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2010 Atlanta Falcons Defensive Breakdown


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Long read advisory

Sorry if already posted...couldnt find it in the first 4 pages

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by Rick Bridges on nfltouchdown.com

Well, it seems I’ve had some mixed views of my analysis of the NFL Combine and my push for an outside linebacker for the Falcons #1 overall selection.

I’d like to elaborate some. I try and look at the team as a whole and determine where the biggest weakness exists as well as depth on the roster. So even though the weakest link on the Falcons defense may be Jamaal Anderson, the depth behind him isn’t terrible.

When looking at upgrading the team depth becomes a huge factor. You could have Bo Jackson and Dan Marino starting on your team but the major question is, “What happens if they get injured?”

This is where my analysis began.

First I looked at the offensive side of the ball. With the exception of the offensive line there is a capable backup at every position. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to look at finding someone to back up Tyson Clabo or Justin Blalock. But overall, the offense is pretty well rounded. It’s the defense that has more holes than a Tiger Woods apology.

So lets review what the Falcons have on defense currently. We will start with the defensive line.

The irony is the backups on the defensive line outplayed the starters for the most part in 2009. No slight on Peria Jerry who was injured or Jamaal Anderson who isn’t any good. Well, maybe a slight on Jamaal but definately not Jerry.

We begin with the leader of the defensive line, John Abraham. What a bad season for the Predator in 2009. He ended the year with five and a half sacks in one of his seasons he didn’t miss time due to injury. To say he under performed would be a huge understatement. We all know he’s a better player than he showed. Sure, he gets held more than the average player in the NFL but he has always dealt with that issue in the past.

Backing him up are Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury. Both of these players are solid pass rushing ends. Either can step in and fill the spot very well. Biermann has shown improvement every time he steps on the field. ****, he even kicked off when Matt Bryant was injured. The guy can be a star in this league and proves he has the work ethic to become a force in the NFL. Sidbury was very limited in his playing time but managed to still pressure the quarterback better than Abrahams bookend Jamaal Anderson. Lets do him next, shall we?

Anderson thus far has been the biggest bust in Falcons history. If you recall, they drafted Audray Bruce #1 some years ago but atleast he sniffed the quarterback once in awhile. I’m sure Drew Brees gets more pressure from the media for interviews than he gets with Anderson coming at him on Sundays. Backing up Anderson is veteran Chauncey Davis. He may not be a big name but he’s far more dependable than the former Razorback. I found myself cheering when I saw Davis #92 on the field. It meant Jamaal was off the field. It wouldn’t hurt the Falcons to find a more dependable starter across from Abraham but I have a feeling Biermann will fill that need. So it’s not the most pressing matter at hand.

Lets move inside and review the defensive tackles now. We will start with one of my personal favorites and possibly the best defensive tackle in the NFL, Jonathan Babineaux. Last season, he had more tackles for loss than any tackle in the NFL. He’s a constant thorn in the side of opposing quarterbacks. In 2010 there is no question about the two starting tackles. Babineaux and now 2nd year player Peria Jerry.

Jerry was a standout at Ole Miss coming out of college and best friends with Michael Oher, the man the movie, “The Blind Side” was based on. After playing in six quarters Jerry was injured and out for the season. This year will answer those questions left over from last year. So both he and Babs will line up next to each other this season. Behind them the Falcons have Thomas Johnson, Vance Walker and Trey Lewis. None of those names will strike fear in the heart of defensive coordinators but each are good situational players. It’s a very young tackle core that has a chance to be a strength of the team. Lewis stepped in for an injured Grady Jackson in 2007 and played well. He has the most potential of the three back-ups currently.

So we move on to the linebacking core of the Falcons.

We will start with middle linebacker, Curtis Lofton. He is a stud. If the pro bowl wasn’t a popularity contest he could have gone last season. He led the NFL in tackles for the first 12 weeks and ended up #5 in the league. He is the leader of the defense and will be starting only his 3rd season in the NFL. Now if he were to get hurt, in comes Robert James. Now James isn’t a terrible player but nowhere near the same player as Lofton. If he were to come in the defense would certainly feel the effects of losing it’s leader. But it does get worse.

