After being relatively quiet in free agency, the Falcons made a flashy signing. Dontari Poe adds plenty of intrigue to a young defense. The massive nose tackle is expected to fill a gaping hole within the defensive line. Despite adding speed and versatility last off-season, Dan Quinn’s defense was undersized. A historically great offense helped them overcome those issues.
Opposing teams were unable to exploit Atlanta’s biggest flaw, as they were forced to abandon the run. Scoring 34 points or more on a regular basis isn’t likely this season, though, because of how difficult that production is to keep up. The offense will regress to some extent. In Quinn’s third season, the defense needs to become a top 15 unit. Adding a two-time Pro Bowler shows their ambition to solidify any major cracks in a promising defense. Another edge rusher is still required, but nothing was more important than adding a true run-stuffing defensive tackle, and Poe is a good fit.
I always rewatch the previous Falcons game and post GIFs on Twitter of the most standout plays or disappointing decisions. One particular player, positional group, or situation is excluded from the film review to be saved for this piece.
Poe is a known commodity, so it made sense to do something different with this review. Evaluating his performance against the Falcons from last December seemed like a good idea. According to Pro Football Reference, he played 48 snaps in this game. Quinn will likely use him for 30 to 35 snaps per game. Here are seven noteworthy plays from Poe’s performance against his new team.
1st quarter: 1st and 10 at ATL 46
Poe’s freakish athleticism usually stands out. My colleague Charles McDonald posted some metrics about Poe coming out of Memphis. Andy Levitre initially holds up well, but eventually folds against the dynamic nose tackle. It’s difficult to block a 346-pound man without any support. Don’t forget Poe possesses explosive traits and nimble feet. He forces Levitre into lunging and losing his position.
Trying to maintain your balance against a player like Poe is difficult. When he manages to pull off a spin move, it makes a difficult task even more challenging. Kansas City couldn’t cover Julio Jones for the majority of the game. Matt Ryan is fortunate that his favorite wide receiver got open on a routine basis. Poe didn’t get the sack, but it shows his ability to create pressure without relying on sheer power. Quinn is known for wanting his defensive tackles to slim down in the off-season. During a conference call, Poe spoke about playing at 330 pounds next season. Getting into better shape and limiting his snaps should allow him to produce more big plays rather than take some plays off.
1st quarter: 1st and 10 at ATL 25
This is a case of a top-tier player getting the better of you. Alex Mack is arguably the best center in the league, although Travis Frederick deserves serious consideration. Look at how Mack switches his hips to seal off Poe and take him completely out of the play. He keeps the nose tackle from creating any penetration, along with maintaining leverage to create space for Tevin Coleman. This is a perfectly executed reach block. Mack flourished in Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme. Outside zone runs were a weekly staple in his offense.
Poe gets caught on a well-designed play. He wants to overpower Mack through the a-gap, but quickly realizes that Coleman is running elsewhere. Poe is expected to play more one technique in Quinn’s defense. They rarely put their defensive tackles at zero technique, which is right across the center. It shouldn’t take a major adjustment, but Poe will need to get accustomed to his new role. That involves understanding specific gap assignments and taking on multiple blockers.
1st quarter: 3rd and 3 at KC 4
Kansas City didn’t hesitate to use him on passing downs. While Poe won’t be used in the nickel package very often, he is more than capable of contributing as an interior pass rusher. How he explodes off the line of scrimmage stands out on this play. Poe’s violent hand usage is another reason behind his effectiveness. He easily overpowers Chris Chester, which forces Ryan into taking a sack.
Quarterbacks tend to get rattled from interior pressure. Adrian Clayborn was the only interior defensive lineman generating pressure on a steady basis. Grady Jarrett exploded in the Super Bowl, while Courtney Upshaw and Derrick Shelby had their moments. The interior group needs to produce more pressure, which Poe could provide in a variety of ways. As proven here, his pressure allows other players to finish off the play. Kansas City won 29-28 in a bizarre game. Forcing stops in the red zone is crucial towards winning on the road against a great team. Poe played a significant factor behind their third down and red zone success.
