First off, this is not a post that is going to proclaim the end of days. Nor is this a post that's going to be overly critical of the Falcons DEF. I think it is interesting to think back on all of the big plays the Falcons have given up on DEF in the last couple of years. Obviously, in the Bears game the Falcons DEF was guilty of giving up two heinous plays that ultimately went for TDs. Interestingly, both those scores were screen plays.
Join me after the jump to review recent Falcons history in regard to giving up the big play.
The problems go back beyond the start of last season, but let's start there so this doesn't balloon into a thesis. I'm highlighting 'explosive' plays that were around or over 50 yards regardless
WK2: AZ - Falcons are dominant in this game, but the Cards' only score comes on an 80 yard rush from Tim Hightower.
WK3: NO - Lance Moore receives a quick pass from Brees and takes it 80 yards to paydirt.
WK4: SF, WK5: CLE - Falcons DEF does not allow a single explosive play.
WK6: PHI - Jeremy Maclin scores on an 83 yard TD on a pass from Kolb. Also, Desean Jackson scores twice on plays over 30 yards, though I won't count those two plays below.
WK8: TB - Mike Williams scores on a 58 yard pass from Josh Freeman.
WK10: BAL - Falcons DEF has one of its best games in recent memory, no explosive plays.
WK11: STL; WK12 GB; WK13 TB; WK15:SEA; WK 16:NO - Falcons DEF continues to settle down and does not allow explosive plays or scores.
WK14 and 17: CAR - (14)Jonathan Stewart has a 48 yard run, but does not score. (17) Brandon Lafell reels in a 60 yard pass, but does not score.
Playoffs: Though there were a few 30 yard passes allowed, GB does not have an explosive play allowed by the DEF.
Analysis: Of the 17 games the Falcons played last season and the one game so far this season, the Falcons DEF allowed 11 explosive plays. Interestingly, from WK10 onward, the Falcons DEF really settled down and only gave up explosive plays to CAR. Those two CAR plays did not result in scores, and I don't think it would foolhardy to suggest that the Falcons merely lost focus against an inferior opponent. Furthermore, the quality of opponents during that span of strong DEF - STL, GB, TB, BAL, NO - was pretty high, eliminating the theory that the the DEF struggles against top quality opponents. Thus, I'm left with the notion that the Falcons allow these explosive plays simply because they aren't really getting locked in until later in the season, or perhaps more troubling, until facing high quality opponents.
Suggestions: Obviously, BVG and Smitty need to better explain to the DEF just how important every game is, and to do whatever necessary to be on the same level for every game, every opponent. Schematically, our young Safeties also need to be better at their most important responsibility - being the last line of DEF and stopping big plays.
Unproven concerns: Generally, do the Falcons struggle against defending screens possibly because they aren't having to defend them in camp and practice (presumably)?
That's all I've got on this topic. I welcome any of you who can add more quantitative analysis to the basic framework I've provided here. Of course, general discussion about any and all of these points is welcomed as well.