On the strong side the Falcons welcome back former Jaguar Mike Peterson. At the start of the season, Peterson appeared to be the answer to the problems left behind by Keith Brooking. Namely, who will tackle players 15 yards down-field? After his excellent beginning he disappeared. The spark he created early left with the injury to corner and fellow ex-Jaguar Brian Williams. Hopefully, he had John Abraham disease and will come back in 2010 to avenge his overall poor season. Backing him up is Spencer Adkins, a second year player that has little to no real game time experience. I liked Adkins coming out of college but he’s far too wet behind the ears line up as a starter.

On the other side is Stephen Nicholas. He’s a great guy. He had some personal issues in 2008 that kept him off the field but 2009 was his chance to shine. He didn’t do terrible, but he wasn’t a game changer. He’s a hard working guy that has his head on straight which is a plus in todays NFL. But the fact remains, he’s not a game changer. Backing him up is Coy Wire, the special teams phenom. Admittedly, he did well when he would come into the game. He’s another of those blue collar, hard working guys. But like Nicholas, he’s not a game changer.

So overall, there is a huge drop off in production from Lofton to the others. He’s the only piece that is not interchangable. Without him, the Falcons linebacking core is crippled.

Lastly, we will move on to the secondary.

Brent Grimes has done everything right. The problem is he’s so small that he gets eaten up by larger receivers. In the NFC South, that’s a problem. He’s like Rudy. You want to cheer for him to succeed but in the back of your mind you know he’s just not the shutdown corner needed to turn the corner. No pun intended.

Opposite him is Chris Houston, who will be going into 2010 coming off season ending surgery. Truth be known, it was when he was injured and rookie corner Chris Owens came into the game that the Falcons secondary appeared much stronger. Houston is a talented corner who blankets defenders. His #1 problem has and always will be his feel for the ball. Too often he waits too long to turn his head allowing the receiver to make the play. Even if he breaks the play up, the fact that he doesn’t turn his head to play the ball costs the team a pass interference penalty.

So going into 2010, it could be time to pass the torch to Owens. Owens played great for a rookie and in the last five games of the season, the duo of Grimes and Owens performed better than could be expected. That said, they didn’t face the best offensive teams the Falcons play. So who knows who will start?

They are backed up by recently re-signed veteran Brian Williams and LSU alumn Chevis Jackson. Both of these players are hot and cold. One play they will make a remarkable read and the next allow a big play. It’s so hit or miss with them. But they add good depth to the secondary and have proven if one goes down, the other can step in and play well.

Now word is that Atlanta is in the lead to signing #1 rated free agent corner Dunta Robinson. I still remember the debates over who was a better defensive back in the 2004 draft. DeAngelo Hall or Dunta Robinson. Atlanta selected Hall number eight and two picks later, the Texans chose Robinson. Based on ex-GM Rich McKays track record, Robinson was likely the better selection. That mistake may be redeemed by now GM Thomas Dimitroff.

Either way, the Falcons do carry some depth in the secondary.

We finish up with the Falcons safties.

At the start of 2009 free safety Erik Coleman moved to the strong safety position to accomodate one of Dimitroffs favorite guys, Thomas DeCoud. Well, DeCoud did not disappoint. He played much better than expected. Most exected the Falcons to suffer with the loss of Lawyer Milloy. And in a way, they did. I really like Coleman but he isn’t scaring opposing receivers with his knock out ability. But overall, he’s a good player. Backing them up is William Moore, last seasons second round draft pick. He was injured early but never really found a role prior to the injury. Outside of him, you’re looking at Antoine Harris and Charlie Peprah. So yeah, safety is a need as well.

