If you watched the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants, you would see a theme that won the game for the Cowboys: cornerback play. The defensive secondary played in a huge way to lock down the dangerous New York receivers, and made the Dallas front seven look really good.
Hakeem Nicks, one of the most dangerous and powerful receivers in the game today, was held to four catches for only 38 yards. A superstar in 2011, Victor Cruz collected six passes for 58 yards. The Dallas Cowboys who had surrendered massive amounts of points to the Giants potent passing attack in 2011, held that attack in check on Wednesday night.
How? The additions of Morris Claiborne through the 2012 Draft, and Brandon Carr in free-agency from Kansas City. Both of these guys were brought in to be lock-down corners to play receivers one-on-one, and allow the Cowboys to blitz extensively. They did exactly what they were brought in to do.
The bigger thing to note is that the influx of tremendous talent in that secondary has made the defensive front play a lot better without adding any talent in that area. Dallas was missing their nose tackle, a crucial position in a 3-4 defense, and still was able to get a lot of push and pressure on Eli Manning. The great coverage in the secondary forced Manning to hold onto the ball a beat longer, for fear or turning the ball over, and resulted in a lot of sacks and hits. The hits weren’t especially effective on a veteran like Manning, but the sacks obviously were.
This is a formula the Falcons could use to get better. They didn’t add any significant talent in the defensive front seven over the off-season or through the draft. However, they do have three very good corners in Brent Grimes, Asante Samuel, and Dunta Robinson. None of those are exception shut-down corners (Grimes is the closest due to his athleticism and ability to play man-to-man coverage) but they can be very productive at making the quarterback look to his second and third reads. In the time it takes to look to other receivers, the pass rush composed of Ray Edwards and John Abraham can get closer to the quarterback, or hit him.
Hopefully the addition of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s creativity will improve the production the Falcons get out of this defensive front, whether it be against the run or the pass. This secondary isn’t the best there has ever been, but it is among the top five currently in the NFL. Hopefully that talent will spill over and allow the front seven to play more aggressively and beat more defenses. Maybe the addition of Samuel in the secondary will be enough to push the Falcons over the edge.