OC Posted July 14, 2015 Share Posted July 14, 2015 http://www.footballsavages.com/contextualizing-the-atlanta-falcons-defense/Theres been no secret that the Atlanta Falcons have fielded arguably the leagues worst defense over the past two seasons. Theyve struggled to consistently shut down the run, have generated virtually no pass rush, and have been ripped to shreds in the secondary. Even with the steady play of Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons have been hard-pressed to make into the postseason because of their abysmal defense.Atlanta fired head coach Mike Smith and hired Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in hopes of replicating some of the success the Seahawks had during back-to-back Super Bowl runs. Thankfully, Quinn is bringing over his own style of defense as the Falcons try to make a quick turnaround on defense.Dan Quinns defense incorporates a heavy amount of cover one and cover three looks, and really not much more beyond that. The defense that Quinn is bringing to Atlanta is focused on simplicity, minimizing mistakes mid-play, and allowing players to line up in their most natural positions. Under Mike Smith and former defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, players were often lined up in spots that often made them liabilities (which they couldnt afford given the lack of talent within the personnel). For example, in the Week 17 bout against the Carolina Panthers, Kroy Biermann is lining up over the slot receiver to the left of the formation.Image courtesy of NFL Game Rewind****biermannObviously, this is a massive mismatch on the field that wouldve likely been a big play had Cam Newton decided to target the receiver lining up across from Biermann. With Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Richard Smith running the show, situations like this should be immensely decreased if not eliminated completely. Quinn and Smith have a clear plan and identity for the defense; key elements that Mike Smith and Mike Nolan sorely lacked as their careers in Atlanta came crashing to a close.Lets break down Quinns defense buy front seven, back seven, and then how the current Atlanta Falcons fit into the scheme.The Front SevenQuinns defense essentially features three main (or base) formations: under, over, and a Bear front. The Falcons will primarily play out of these formations next season; even against 2×2 and 3×1 sets, Quinn likes to play out of his base defense. Thats primarily because he employs athletic linebackers (Brooks Reed, Justin Durant, Vic Beasley) and trusts them to be able to hold their own in coverage without sacrificing integrity in the run game.Seattles fronts mainly utilized a LEO (weakside defensive end), a strongside defensive end, a 3-technique, and a nose tackle responsible for controlling two gaps. Depending on the formation that the defense calls, the strongside linebacker may also play close to the line of scrimmage.Heres an example of what Seattles under scheme looked like under Dan Quinn in Seattle last season:Image courtesy of NFL Game Rewind43underIn this front the strongside linebacker plays close to the line of scrimmage almost enacting as an extra defensive linemen. The linebacker may not necessarily rush the passer, but his presence on the line scrimmage forces the offensive line to check their protection to account for him. Strongside linebackers still have coverage duties, which I illustrated a bit better in my diagram of the next defensive front: the Bear front.Image courtesy of NFL Game RewindbearfrontThe Bear front looks like traditional 3-4 defenses, except only two players on the defensive line have the responsibility of controlling two gaps. With the LEO coming off the edge on the weakside of the formation, the 3-technique isnt bound by 2-gapping rules and is free to shoot his gap. The tilted alignment on the nose tackle combined with the 2-gap responsibility of the strongside defensive end is meant to compress running lanes, making it easier for the linebackers to flow over the top and make aggressive plays coming downfield.The last of the three main formations is the over look.Image courtesy of NFL Game RewindoverfrontFrom these three formations, the Mike (middle) and Will (weakside) linebackers have relatively easy reads. With two gapping responsibilities littered through the formations, its relatively easy for the linebackers to flow to the ball without having to worry about multiple gap assignments. The simple reads in this style of defense allow for quicker decisions by the linebackers; when you pair the simplified decision making with the type of athletes (Bobby Wagner for example) Quinn is used to in his linebacking corp, its easy to understand why Seattle has had one of the leagues more stifling run defenses over the past few seasons.The alignments are extremely important to understand, but Seattles secondary (a.k.a. The Legion of Boom) has been a massive part of their success. While it may seem daunting to understand at first, Seattle has arguably one of the more simple coverage schemes in the league.The Back SevenQuinn is bringing over a relatively simplistic defense to Atlanta. A vast majority of the time, Quinn calls for either Cover 1 or Cover 3 to be played in the secondary. Both of these coverages utilize single high looks, which puts a lot of stress on the player (usually the free safety) defending the deep middle third.Cover 1Image courtesy of NFL Game RewindcoveroneCover 1 is probably the easiest coverage to conceptualize. Only one player, in this case the free safety, is dropping deep to the middle of the field. The rest of the defense is playing man