to give up," Lofton said. "Plus it's a lot more complicated than isolating one matchup in any situation. We're a sum of moving parts. We're a unit. We're a team. Performance in one area affects other areas. If I don't get off a block here, maybe someone doesn't make a tackle there or you'll have a situation where the pass rush determines what kind of coverage we get or vice versa."
The Falcons were solid in several 2010 statistical categories, finishing the regular season ranked third in time of possession, fourth in interceptions, fifth in points allowed and 10th against the run.
Disrupting and sacking the quarterback became less reliable as the season wore on. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers exploited the issue in a blowout playoff loss at the Georgia Dome.
"There were times near the end of the season that it seemed like we were running out of energy," fourth-year end Kroy Biermann said. "Some of us were playing lots of special teams. Some of had taken a lot of snaps over the previous four months, but so did every other team. It's our job to stop the offense and a lot of times we didn't finish the drill."