Forget the pass rush for a moment. Throw out the relatively lackluster turnover total. What has plagued this defense above all else is the explosive play.
Mike Smith has harped on this over and over again in his press conferences, to the point where it's become somewhat of a punchline. The actual stats are nothing to laugh about, however, as the Falcons have yielded a mind-boggling 600-plus yards on just 11 plays that Vaughn McClure dubbed "ultra-explosive." The Falcons have allowed at least one 40-plus yard play in all but the Buccaneers game, and the 11 plays combined have resulted in 52 points, 49 of those on touchdowns. Friends, that is not good.
Since the start of the 2013 season, the Falcons have allowed 34 plays of at least 40 yards. That is seven more than any other team. It's a trend they need to halt immediately.
How does it happen? It's a potent combination of missed tackles, poor angles, lousy communication and schemes that reward opposing offenses for screens, backfield passes and other quick hitters to potential playmakers. When it comes together, you see something like the first play in the video below.
This isn't going to fix itself overnight. You can scheme to take away the deep ball (also a problem at times for this defense) or to slow down those infuriating quick passes, and communication is something that should continue to improve as the year goes on. As we've learned in the past, guys don't simply stop missing tackles—the culprits here aren't the safeties this year, it should be noted, but the linebackers up front—and taking odd or awkward angles to the ball carrier is something that probably doesn't happen overnight, either.
While you won't eliminate these hugely explosive plays entirely, particularly with some of the defensive limitations the Falcons bring to the table, you can cut down on them and make life easier for the entire team. Juicing the pass rush a bit by playing Jonathan Massaquoi more, getting Kemal Ishmael out of deep coverage and working hard to improve on the basics will help, and putting the Falcons in a better position to avoid these kinds of plays for the rest of the year and beyond is critically important.
How would you tackle the problem?