The Falcons offense has been the main story about this team for years. With talent like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman, that’s not surprising. But Atlanta’s young defense is starting to make a name for itself, too.
They took it to arguably the best quarterback in the league, Aaron Rodgers, last week. Desmond Trufant earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after picking off Rodgers and pulling off an impressive scoop-and-score on a backwards pass. But he was helped along by Atlanta’s pass rush, which is much improved this season.
De’Vondre Campbell got his first career sack against the Packers. After the game, he told The Falcoholic that the pressure the pass rush generates helps the back end, also.
“It’s tremendous for them, because us being able to get pressure on the quarterback, they don’t have to stay in coverage that long,” Campbell said. “We all are an extension of one another. So if we take care of our business up front, we just take the pressure off of them.”
Brian Poole, the only cornerback with a sack this season, agreed.
“I think we definitely all complement each other,” Poole said. “We’ve got a great defensive line. I feel like we’ve also got a great secondary. So I feel like their pass rush helps us; our coverage helps them. So I feel like we all just work together and it all just complements each other.”
And that’s what happened on Rodgers’ backward pass. With Dontari Poe and Vic Beasley running him down, the ball left Rodgers’ hands in the wrong direction. A backwards pass is a live ball that can be recovered and advanced by either team, and Trufant took advantage.
That’s exactly what this defense is coached to do.
“Our coaches always tell us never keep it in their hands,” Ricardo Allen said. “Show that it’s a clear recovery. He showed it was a clear recovery, and he happened to go score, man. He made a play with it and got in the end zone.”
The pass rush is much improved, and even with Beasley likely out for at least a month with a hamstring tear, there’s reason to be optimistic. Atlanta has seven sacks through two games, and two of those are Beasley’s. Brooks Reed also has two, with contributions from Campbell, Brian Poole, and Adrian Clayborn, too.
They’re getting pressure much more consistently, and Allen said that can swing things in the Falcons’ favor. It forces offenses to change their approach, and the defense is too fast for that to be easy for their opponents.
“If your defensive line can cause havoc, man, it’s not very much you can do. You’re going to have to come out in a quick game,” Allen said. “You’re going to try to screen us, and we’ll start to pick up on those things.
“And we’re quick enough as a defense that if you try to screen us, our defensive line is fast enough to come out the stacks and our zone coverage and our linebackers and our safeties, we’re tough enough to go make the plays on the screens.”
If you follow this team closely, you’ve heard the phrase “iron sharpens iron” thrown around. Like “brotherhood” and “fast and physical,” this isn’t just a phrase to the Falcons. It means something.
This defense practices against some of the top offensive talent this league has to offer, and they make each other better.
“We’re going out there each and every week, just going out there and battling against each other, the first team offense against the first team defense. And they’re just getting us prepared,” Robert Alford said. “We’re going to try to improve each and every week.”
This defense also has a short memory, which is helpful in this league.
“Teams are going to get plays, but with this defense, when bad plays happen we can push past it and just forget about it and just move on to the next play and make big plays,” Alford said.
Atlanta’s defense is riding high after that big win over the Packers. But now it’s time to focus on the next game and get ready for the Lions. Keanu Neal is keeping it in perspective.
“Still a long way to go. We’re still growing,” Neal said. “But all I know is we’ll never get complacent. But I feel like we’re heading in the right direction.”