Tackling issues in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Dallas

Every Wednesday this season, the research staff at “Playbook” will be taking your questions through email (playbook@nfl.com) and on Twitter (@NFLN_Playbook, with #askplaybook hashtag), and answering them in this blog.

Here is the first batch of questions we’ve selected. Keep sending in your football queries, because whatever you ask has a chance to be answered on “Playbook” by Joe Theismann, Sterling Sharpe, Brian Baldinger or Matt Millen.

“Are the Falcons’ secondary problems a result of scheme, safety play, corner play, or lack of pass rush?” — Lamar

The Falcons’ corners aren’t very good man, on-the-ball defenders, so they play a lot of soft zones and Cover 2. They simply rely on their front four — they don’t like to blitz — so that makes their defense susceptible to a finely tuned passing attack.

Their front four is solid, but they need to get home to get opposing offenses off the field. Ray Edwards was a nice addition in early free agency and will complement John Abraham and Kroy Biermann, but it will be interesting to see how much playing time former Patriot safety and newly minted Falcon James Sanders will see. He could shore up Atlanta’s defensive backend.

“How will the Texans new D handle the run? They are a very small 3-4 D line.” — Gustavo

Unlike a typical 3-4, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is asking his front line to play a “one-gap” responsibility by using an under front. Though Mario Williams is labeled as a linebacker, he’s playing defensive end from a stand-up position. Most 3-4 teams ask their interior lineman to hold two gaps, vs. Phillips’ variation of the scheme, which allows his smaller guys to play in one gap. Because Phillips puts his personnel in a position to be successful, we see their run defense being better than in years past.

“How much longer does Hines Ward have? He looks like he’s lost more than just a step. Was Mike Wallace a one-year wonder or a legit No. 1 option? And is Antonio Brown the next breakout wide receiver?” — Andrew

Starting with Mike Wallace, there really isn’t a true No. 1 receiver for the Steelers. There isn’t really a complete receiver on this team. But all of them complement each other well. Ward has definitely lost a step — maybe a step and a half — but he is a crafty veteran who can still find ways to get open. Brown has been unguardable this preseason, with three touchdowns, and Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders have a whole lot of speed. Jerricho Cotchery was also a great addition for the Steelers, who could use another possession receiver to complement Ward.

“With the additions of Dareus, a healthy Merriman, Barnett and Morrison, the Bills have a totally new look in the front seven from last year. There’s no question they got bigger. Do you think the run defense will improve from last place, and if so, can it keep us in more games this year? Keep in mind the Bills gave a lot of playoff caliber teams a run for their money.” — Dave

It’s hard to be any worse than 32nd in the league vs. the run. But surely, Bills fans won’t be crying about their front seven this year with the addition of Marcell Dareus. He’s strong, quick and athletic — and he’s something out of an offensive linemen’s nightmare with Kyle Williams next to him. Linebackers Shawne Merriman, Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison should be able to run clean behind their defensive tackles and make plays.

“Who do you guys think will back up Matt Cassel for the Chiefs: Ricky Stanzi or Tyler Palko?” — Jackson

Right now, we would have to say Palko is a better backup for the Chiefs. Stanzi has had some issues reading coverages and has not been accurate. He also seems uncomfortable in the face of pressure. Palko, on the other, can at least hang in the pocket and understands the timing of NFL offenses.

“How do you think the Cowboys will fare?” — @robpierce213

The Cowboys will only go as far as their offensive line will take them. We have concerns about their ability to keep the quarterback upright with a rookie right tackle, Tyron Smith, and several other newbies upfront. They appear unable to understand pass protection. And Billy Nagy, a starter at guard, has been driven off the ball far too many times to feel comfortable running the ball in his direction. Dallas surely has talent at the skill positions, but that doesn’t mean much if their line doesn’t hold up. With a smaller, more athletic line — minus Andre Gurode — the ‘Boys will look to run more zone plays and screens.

“Do you see Robert Ayers becoming a stud defensive end for the Broncos in their 4-3 scheme?” — @bcum155390

Ayers will certainly have his opportunity to shine this year, because teams are going to have to worry about Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil first. On one occasion this preseason, Miller blitzed from the linebacker position and the line, accounting for the rookie pass rusher, left Ayers unblocked for a free run to the quarterback. When the Broncos move Miller to defensive end, Ayers plays inside and isn’t a liability versus the run. He isn’t as explosive as the other defensive ends on the Broncos — not saying that’s an easy thing to be — but he’ll be a quality player for their 4-3 scheme.

“Playbook”, the ultimate football Xs and Os show, airs Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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