Following a memorable 2008 season, the Falcons rebuilt their foundation faster than anyone expected. Revamping the front office, coaching staff, and overall roster worked wonders for them. With Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, and an above average offensive line, they were on the cusp of becoming a perennial playoff team.
The next step in their infamous process was replacing aging veterans. That meant moving on from players such as safety Lawyer Milloy, with a new enforcer needed in the secondary.
William Moore seemed like the perfect fit following a successful career at Missouri. Despite seeing his stock decline from a disappointing senior season, the highly touted strong safety was projected as an immediate starter, though injuries ensured that didn't happen in 2009.
Expectations remained high for the second round pick, however. The front office wasted no time addressing the pressing needs at cornerback by breaking the bank for Dunta Robinson. While that move failed to meet expectations, it provided some semblance of stability for the youngest secondary in the league. With Brent Grimes and Thomas DeCoud emerging as dependable starters, Moore was the last piece to defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder's puzzle.
The "Missouri Hammer" played a critical role in Atlanta's rejuvenated defense. With five interceptions, eight passes defensed, and one forced fumble in 2010, he made his mark. Moore's tendency to always be around the ball was impressive. While some interceptions may be considered as fortunate plays, other turnovers showcased Moore's ability as a ball hawk. Look no further than him reading Alex Smith's eyes and making a vital interception. Forcing turnovers became a weekly occurrence between Moore and Grimes making timely plays. After years of starting declining safeties and overmatched cornerbacks, the secondary featured above average talent at all four starting positions.
That positive momentum didn't transition into 2011, as the entire team underperformed. Injuries plagued Moore once again, forcing him to miss four games with a left shoulder and quadriceps injury. He lost snaps to James Sanders by mid-season, if you remember him, and missed tackles started to become an issue that season for Moore. He reclaimed his role in Week 14 and showed why the coaching staff instilled trust in him, though. From making instinctual plays in coverage to forcing red-zone turnovers, the enforcer was back to making impact plays.
Ultimate Shining Moment
With Mike Nolan being hired as the defensive coordinator in 2012, many players were optimistic about the new regime. Reports indicated that Van Gorder never quite meshed with his players. DeCoud and Moore grew tired of Van Gorder's temper tantrums and embraced Nolan's calmer presence. The new coach ended up benefiting them, as both safeties had the best season of their respective careers.
Moore recorded four interceptions, eight passes defensed, and two forced fumbles in 2012. It earned him a well-deserved place in the Pro Bowl, and Nolan's scheme allowed him to be more opportunistic. That played an integral part in Moore's outstanding season. His performances in primetime against Denver and New Orleans were memorable. From brilliantly catching Drew Brees slipping to making Peyton Manning pay for an errant pass, it was remarkable to see a strong safety continuously make game-changing plays. His interception to seal their win against New Orleans was "Earl Thomaseque." With Robinson playing bump-and-run coverage against Marques Colston, many were worried about Robinson committing a penalty for illegal contact. Nobody expected the Pro Bowl safety to cover acres of space and make a sensational play on the ball.
While he struggles in man coverage like most strong safeties, Moore's ability to navigate plays and produce game-changing turnovers made him an ideal fit for Atlanta's defense. He was rightfully rewarded with a five-year deal in 2013. Although he only completed one injury-free season prior to signing that contract, they couldn't afford to lose such a valuable playmaker. His ability to close down running backs and be utilized as a fourth linebacker proved to be another valuable trait. If it weren't for his fourth-down stop on Michael Robinson in the NFC Divisional game, the long playoff win drought wouldn't have been snapped.
Injuries begin to take their toll
Unfortunately, the budding star never quite lived up to his big contract. Similar to practically everyone on the team, Moore took a step back in 2013. Although he played all sixteen games for the second time in his career, he wasn't making the same impact or producing enough stops in the running game. Moore turned into a liability at times by missing 17 tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. That is a staggering amount for any player, let alone a physical safety that is known to be a vicious aggressor. With DeCoud notoriously being a poor tackler, safety play went from one of the defense's biggest assets to main concerns.
On a defense surrounded by declining veterans and overmatched young players, Moore was expected to be a difference maker by fulfilling his assignments and forcing turnovers. Poor tackling technique in open-field situations, trying to shoulder tackle bigger running backs, and receiving hefty fines highlighted a forgettable season. Moore bounced back in spurts during the 2014 season by forcing two massive turnovers against New Orleans and Arizona. Those moments didn't translate into long-term success, as Moore only played eight games that season, due to multiple shoulder injuries. His absence left a gaping hole in an overall dreadful defense. Atlanta was 2-6 in games where one of their biggest leaders was sidelined.
As the landscape changed, a long overdue defensive makeover occurred. One of the many positive elements of Dan Quinn's defense was the usage of an in-box safety. The "Kam Chancellor" role suited Moore's attributes. A hard-hitting safety that has range and ball-hawking skills should flourish under Quinn's mixture of cover one and cover three schemes. That never came to fruition, as injuries hindered Moore once again. Ankle and groin issues limited him to eleven games, although he left several games due to injury. It was starting to become noticeable that the once star safety was starting to slow down.
Moore was held largely responsible for Benjamin Watson's breakout game. He blew multiple assignments against a thirty-five year old tight end. Quinn proceed to play Charles Godfrey on third downs over Moore, which was a telling sign about his future. A player that was cut on three separate occasions in 2015 was playing pivotal snaps over him. By being owed $4.75 million in 2016, all signs pointed towards the end of an era.
Final salute to a great one
Despite being injury-prone, Moore will always be a beloved figure in Atlanta. The 2009 draft class was largely forgettable besides him. Although some may quickly condemn the 30-year old safety for being unreliable and reckless, critics should remember the Falcons' two most successful seasons over the past decade. It's not a coincidence that Moore's finest work came during both seasons that they finished 13-3, as the number one seed in the NFC. When the defense played like a respectable unit, Moore was at the forefront alongside Abraham, Grimes, DeCoud, Jonathan Babineaux, Sean Weatherspoon, and Asante Samuel.
There were many positive memories from watching him fly across the field. The weekly entertainment translated off the field by videos known as Freestyle Fridays headlined by the charismatic safety. While some won't admit it, fans are envious of Carolina's success and behaviors. It wasn't long ago that Moore, DeCoud, and the linebacker core known as D-Block became nationally recognized. Fans gravitated towards Moore because of both his actions and words, and there's a long list of examples. W.A.R may not be on the same level as D.V.D, but those three letters hold power. Stripping Marques Colston to give the Falcons hope in a gloomy 2014 season was unforgettable. Arn Anderson would have been proud of his spine-buster on Mike McNeill.
It's an overall bittersweet moment. Atlanta desperately needs a durable strong safety, which will likely be addressed in the draft. At the same time, it's never easy to move on from such a well-respected leader. It also doesn't help that Moore rejoining Mike Smith in Tampa Bay is a strong possibility. Regardless of what transpires over the next two seasons, remember the good times of watching one of the most fearsome strong safeties lay waste on Sundays.
As the Friday freestyle king said best, "I rep it for Atlanta, I'm the Missouri Hammer, and I'm all in your camera."