The Atlanta Falcons have a problem, its called their defense although in its current state I’m not sure defense is the right term. This unit has now given up 1719 yards in four games, that’s an average of 429 yards per game and ranks 31st in the league ahead of only the 0-4 Jaguars. This was highlighted in the 41-28 loss to the Adrian Peterson less Minnesota Vikings last Sunday in which the Falcons gave up 558 yards to a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start, it doesn’t get much worse than that.
The problem for the Falcons is two fold, they (still) can’t get to the quarterback or anywhere close to the quarterback and they can’t stop the run so in other words they can’t stop anything at all certainly judging on that performance in Minnesota last week. These problems can’t be fixed in full until the off-season as better players are obviously required but whatever scheme is being used is clearly not working.
The first point of emphasis must be to stop the run because if you can’t stop the run then opposing offenses can have their way with you and do pretty much as they please again a fact highlighted in Minnesota last Sunday. Forcing teams to pass presents more challenges for an offense and more pitfalls. The offense line has to hold up long enough, balls can get tipped or battered down at the line, receivers can drop the ball or be in the wrong spot, quarterbacks can make inaccurate throws leading to incomplete passes or interceptions. This can also result in less time of possession for an offense meaning that A, the defense doesn’t not get tired and B, more time for your own offense and the obvious strength of this team. In short, stopping the run has to be the main area of concern and perhaps changing the personnel on the defensive line will help.
On first and second down the Falcons should continue with the ‘Big Body’ philosophy that Defensive co-ordinator Mike Nolan, who seems devoid of all blame and I’ll come to that in a minute, wanted. The line in this situation should look like this from left to right, Babineaux – Soliai- Peters- Jackson with Hageman and Goodman in the rotation. In obvious passing situations the line should look like this from left to right Umenyiora (or try Maponga)- Hageman- Peters- Massaquoi with Goodman, Maponga or Umenyiora and Babineaux in the rotation. No place in either situation for Kroy Biermann who simply does not contribute anything to this defensive line but as cutting him at this point is not really a productive move use him on special teams and as an extra linebacker as the Falcons are short in this department.
Getting back to Mike Nolan and the ‘Blame Game’ and although this is again non-productive at this point in the season, Nolan has to do better schematically with the what he has although what he was is not his fault (hello Thomas Dimitroff). But It was, after all, Nolan who suggested building this line from the inside out with proven players such as Jackson and especially Soliai. So although he cannot magic a pass rush from thin air why can’t the defense stop that was built to stop the run actually stop the run?
Accountability for not stopping the run does not lie solely on the defensive line, the linebackers have to be able to come up and tackle immediately and not 5-10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. This issue is also bought out of the formation or multiple formations the front 7 has, and perhaps sticking to a 4-3 rather than jumping in and out of formations than can’t stop anything is another solution. If multiple looks on defense don’t fool the offense then whats the point in using them?
Another question that needs to be asked is, why does this defense not blitz more? In its current state what does it have to lose by doing so, they can’t get to the passer with four players so dial up some blitzes, disguised and otherwise and let your corners cover one on one which they have proven that they can do. Will it work every time, no and on occasions you’ll give up a big play over the top as seen in Cincinnati in week 2 when the all out blitz didn’t quite get resulting in a touchdown but you have to choose your moments whilst planting that seed of doubt into the mind of the offensive co-ordinator and quarterback that you are up against.
Atlanta does not need this defense to be in the top 10, it does not need to be the 85 Bears of the 2000 Ravens but it needs to be between 15-20th be able get of the field in key situations and create some turnovers. It is not feasible for this defense to improve beyond that during the season when clearly more talent is needed especially at defensive end and linebacker even though personnel wise the secondary looks in good shape despite the loss of William Moore until at least week 13.
Perhaps the Falcons should make a statement to their defense this week in New York and if they win the toss, elect to defer and say to the defense you will force a three and out or a stop and set the tone for the day instead of the opposing offense going 80 yards in three minutes with no real trouble at all.
A band aid won’t stop the bleeding but it will limit it and that is what Mike Nolan and this defense has to do for the rest of the year.