FanPost

Bye Week Analysis: Falcons Defense

One of the primary problems with the Falcons defense throughout the Dimitroff/Smith Era has been a lack of top level talent on the defensive line. We have long struggled with a mediocre stable of pass rushers outside of John Abraham. The result has been plenty bodies around the QB without an ability to close the deal which has really hurt us against elite QBs.

It looks like this year we have tried to make up for this deficiency by rushing the passer more aggressively. It seems like one of the consequences is that our linemen have not been able to fulfill all of their run responsibilities. As a result, we have been able to raise our sack rate from 5.4%in 2011 to 8.8% in 2012 (NFL Avg=5.9%) as well as double the QB fumble rate (1%in 2011 to 2% in 2012) but we have given up gains in the run game. Opposing RB carries are averaging 5.2 yards per carry (YPC) up from 4.2 YPC in 2011 (NFL Avg=4.1 YPC). In addition, the % of plays resulting in touchdowns is up to 3.8% this year where it was at the NFL average of2.8% last year. Lastly, the % of plays resulting in 1st downs is also up significantly (28% in 2012, 23% in 2011) and is 6% above the NFL average. On the bright side, the increased aggressiveness has resulted in more than doubling the rate of forced fumbles (up from 1.5% in 2011 to 3.8% in 2012).

The increased aggressiveness apparent in the front seven of our defense is present in our secondary as well. The Falcons secondary has for the last three years been a ball hawking secondary relying on interceptions more than incompletions. It seems, however, that this year we have turbo charged that effort despite the absence of Brent Grimes (Our leading pick collector in years past), raising an above average interception rate of 3.7% in 2010 and 3.3% in 2011 to a astronomical rate of 4.8%. Although, this strategy has resulted in great success this year I’m apprehensive that a sack rate of 8.8% and an interception rate of 4.8% may not be sustainable. And if we don’t force turnovers or sacks are secondary becomes a unit that 64.2% of all passes to be completed for an average of 8.4 yards per attempt. For reference sake, RG3 (8.65 YPA) is the ONLY QB averaging more yards per passing attempt. We absolutely cannot continue to play like that and expect consistent success on defense.

One of the primary reasons why both the passing yards gained per attempt as well as the rushing yards gained per attempt are so high is poor tackling. Frankly, this is the aspect of this Falcons team that terrifies me the most especially after watching the Raiders game. They were far, far…far too many times I saw players flying into Raiders, looking for the big hit and not even attempting to wrap up. It happened so often that I begin to wonder – are they being coached to not wrap up? If so, I’m terrified. This could end up very, very badly. My hope is that they have learnt from the Raiders game and will look to wrap up in the future. But I should warn you don’t expect guys like Dunta to change. He has been not wrapping for his entire duration as a Falcon. I think that is who he is as a defender and we are going to have to accept that.

The second big issue is improving the defensive line play in the run game. To do this I will have to look at some advanced stats from football outsiders. Fair warning: These are charting stats; as in some dude watching film, charting plays and as such they are thus subjective and subject to possible bias.

First look at the line responsibilities Vs the Linebacker responsibilities.

Stat

Explanation

Value

NFL Avg

Rank

adj line yds

amt RB yds the OL should be credited

4.08

4.13

17

Power Success

% success in short yardage situations

63%

63

17

Stuffed

% of time RB stopped for no gain

17

19

21

2nd level yds

indicates yard gained Vs linebackers

1.34

1.03

26

Open field yds

indicates defensive closing speed and tackling

1.33

0.65

31

The upside is that the Falcons defensive line while not actually good is still around average and the return of Corey Peters may shift the pendulum enough to make our run defense respectable.

The downside is the abysmal numbers in the 2nd level yards and open field yards confirms what I was talking about above that we are poor tackling team and it may not just be a Raiders game thing. If we can’t improve our tackling we might very well be doomed.

Lastly, I’m going to look at the directional running stats to try to assign blame (and credit) to individual d-linemen.

Direction

YPC

NFL Avg

rank

Left End

3.66

3.81

14

Left Tackle

2.43

3.78

6

Mid/Guard

4.27

4.09

22

Right Tackle

3.44

4.03

9

Right End

4.84

3.83

27

A couple of points of note:

<!--[if !supportLists]-->1. <!--[endif]-->Directions listed are from the offense’s point of view. Thus, the runs over Mid/Guard are primarily the responsibility of the defensive tackles and so on. Keep in mind: a run over left Tackle is actually a run at our right defensive end.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->2. <!--[endif]-->I have no idea how all of the Falcons directional averages are below 5 YPC considering that their overall average is 5.2 YPC. I suspect there i.e. either a mistake somewhere or I am missing something. As a result, take the rest of this post with liberal amounts of salt.

With that out of the way, the Falcons two primary issues seem to be at defensive tackle and at left defensive end. The return of Corey Peters should alleviate the issue at the DT position and solidify the middle of our line which leaves left defensive end. The spot occupied by Biermann/Edwards. If we believe the numbers from FO it would seem that Biermann/Edwards are having a hard time setting the edge in the run game – a theory I’m willing to believe. I should mention that a part of the blame should also go to weakside LB Sean Weatherspoon. Assuming the data is accurate, I unfortunately don’t really have any prescriptions to fix this outside of hoping for an improvement.

What do you guys think?

Disclaimer: Stats obtained from PRO-FOOTBALLREFERENCE.com by setting parameters to consider only non blowout situations i.e. no team leading by more than 14 points. This is not true for NFL averages and receiver statistics (20+ yard reception, 40+receptions, YAC, YPC, catch rate) which I got from ESPN.com and NFL.com

<em>This FanPost was written by one of The Falcoholic's talented readers. It does not necessarily reflect the views of The Falcoholic.</em>

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