So it falls on the linebacking core. And I can’t with a straight face say I’d approve a linebacking core of Coy Wire, Robert James and Spencer Adkins. All very possible with injuries. Depth is a huge need here and if I was Dimitroff, I would begin shoring up the linebacking core making it a strength rather than the largest question mark.

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All I saw was that you have Robert James as the backup mike backer. It would be Peterson.

I didnt write it :)

But I agree, if Lofton were to go down, Mike Peterson would play Mike

I see us picking up a guy in the late rounds to be a backup MLB and to play special teams and hopefully an OLB with one of our first 3 picks

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Good post. I agree we need an OLB to step in for depth as well as a long-term solution. It would be great to have a young guy adopt the attitude of Mike Peterson yet have a younger body.

That said, here is my rebuttle:

A first-rounder in the current stage of our team is a definite starter, otherwise (since we have more than a few needs) it would obviously be a waste. We need immediate impact--somewhere. An upgrade to tip the scales on defense.

A first-round OLB (say, Weatherspoon) would definitely be a starter. Problem is, he would replace Peterson (was great in the first half of season, decent in the second) or Nicholas (held his own, showed great improvement, still needs to see the field to keep developing.) We don't want to stunt the growth on Nicholas (even though we could technically move him over to WLB and put 'the new guy' at SLB and have everyone natural) and Peterson is good for on-field leadership and help with play recognition. Taking Peterson out would probably be a downgrade, for at least half of the season. My conclusion is we need a replacement and definitely need depth, but a first-round OLB wouldn't be the impact that we need.

So, with that said, here's my argument for DE...

We ranked in the bottom third in sacks as well as pass yards allowed. You need good players on the line to get sacks, at least decent coverage, and actually have them pass (in other words, stop the run.) We had no problem getting to 3rd down last year. We did have a problem getting off the field on 3rd down, though.

Now, the addition of Robinson and the development of whoever our #2 will be will certainly help with the 'coverage sacks.' It's a mutualistic relationship though, pressure creates mistakes (misplaced passes, throw aways, interceptions, etc.)

You may be thinking, "if we get an OLB that can rush the passer, both parties will be happy!" Well, maybe. We can't rush the guy every time though.

You may be thinking, "We already have Biermann and Sidbury! Give them a chance!" Well, they both have potential, but no promise as of right now. In addition to that, we will eventually need a replacement for Abe. Thats two DE spots that will need improving within a few years.

You may be thinking, "PJ will be back, and will add the pressure needed for Abe and company to flourish." Yeah, he will help I believe. However, we only saw him for 2 games guys and that doesn't prove much (trust me, I love him so far, but skill is not proved in 1.2 games.) You also need to consider the fact that he is coming off injury. As I said before--no guarantees. He may be slower for a while, he may get injured again.

We need a consistent pass rush. Babs is a good example. Guy was really consistent. Which brings me to my last point. Remember what happened last year guys? This guy has a chance of being suspended for several games. If he's out 4 games... imagine how much of an impact he has when he's in. We don't want a huge piece like that missing to kill us. If anything, the extra skill at the DE will help us through if that arises.

Luckily, TD is smart enough to evaluate all possibilities. This is just an opinion by someone from the outside looking in. I feel pretty confident that DE is our best choice for the first.

I know it's long, read or don't. Just had to organize my thoughts and thought you may appreciate a counter-point.

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I find this thing so full of half truths and misleading that I wonder how he could put his name to it.

IE D-Line

How can he say Sidbury is good, he had less than 7 snaps per game and was rated the worst Falcon DE.

JA98 actually had better performance numbers than Davis yet he is correct Davis is rated higher, go figure.

Safeties, Peprah and Harris are backups?? neither are Falcons now, neither was offered a tender.

LB- get a mid to low round LB to back up Lofton that is exactly what James is.

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Haha. Yeah I saw that too. I don't think the OP wrote the article. If you think about it though, core could make sense too :)

Yeah, it wasn't directed at the OP. No offense intended towards him. It was directed at the "professional" writer who penned the article. ;)

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