crankdatfalcon Posted July 15, 2011 Share Posted July 15, 2011 Atlanta Falcons' D is close to eliteAtlanta needs another edge rusher and to shore up its rush defenseEmailPrintComments39 By KC JoynerESPN InsiderArchive The Atlanta Falcons have had the most controversial NFL offseason from a personnel moves perspective because of the draft-day trade they made with the Cleveland Browns to get the first-round pick they used to select Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones.The Dirty Birds took a lot of grief for this move for many reasons. The most widely noted of these is the perception they paid too much for a wide receiver. Rookies at that position often don't contribute immediately and therefore the thought is that Jones won't help the Falcons get through the Super Bowl window that looks to be open for them right now. As true as that statement generally is, an Insider article in May detailed how Jones' skill set is a perfect fit for the Atlanta offense and should allow him to vault the Falcons' passing game into a higher gear.Having said that, even if the Jones scenario pans out as planned, picking up a wideout with that draft pick also meant that Atlanta was not able to draft one of the 11 available defensive prospects at No. 6 that Scouts Inc. had ranked as a 90 or higher (their benchmark for a "rare prospect").That side of the ball certainly looks like it needs its share of upgrades, as the Falcons had multiple defensive statistical weaknesses, including rushing yards per attempt (YPA) allowed (4.6, tied for 27th in the league) and sacks (31, tied for 20th).As bad as those numbers are, a closer look at the metrics shows that Atlanta is actually in terrific shape on defense and could be on the verge of becoming one of the best defenses in the NFL.There is ample evidence for this in both the passing and rushing departments.Let's start with the aerial side of things, as Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson give the Falcons the makings of a terrific secondary.Grimes ended the 2010 season allowing only 475 yards on the 96 passes thrown his way. That equates to a 4.9 YPA mark, a total that was the third-best in the league among qualifying cornerbacks (minimum of 29 targets).Robinson wasn't quite at that level, but his 6.9 overall YPA was good enough to tie for 30th.To put their combined performances into perspective, consider that Grimes and Robinson faced a total of 172 passes and gave up 996 yards. Divide those up and it equals a 5.8 composite YPA, which is the best composite YPA of any group of qualifying cornerbacks in the NFL last season.Cornerback coverage isn't the only area the Falcons excelled in through the air. They also snagged 22 interceptions, the fourth-highest mark in the league.In addition, they were among the best in the NFL in forcing opposing quarterbacks into bad decisions (a bad decision being defined as when a quarterback makes an error with the ball that leads either to a turnover or a near turnover). Passers made mistakes of this nature on 3.5 percent of the aerials thrown at the Falcons in 2010, a mark that was the sixth-best in the league. Things don't look quite as good on the ground, but Atlanta did have some notable bright spots against the run.Tops on this list is its ranking in the ROBIN run-metric system. This is a run-block grading system I have been using variations of since 2005 (explained here). In this year's system, the grading method was altered somewhat to give it a focus on measuring how often a running back received a favorable/unfavorable blocking situation (unfavorable situations being plays where a defender wins a point of attack battle, the defense executes a successful run blitz, etc.). Doing well in this metric is critical because offenses tend to average only a yard per carry on plays with unfavorable blocking situations.In one sense, Atlanta's defense was lights out in this area. The Falcons presented offenses with an unfavorable blocking situation on 52.2 percent of the running plays they faced, a total that was the third-highest in the league.The bad news is the Falcons gave up 8.7 YPA on plays with favorable blocking, and that mark was by far the worst in the league (it was a half-yard worse than the second-to-last place team).As daunting as that last metric sounds, Atlanta really may not have to make big changes to correct it.Let's illustrate this by first noting that a median ranking in favorable blocking YPA allowed is 6.5.Now consider that the Falcons allowed five rushes of over 40 yards last season (a mark that ranked next-to-last). All of those rushes occurred on plays with favorable blocking and opposing ballcarriers gained 280 yards on those runs (or 56 yards per play).The league average for number of rushes of 40 or more yards allowed last year was two. If Atlanta could simply reduce its total down to the league average, it would ostensibly eliminate around 150 yards from its opponents' favorable blocking category. Recalculate their total in that metric with the 150 yards removed and Atlanta's YPA drops to 7.7. That is halfway to a respectable mark and can be accomplished simply by getting more solid tackling by the safeties. Throw in a few improvements in gap discipline and this area will no longer be an exploitable weakness.If that occurs, the only real defensive need for the Falcons will be to add another edge pass rusher. Since the free agent market will feature more than a few high quality pass rushing defensive ends (Ray Edwards, Mathias Kiwanuka, Charles Johnson, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, etc.), Atlanta can solve this issue with some aggressive deal making once the lockout ends and the signing period begins.Given their slew of other strengths on the defensive side of the ball, and an offense that should be potent (assuming it shores up its line), it might be a signing that leads the Falcons to a berth in Super Bowl XLVI. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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