There's been a lot of talk the past two seasons about the Falcons' struggles covering tight ends. Right or wrong, it's a common refrain in Falconsland these days. But is it justified? Let's break it down.
From an efficiency standpoint, the Falcons were slightly below average against tight ends in 2012, allowing 56.6 passing yards/game on 6.7 pass attempts/game. Their defense-adjusted efficiency (DVOA) against tight ends (3.6 percent) ranked 21st in the NFL. For what it's worth, that's not very good. But it's not particularly horrible either. Really it's just slightly below average. Nothing more, nothing less.
In the week 1 contest against the Saints, the Falcons allowed Drew Brees to connect with tights ends (Jimmy Graham and Benjamin Watson) 7 times on just 10 targets. Both Graham and Watson averaged more than 10 yards/reception, combining for 76 receiving yards. So ... not so good. Still, bear in mind that Brees targeted Graham 7 times alone, more targets than any other receiver.
Let's take a moment to acknowledge how difficult it is to cover a tight end, especially a talented one. I'll be frank, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that it drives me nuts when people say stuff like, "we still can't cover tight ends!" Tight ends are big, bigger than wide receivers. They're also moderately fast, usually faster than your linebackers. I know these things are obvious, but if you expect Desmond Trufant or Stephen Nicholas to cover Jimmy Graham alone, then it's going to be a long day.
Then there's the football (as opposed to the physical) side of the equation. Put simply, the tight end is tough to cover because he's so diverse in his approach to the game. He blocks, he's usually part of any shifts, he's an oft-used check down, he's very often in motion pre-snap, et cetera. He's literally a match up nightmare. But just cover him. Just do it, because it's easy and stuff.
Look, I realize tight ends are something the Falcons have to deal with. They're not going anywhere. But let's acknowledge that it's arguably the toughest offensive position to cover in the modern NFL. Not exactly a cake walk for any team.