FanPost

A Data Nerd's View of the Defense

Since I did a detailed review of the offense last week, I thought I would delve into the defense this time. We all see generic statistics thrown around, but I want to try and understand some of those issues a little bit more. I'll be focusing on third down defense and our pass rush. If I have some time and there's enough interest, I'll revisit some of the offensive stats produced from last week, and expand on the defensive analysis, as well.

I did not mention this at the beginning of the last post, but looking through data is not necessarily about finding a truth. It's about letting the information tell you a story. I like to look at things a slightly different way in order to get our Falcoholic juices flowing.

Third Down Conversions

It's no secret that the Falcons' defense has issues stopping opponents on third down. Through week 4, teams have converted 49.1%, which is good for 31st ahead of only the Giants. The NFL average so far is 37.7%. To me, looking at one overall number doesn't really tell the story. In the table below, I break down the conversion % so far this year against the 2012 NFL average by distance:

Distance (in yards)
0 - 3 4 - 7 8+
Attempts 17 16 22
Converted 12 5 10
Falcon's Rate 71% 31% 45%
NFL 2012 Avg. 56% 41% 25%

So while we know our opponents conversion percentage is high, the Falcons' tend to perform well with third down and medium-distance situations. The sample size is still relatively low, so each percentage could shift with only one additional conversion. However, the defense allows a first down on 15% more plays in short yardage situations than the NFL average; 20% more with long yardage. There is a significant difference between those two and the 10% less allowed in between. Hopefully I'm not the only one that finds it odd that we should prefer for opponents to be in a third and 4 to 7 as opposed to longer. Purposely draw an offsides penalty to hit our sweet-spot...?

I wanted to look at third down efficiency in another way to factor in the strength of the opponents offense. The data below shows each of our opponents, their conversion rate against the Falcons, and the average conversion rate in the other three games:

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Attempts Converted Rate
2012 NFL Avg. 1732 653 37.7%
Opp. vs. Others 172 69 40.1%
Opp. vs. Falcons 55 27 49.1%

I understand that several variables will always effect this conversion rate, but I'm keeping it simple - It's too early to really tell what the strength of schedule is for each team. The important part to note here is that Atlanta allows an extra 9% conversion on average. That extra one or two first downs makes a huge difference. Also, it tires our already hobbling defense. We obviously have several things to work on, but this one hurts, especially as fans that get let down on third-and-longs.

Pass Rushing Efficiency

The Falcon's are rated 26th in Pass Rushing Efficiency according to PFF. Our secondary is young, and bound to make even more mistakes when the front 7 doesn't generate much pressure. It's easy--when a quarterback has time, he's bound to make a play. In that regard, I wanted to focus up front on rushing the quarterback. See the table below detailing the Falcons' ability to generate pressure on the QBs so far:

Pressure as % of Dropbacks Generated by
Falcons Others
Drew Brees 26% 31%
Sam Bradford 28% 43%
Ryan Tannehill 34% 33%
Tom Brady 19% 31%
Average Against Falcons 27.5%
Average Against Others 34.8%
2013 NFL Average 35.3%

Besides the game against Miami, where the defense created pressure on par with other opponents, Atlanta has failed to combat the same offensive lines with as much efficiency. The team proves year after year to be unable to generate enough pressure to keep the QBs on their heels. Until we generate enough scare them, we limit our effectiveness, especially in the turnover category. This pass rushing INefficiency obviously feeds the third down conversion issue, as well.

So what does that mean?

It means everything...it means nothing. These issues have been a trend for years, but who's to say the injuries have prevented it from getting better? Game 1 defense was full-strength and not performing well, but it's the first game of the year. The truth is, our team continues to struggle and needs to address the issues. The data I see, reading between the lines, seems to point at play-calling more than execution, though both need to be improved. Almost every player on the defensive side has show flashes and had a good game, maybe besides Decoud. Once opponents expose the inconsistent play, it's pretty easy for them to take advantage. We give the QB plenty of time to find that weak link and convert those dreaded third-and-longs, which account for close to 40% of our opponents third-down conversions. That's tough to swallow.

Share your thoughts!

<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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