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The Falcons have only had two top 10 defenses since 1998

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Expecting the Falcons to take a leap this year? Beware history.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Having a good Saturday? Well, time to talk about the Falcons defense!

There has been a lot of discussion about this Falcons defense and what we might reasonably expect from it. With better health and some key additions like Adrian Clayborn, Tyeler Davison, and depth in the secondary, it seems reasonable to expect it will not be a massive liability the way it was throughout much of the first half of the 2018 season, but can it be the (at least on paper) top ten unit it was in 2017?

The chief reason to be skeptical (and I am) hinges on history. Here is the complete list of defenses that have been top ten in points and yards allowed since 1998.

  • 2017: Points: 8, Yards: 9
  • 1998: Points: 4, Yards: 8

Here’s the complete list of Falcons defenses that have been top ten in either points or yards allowed since 1998.

  • 2012: Points: 5, Yards: 24
  • 2010: Points: 5, Yards: 16
  • 2002: Points: 8, Yards: 19

That’s it! That’s the list.

This tells a pretty somber story, but not one that is going to surprise the bulk of Falcons fans. This team has had some superlative talent on defense over the years, but rarely enough to push them into being what we would consider a good defense. The 1998 Super Bowl team boasted a phenomenal unit, that 2017 team was stingy and dangerous and nearly smothered the Eagles in the playoffs, and the team was opportunistic enough to hold teams in check in 2010 and 2012. But that really has been about it, and any chance of the team repeating their success in 2017 was destroyed by the cumulative loss of Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, and Deion Jones, plus injuries and ineffectiveness for key players like Robert Alford and Vic Beasley.

This is why the Falcons, despite their evident talent and Dan Quinn’s hands-onedness, shouldn’t be counted on to take a major leap on that side of the ball in 2019. I’m confident they’ll be much better than they were a year ago, and I’m equally confident that being top ten in points and yards isn’t the end-all, be-all story for a defense. But I’m also pretty hard-pressed to be confident that the team will reach those lofty heights given that they’ve done so just twice in 1998, and they’ve only been top ten in points five times and yards just the two times in that span. With the offense in place, even modest improvement will do the trick, but the grandest surprise would be one of the league’s best rankings for a unit that could do it despite the weight of history.