Our eyes can play tricks on us, watching games in real-time. We can think a certain player is to blame for a mistake or responsible for a big play that was actually made possible by standing in the right spot while someone else did the heavy lifting. None of us are immune to that, especially when it comes to something as complex as secondary play.
A site like Pro Football Focus is supposed to exist as a corrective to that, since they’re watching games, charting, and grading players on a weekly basis. That means they’ll sometimes introduce grades that are not necessarily wrong—though sometimes we obviously disagree, sharply—but can be whiplash-inducing.
I suspect that will be the case for a wide swath of the fanbase, which has been convinced something is not right with Desmond Trufant over the first four games of the season despite evidence to the contrary (more on that Friday from Charles McDonald). He’s certainly had his hiccups, but per the grades below, he’s been Atlanta’s best cornerback. Robert Alford has been, by a wide margin, its worst.
I’m actually a bit surprised by these grades. Kazee was solid in his first start, but I’ve thought Ricardo Allen had played quite well in the first three games of the season, so seeing him well-ranked compared to Allen and Neal is a bit jarring. If the coaching staff agrees with that assessment, the Falcons may explore ways to get Kazee on the field going forward when Allen’s healthy.
But all of those grades evince a little room for improvement, or perhaps a lot, and that’s not out of sync with what this secondary has been doing against some pretty middling offenses. There’s one outlier here that does raise an eyebrow, even so.
What’s driving Alford’s extremely low grade so far? PFF explained that it’s the yardage, the fact that it’s a little lucky receivers haven’t had more success against him, and of course the penalties fans love to ding him with. Trufant has been significantly better—that’s more or less a given, and not a real knock on Alford—but that he’s drawn more targets and hasn’t yet been able to deliver the kinds of swatted passes and turnovers that have defined his game in prior years. With so much of the team looking slightly off thus far in 2017, plus his track record of success, it’s fair to say I’m not wringing my hands over Alford’s grade just yet.
He's given up 206 yards (16th most among CBs), and WRs have 6 drops when in his coverage so that could be worse. 2 coverage penalties also.— PFF ATL Falcons (@PFF_Atlanta) October 4, 2017
For all my quibbles, if you’re arguing from the premise that the Falcons secondary hasn’t been quite as elite as it looked heading into the year, I’d embrace that. With the bye week on hand and Ricardo Allen returning, I’m hopeful the secondary will join the rest of the team in showing up a little sharper and more productive against the Miami Dolphins in Week 6.