Last week, the Atlanta Falcons gave up 491 yards, and still managed to defeat the Seattle Seahawks. In Week 16, the Falcons gave up 443 yards to the Lions, and still managed to beat them. In Week 13, they gave up 436 yards to the Saints, and still beat them. You see the pattern here?
It’s not yards that are hard to come by when facing the Falcons, it’s points. They give up an average of 372 yards per game, which ranks 24th, but they allow just 19.2 points per game, the fourth fewest. To borrow an old cliche: The Falcons bend, but do not break. And they are able to do so because they force turnovers. A lot of them.
The Falcons defense just so happens to be loaded with guys that have a knack for causing turnovers. John Abraham has forced 43 fumbles in his career, the most of any player, ever. Asante Samuel ranks fourth among active players for total interceptions (50). Right now, the Falcons force nearly two turnovers per game, and often these come at the most crippling moments. We saw this last week, of course, when Marshawn Lynch was separated from the football on the Atlanta 3-yard line.
To find out just how dangerous the Falcons’ defense can be, we spoke with Jeanna Thomas of TheFalcoholic.com. In addition to contributing to The Falcoholic, Thomas is a self-employed independent production coordinator for television. She resides just outside of Atlanta with her husband, a lifelong Packers fan, their two teenage daughters, and one spoiled dog. If you’re not opposed to Falcons’ content, follow her on Twitter.
East Bay Sports Guy (EBSG): Given their experience with Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton, how confident are you in their ability to defend the read-option and Kaepernick’s ability to run?
Jeanna Thomas (JT): The Falcons defense was very successful against Robert Griffin, III, before he left the game in the third quarter with a concussion. He only rushed for seven yards — but they weren’t really operating out of the read-option much. Atlanta had mixed results against Cam Newton this season. Cam is more physically similar to Kaepernick in height and speed, and the Falcons really struggled against him in Atlanta in Week 4, Cam racked up 86 yards on just 9 attempts, and in Week 14, Cam rushed for 116 yards on 9 carries. If the Falcons want to contain Kaepernick, they’re going to have to have a balance between zone coverage that’s effective enough to contain Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss, as well as Vernon Davis, but flexible enough to stop Kaepernick if he starts to run for it. They will also have to be mindful of taking good angles to the ball, and worrying more about the stop and less about trying to strip the ball, which has contributed to missed tackles.
EBSG: Despite giving up an average of 372 yards per game (which ranks 24th in the league), the Falcons allow only 19.2 yards per game (good for 4th). What allows this team to bend and not break, so to speak?
JT: I believe this Falcons defense is underrated, because the yards per game they allow provide a skewed perspective. Yards don’t win games, points do, and the Falcons generally do not make it easy for opponents to get into the end zone. They’ve been excellent in the red zone, and they’re opportunistic when it comes to turnovers. Mike Nolan makes solid in-game adjustments to keep offenses guessing.
EBSG: Atlanta gives up 4.8 yards per carry, which is 28th worst in the league. Despite that, they were able to bottle up Marshawn Lynch, allowing him just 46 yards on 16 carries. Did they defend the Seahawks differently than normal, or did players just win individual match ups?
JT: Atlanta’s defense was extraordinary in the first half yesterday, and their containment of Marshawn Lynch was impressive. I think in this case, the players won individual matchups. They knew they had to contain Lynch, and they knew that was their weakness, so they stayed focused on controlling the line of scrimmage on his carries.
Thanks again to Jeanna Thomas for participating. Stay tuned for her description of Jim Harbaugh.