Editor's Note: Please give a warm welcome to McDraft2, a terrific film guy, football mind and Falcons fan who will be joining the team for the 2015 season. Enjoy his first piece below.
There are myriad story lines surrounding the Atlanta Falcons season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football. Perhaps the most interesting storyline is the Falcons' revamped defense taking on Chip Kelly's high octane offense, which he retooled in the offseason to further match his vision of the Eagles attack.
While this is the first game of the season, it's not the first time that Dan Quinn has faced off against Chip Kelly's offense. As the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks last season, Quinn orchestrated a masterful gameplan that held the Eagles to 139 total yards and 9 first downs en route to a 24-14 win on the road.
How did Quinn help shutdown an offense that averaged nearly 30 points and 400 yards per game last season? I'm glad you asked, let's take a closer look.
1. Speed and Simplicity
Going back to his days at the University of Oregon, Chip Kelly's trademark has been the breakneck pace at which operates his offense. Executing a no-huddle style of offense can be extremely beneficial because it forces the defense to declare their intentions early. A lot of defenses like to disguise their fronts and coverages before the snap of the ball in order to gain the upper hand over the offense. Luckily, this plays into the comfortability of what Dan Quinn teaches on defense.
One theme that has been preached throughout the installation of the new Cover Three scheme this preseason has been the simplicity of the defense. Even against teams that don't run no-huddle offenses, Quinn typically doesn't attempt to disguise what he's trying to do on defense. He's very straightforward and it allows his players to react quickly and flow naturally to the ball, which is of the utmost importance when facing an offense that's focused around speed.
2. Accounting for Motion with Cover One and Cover Three
While the bread and butter of Atlanta's defense is Cover Three, the Falcons may need to use more of their second most utilized coverage scheme: Cover One.
(Image Courtesy of NFL Game Rewind)
The Cover One allows the defense to react to motions, which are a heavy staple in Philadelphia's offense. Playing man coverage allows for each defender to be responsible for an opposing receiving threat and it's easier for the defense to account for motions running across the formation.
By playing Cover One, it easily allows the defense to match up against the multitude of motions that Chip Kelly will run while keeping the potential for defensive confusion at a minimum. Atlanta's new defensive scheme is focused around making life easy for the defenders by allowing them to play fast and physical (ever heard that one before?), which will be of high priority facing a talented offense like the Eagles possess.
Notice the movement between Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, and K.J. Wright when Jeremy Maclin starts motioning over to the left side of the formation. Sherman initially has Maclin as his coverage responsibility and Wright has responsibility on Ertz, who's playing in the slot. When Maclin shifts across the formation, Sherman takes over coverage on Ertz, Wright takes over coverage on Sproles in the backfield, and Kam Chancellor mans up on Maclin.
Chancellor's depth in the defensive backfield allows him to create an easy angle for himself to attack Jeremy Maclin as he catches the screen pass. Expect William Moore to travel across the formation a lot in these circumstances as he's playing the role in Atlanta that Kam Chancellor played in Seattle. Moore will have a chance to make a lot of plays; his aggressive style of play feeds directly into how Dan Quinn will want to attack Chip Kelly's offense.
While playing Cover One is a safe strategy against the motions that the Eagles will utilize, the Falcons can't constrict themselves to running the majority of their snaps out of Cover One. Using rotations and switching off assignments in zone coverage allows for the Falcons to stick with their bread and butter (Cover Three) while keeping themselves in a position to effectively play defense.
3. Winning the Battle in the Trenches
One of the most intriguing matchups on Monday night will be the battle in the trenches between the Falcons revamped defensive line and the Eagles offensive line, which is talent in its own right. Paul Soliai, Tyson Jackson, Ra'Shede Hageman, and Vic Beasley on paper seem to be at a massive disadvantage, but they match up fairly well, especially on the interior.
Eagles center Jason Kelce has developed into one of the better centers in the league, but if there's one area of his game that Atlanta can exploit it's how he deals with heavier defensive linemen. Paul Soliai's ability to be an overwhelming force at nose tackle is going to be key for the Falcons. If Soliai can anchor and cause penetration in the middle, Quinn won't have to sacrifice defenders in the back seven with blitz packages.
In the play above, watch Kevin Williams fire into Kelce, extend his arms, and drive him into the backfield shutting down interior rushing plays and allowing the defense to swarm to the ball. The physical play that Quinn routinely preaches is going to be needed at a high level Monday night, and the Falcons have the personnel to make a difference in the middle of the line.
The Eagles will still be building chemistry as they incorporate new left guard Allen Barbre into the starting line. Factor in a revitalized Adrian Clayborn and a new look Ra'Shede Hageman wreaking havoc in the middle, and the Falcons could generate a serious amount of disruption.
One formation that will put the Falcons in favorable situations up front is their 4-3 under scheme, which puts four defensive linemen in spots they can flourish with the strongside linebacker (this week played by Kroy Biermann and O'Brien Schofield) hovering near the line of scrimmage.
The nose tackle position will be manned by Soliai, the 3-technique by Hageman, Tyson Jackson will be the strongside defensive end, and Vic Beasley will make life difficult at the LEO position. With Biermann and Schofield rotating in at strongside linebacker, this is a formation that allows the Falcons to utilize a lot of the speed and power that Quinn has developed this offseason.
If the defensive line plays well on Monday night, stud linebacker Justin Durant and a newly confident Paul Worrilow should be able to make plays all over the field. However, don't go into the game expecting for the Falcons to completely shut down the Eagles attack. This is a talented group that features DeMarco Murray, Jordan Matthews, Darren Sproles, among other weapons that Chip Kelly has brought into the fold. These are ways that Dan Quinn slowed down the Eagles offense last year, and he'll use some of these same principles on this go around.