defense across the board in press alignments. Since theres only one player for help over the top, the cornerbacks are going to jam more often than not to try and get an advantage on their opponent.With the majority of the defense playing man, a hole is left in the middle of the field which is occupied by the middle linebacker. The linebacker has to be comfortable playing in space, because hes essentially in no mans land in the middle of the field. Luckily for Seattle they had Bobby Wagner; it remains to be seen if Paul Worrilow can handle the duty of being a middle linebacker in a scheme thatll leave him on an island from time to time.Cover 3Image courtesy of NFL Game RewindcoverthreeThis image may look a bit convoluted, but the basic Cover 3 system that Atlanta is going to run is fairly simple to understand. The outside cornerbacks are going to play their vertical stem, with or without press, and work until they get to their zone landmark which is the outside third of the field. The deep portion of the field is dissected into three areas: two outside zones (one for each cornerback) and a middle zone which the safety drops to, hence Cover 3.With three defenders dropping deep, the middle and outside of the defense are vulnerable. Excluding the defensive line, there are still four defenders left for coverage duty: the strong safety and all three linebackers. The two outside linebackers are going to drop into their curl flat zones near the sideline while the middle linebacker drops into a middle hook zone in the middle of the field. This is similar to the underneath hole in the cover one concept, except the defense isnt playing man on man across the board. The middle linebacker plays half of the middle of the field while the strong safety (sometimes called buzz or robber defender in this scenario) shuffles over and covers the other half of the middle of the field.The short area of the field is vulnerable, but thats a sacrifice the defense is going to have to make in order to prevent the big play from happening. Even with the short passing game a bit exposed, Seattle was usually able to keep short passes from turning into big plays due to their physicality and speed on defense. #FastAndPhysical, as Coach Quinn would say.This is a pretty basic view of what the Falcons are going to run next season, but its important to note that this defense will actually have a vision and structure unlike the Smith/Nolan defenses that have been abysmal in the past.How do the Falcons fit into this scheme?Before the draft I wrote an article piecing together the Falcons defense based on personnel at the time. The draft and major free agency moves have long been completed, so heres what I think the Falcons defensive starters will look like this coming season.Strongside Linebacker: Brooks ReedMiddle Linebacker: Paul WorrilowWeakside Linebacker: Justin DurantLEO: Vic BeasleyStrongside Defensive End: Adrian Clayborn3-technique: Rashede HagemanNose Tackle: Paul SoliaiOutside Cornerbacks: Desmond Trufant/Robert AlfordStrong Safety: William MooreFree Safety: Ricardo AllenAtlanta is on the right track to turn their defense around, but its still a work in progress. While the pass rush should be improved from a pitiful performance last year, expectations should be tampered a bit. In terms of the secondary, Desmond Trufant should turn in another phenomenal season while Robert Alford should improve with a bolstered pass rush. Hopefully with a simplified decision making process and scheme, Alford will cut down on his mental mistakes and make plays on the perimeter.William Moore is a talented strong safety (and a perfect fit for this defense), but injuries have plagued him his entire career in Atlanta. Ricardo Allen is pretty much an unknown at free safety. Raheem Morris is one of the better defensive back coaches in the league, so this could be a group that performs better than expected. Overall, this is a low floor/high upside group that will have more depth than last season due to moves made in the offseason (Jalen Collins, Phillip Adams, Kevin White).The linebacking corp has been greatly improved from a year ago. When healthy, Justin Durant is one of the better coverage linebackers in the NFL and he should fit seamlessly into the weakside linebacker spot in this defense. Brooks Reed has experience rushing the passer and setting edge; he should be a solid fit at strongside linebacker. Paul Worrilow has disappointed despite his massive tackle totals, but maybe this new coaching staff will be able to develop him into a starting-caliber middle linebacker. **** be asked to play a lot less man coverage in this scheme, which is an area hes struggled in tremendously over the past two seasons.Atlantas defensive line is just oozing with potential. The Falcons drafted Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett to pair with the uber-athletic Rashede Hageman. Hageman struggled as a rookie, but if he can stay in shape and stay motived he could be an absolute force in this league. He absolutely has the skill set to be a dominant interior player, he just needs to put it together. Those three will join established veterans Jonathan Babineaux and Paul Soliai for what should be a fun rotation at defensive line this season.The Falcons are going to hit some growing pains on defense, but overall theyve improved their personnel from a year ago. Im expecting a top 20 finish in total defense and around 30-35 team sacks. Even if the Falcons underwhelm this year defensively, the future is looking bright in Atlanta. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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