Hot Read: Defense, where did you go?
Going into the Monday Night game against the New Orleans Saints, I personally had a good feeling, not great, but good feeling about the possible outcome of this game. I had gone over the stats from the previous meeting and found some good things that we did. I felt that the only reason the Falcons lost that first game was because of missed opportunities. I felt strongly that if they could have converted at least one of those missed opportunities then the Falcons could have pulled out the victory. However, this games stats showed pretty much the same thing. The Falcons had more passing yards, more total yards, fewer turnovers, almost an equal amount of first downs, more total plays, higher time of possession and an almost 50% third down conversion rate. So why did we absolutely get spanked like a red-headed step child on Monday. I’ll tell you why, a bend don’t break defense that shattered and poor red zone efficiency. No matter what the stats show, if these two things don’t improve and rapidly, the Falcons are going to be disappointed yet again in the playoffs. Especially if they have to go back down to New Orleans in the first round.
The Falcons defense has been called a “Bend Don’t Break” style of defense which I myself have yet to see the upside to. In my mind, a good defense needs to be a brick wall. They should not let anyone move freely between the twenty yard lines. If you look at all the great teams over the years, the majority of them have had hard nosed defenses that will punch you in the mouth for thinking that you can get a first down. One current team that comes to mind is the Steelers. Led by All-Pro safety Troy Palamalu and linebacker James Harrison, the Steelers invite you to try to come at their defense and when you do, you get punched in the face. The Steelers defense has always had a reputation for being one of the tougher defenses in the league going back to the 70’s when they were known as the Steele Curtain. Another defense that has a reputation for being a tough hard-hitting squad is the Bears. Currently they are being led by all-pro Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. But the Bears toughness can be traced back to another linebacker named Mike Singletary. He came into this league in 1981 and began dominating offenses almost immediately. He earned many nicknames for his tough style of play, a style that would lead the Bears to a 15-1 record and the 1985 Super Bowl victory. With the Falcons, there are no players that you can single out and say that they can lift the team and carry them on their back. They do have some good linebackers in Sean Weatherspoon and Curtis Lofton but what the real problem pertains to the defensive line and secondary. Which if you saw the game on Monday, you noticed that they basically did not exist. During the Monday game the Saints had several third down attempts of over ten yards that were easily converted. And by the time the Falcons managed to force a punt, the Saints had already converted nine in a row and the game was long gone. In the final three quarters of the game, the Falcons were outscored 38-6. The Saints were clearly the superior team in every way in this game.
Now, there are exceptions to the idea that you need a great defense to win games but they are usually very few and far between. One such exception are the current New England Patriots. The main reason they are an exception is their Quaterback. A man named Tom Brady who is setting records upon records on his way to the Hall of Fame. I’m not saying that Matt Ryan can’t become a Tom Brady but until the Falcons get a defense to help him, I personally don’t see him winning a championship in the near future.
Red zone efficiency. This is another troubling sign that has become evident in the two Saints games this year. In the two games against the Saints, the Falcons have managed a ghastly 0-6 on red zone trips. In comparison, the Saints in the second game alone converted 4-6 red zone trips into touchdowns. In order for the Falcons to turn it around and go deep into the playoffs, the entire team is going to have to step it up starting with the defense. If they don’t, then the Falcons will be looking at an early exit and a long off season once again.