2nd quarter: 2nd and 1 at KC 4
As Levitre found out on this play, trying to overpower Poe on a difficult angle is nearly impossible. He is simply too strong and quick. Mack could have done better to stop Poe’s movement. As the All-Pro center tries to secure a second level block, he doesn’t disrupt Poe long enough for Levitre to drive him away from the run. The Falcons did convert on this short-yardage situation, but failed to get into the end zone.
Similar to the previous drive, Poe made an important play to prevent Atlanta’s prolific offense from scoring a touchdown. That proved to be a huge difference maker in their victory. The Falcons were ranked last in red zone scoring defense. Opposing offenses were not only successful in the red zone. They bullied the Falcons’ undersized front seven into submission. Quinn couldn’t allow that issue to linger into next season. Poe will force offenses to get more creative in the red zone, as they won’t be able to rely on simply pounding the ball into the end zone.
2nd quarter: 3rd and goal at KC 4
Poe didn’t only make stops on running plays in the red zone. His pressure forced the Falcons to settle for another field goal. Kansas City decided to rush three, which is always risky in the red zone. Defenses want to be organized and take away the opposing offense’s most dangerous weapon. When you are facing a special offense, dropping eight players into coverage is essentially playing with fire. Giving a NFL MVP time in the pocket doesn’t usually bode well for an opposing defense.
Thankfully for Kansas City, Poe was a one man wrecking crew on this play. Ryan wasn’t allowed to weigh his options. As the bulldozing lineman came charging in, he was forced into throwing a high pass to a well covered Justin Hardy. If Poe doesn’t use a beautiful swim move on Chester and explode past Ryan Schraeder, Ryan would patiently survey the field and possibly find an open receiver. He isn’t allowed the necessary time with Chester getting soundly beaten again. The swim move was perfectly executed, but watch Poe’s footwork to set it up. His impressive footwork doesn’t receive enough recognition. Chester’s pass blocking deficiencies usually came from being overpowered. On this occasion, he lost on pure technique.
2nd quarter: 3rd and 5 at ATL 42
When Quinn took over play calling duties in December (ironically, it started in this game), the defensive line started running more twists and stunts. It became a more efficient way to generate pressure with limited options. These designs made up for the loss of Clayborn. After seeing the defensive line destroy multiple offensive lines with it during their six game winning streak, Quinn will look to continue utilizing it. Why remove something that became highly effective? Jared Goff is still trying to figure out what happened.
To see a 346-pound nose tackle run a twist is pretty mesmerizing. It’s not the smoothest twist, but Chris Jones is one of the most explosive defensive tackles in the league. He forces Mack and Chester to block him, before moving onto Levitre. Poe does benefit from Chester completely blowing his assignment. You don’t see a veteran guard make such a glaring mistake very often. Poe shows good patience and quickness on the twist, which shows he is capable of doing them. Losing sixteen pounds could do wonders for him on these particular designs.
4th quarter: 1st and 10 at KC 21
When the front office released Paul Soliai, the defensive line lost an enormous figure. They didn’t have a true nose tackle left on the roster. Asking a declining Jonathan Babineaux, Tyson Jackson, and Grady Jarrett to play that role didn’t exactly end well. The defensive line needed a player like Poe, who can take on multiple blocks and clog running lanes.
After Chester engages with Poe, Schraeder attempts to chip the former first round pick. It didn’t faze Poe at all. Devonta Freeman wasn’t going anywhere on this play. Kansas City’s front seven pounced on him, as Levitre and Mack couldn’t hold up at the point of attack. Poe still plays an important role by holding his place within the a gap. That leaves Freeman in a hopeless situation. He can only run straight into Poe and two other swarming defenders. Keeping running plays to a minimum gain will allow the nickel package to get more opportunities at rushing the passer and forcing turnovers.