For the first three weeks of the season, the Atlanta Falcons were looking extremely sharp defensively. It seemed they could do no wrong, and the only time they gave up a lot of yards and points was when the game was out of hand. As a result you had a blowout (San Diego), a team who couldn’t hold up to the pressure the Falcons applied (Kansas City), and a team who the Falcons were clobbering then allowed back into the game (Denver). Regardless, the Falcons weren’t in a competitive game through the first three weeks, and that was mostly on the strength of their defense.
Things certainly changed in week 4 against the Panthers. Carolina put up 404 total yards offensively against the Falcons– and these weren’t simply empty yards at the end of the game that merely pad the statistics. These yards really all contributed to the Panthers. The Falcons tried to stop every single one of the Panthers plays throughout the day, and they still gave up a whole lot of yardage.
A lot of this had to do with the Falcons inability to stop the run. I read a couple sources that said the Falcons did a good job of stopping the run; I don’t think that giving up 5.7 yards per rush is a positive. Carolina gained solid yardage between the tackles, outside, and on zone-read runs. It’s very difficult to stop the run when the quarterback is as adept at all different types of runs. And once the run is established, it’s extremely difficult to stop anything defensively.
Getting after the quarterback has been a consistent struggle, and against Carolina, it didn’t improve too much. Sure, the Falcons sacked Newton three times, but at least one of those was a scramble where he simply got dragged down for a loss. Technically a sack, but only technically so.
I’ve got to give some credit to the secondary. They did a pretty solid job in coverage. The only two really poor plays was the wide receiver screen that went for the Panthers final score, and the pass to Greg Olsen for their first score. On the first play, the coverage was too far off, allowing for the receiver to simply turn for the ball, and get blockers ahead of him.
The Falcons did blow coverage in one particular situation. It was on Greg Olsen’s TD catch. I recently wrote that the Falcons needed to make sure to account for Steve Smith at all times. They did a pretty good job of that, but on this specific play, they left other players uncovered. Smith ran a curl route, and three defenders went with him. That left Olsen uncovered running to the flat. He easily made the catch and then broke three Falcons tacklers for the score. Not a bright spot for the entire Falcons defense.
If you looked at only the statistics, you’d say that the Falcons were pretty good at defending 3rd down situations. The only allowed 4 first downs in 11 third down situations. That’s solid. But the real key is that on at least a couple scoring drives, the Panthers never even had to get into a third down situation. That means they converted on 1st down or 2nd down. That’s tremendous efficiency on offense, or horrible surrender on defense.
One other thing that was a positive was the open field tackling by the Falcons, especially of the running backs. Yeah, the Falcons missed a few on the Olsen touchdown catch, but as far as limiting the yards after contact, I’d say the linebacking corps in particular did a good job.
The Falcons defense created one turnover, but it was early and only singular. That was a serious difference than previous games when the Falcons created at least 3 turnovers, thus giving the offense more opportunities, and the defense more time for rest. The Falcons survived this game while going even in the turnover battle, but they must play better defense and force more punts. They can’t depend on turnovers, so they must be more consistent defensively if the Falcons are to survive the season.