When the Falcons announced they were moving Raheem Morris back to the defensive side of the ball to work specifically with the defensive backs, it seemed like a sort of last ditch fix for an ailing secondary. Now that we’ve seen one game with that move, we’re left to wonder why it didn’t happen much, much sooner.
You can only take away so much from a single win, but when that win is against the Saints, and the Saints manage exactly zero offensive touchdowns, it takes on outsized importance. The reality is that the secondary simply did look better, and if they were helped by an Alvin Kamara slip here and a boneheaded Saints penalty there, they still put their most impressive effort of the year on the field.
The players, who have been looking for this all year long, were quick to give credit to Morris. As Jason Butt at The Athletic wrote:
“The different perspective, the different knowledge he has for the game — I feel like it helped the DBs out a lot more,” Oliver said. “It wasn’t anything the coaches previously weren’t doing, it’s just something different. That’s the biggest thing. All of them working together now, I feel like it helps us a lot more.”
We don’t know exactly what Morris did or said, but ultimately he coaxed a better day out of a talented group. The Falcons had gotten flashes of quality play out of Kendall Sheffield, Isaiah Oliver, Ricardo Allen, and Damontae Kazee all year, but in this one they ranged from good to superb. Kazee was particularly amped and particularly physical in this one, but really the whole secondary was playing well despite the ongoing absence of Desmond Trufant.
With the secondary playing better, the pass rush finally creaked to life. The Falcons wound up with six sacks in this one—one off their season total coming into the game—and were able to absolutely tee off on Drew Brees, who didn’t look as sharp as anticipated in this one. It was the best total defensive effort of the season and an absolute joy to watch, and at the very least it proves what this defense maddeningly is capable of and hadn’t attained to this point.
The question is whether this was a blip or something the Falcons can sustain, and we’ll know that soon enough. Either way, it’ll be interesting to hear Dan Quinn address the move for Raheem Morris—and his handoff of play-calling duties to Jeff Ulbrich, which has apparently been taking place over the last few weeks—and why it took so long to get to this point. The talent has, happily, not gone missing.