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Why the Falcons expect to be a top-5 defense in 2018


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Top 5 Defense in 2018

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It's not a goal scribbled across a locker room chalkboard or written on a note inside each defender's locker, but the Atlanta Falcons feel confident about achieving a particular mark in 2018: evolving into a top-5 defense.

Last season, under first-year defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, the Falcons finished in the top 10 in both scoring defense (eighth at 19.7 points per game) and total defense (ninth at 318.4 yards per game) for the first time since 1998. Linebacker Deion Jones and strong safety Keanu Neal both played in the Pro Bowl, and nose tackle Grady Jarrett showed the NFL world why he should be an intimidating force for years to come.

The Falcons return nine of 11 players who started on defense in a 15-10 divisional playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. It's still a relatively young unit as defensive end Brooks Reed, at 31, is the only player over 30. But most of the projected starters have at least two years completed in the system.

"We're well capable of being a top-5 defense," said linebacker De'Vondre Campbell. "I think last year was just a glimpse of how good we can really be. I think we kind of started to put it all together toward the end of the season, and we've got something to build on now. We're all getting very comfortable with each other, day in and day out. This time of the year, this is when we really become close and get communication and all that stuff down pat. So, I think we definitely can be a top-5 defense. That's on us to make it happen."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn certainly knows the makeup of a top-5 defense. He was the defensive coordinator in Seattle during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, as the Seahawks finished No. 1 overall in total defense and scoring defense in back-to-back years. He brought the same fast-and-physical mentality to the Falcons while installing a simple scheme that allows his players to play freely.

However, the Falcons evolving into a top-5 defensive unit is not a topic Quinn is ready to approach.

"Those are cool things that people can talk about postseason," Quinn said. "But during [the season], the main thing for me is it still comes down to points allowed -- and points scored, offensively -- and then that turnover margin. When those things are in order, you'll be a pretty [respected] defense.

"I hope when people watch us play, they see the speed, they see the toughness, they see that ball-hawking mindset to go after it. I feel like we're definitely making progress to be the unit that we'd like to be. Put it this way: The goal is to be the best team."

The Falcons, who finished 27th in scoring defense and 25th in total defense during the 2016 Super Bowl run, made their significant improvement last season despite not getting stellar performances from '16 sack champion Vic Beasley Jr. and one-time Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant. Beasley struggled through a hamstring injury and had to, at times, drop into coverage at strongside linebacker, and Trufant didn't look his confident self coming off a season-ending torn pectoral. Both are expected to rebound this season, specifically Beasley with his focus now solely on playing defensive end.

The loss of '17 sack leader Adrian Clayborn to the New England Patriotsshouldn't be too painful as long as Takk McKinley takes the next step in his second season. McKinley continues to be limited coming off shoulder surgery, but the flashes he displayed in limited snaps as a rookie proved he could terrorize quarterbacks while rushing opposite of Beasley.

Free-agent signee Terrell McClain and rookie third-round pick Deadrin Senatbring experience and depth, respectively, to the defensive line. Jack Crawford's return from a season-ending biceps injury and the re-signing of once-released Derrick Shelby also will add more bodies up front. The Falcons lost run-stuffing, space-eating defensive tackle Dontari Poe to Carolina in free agency.

The team's addition of second-round pick Isaiah Oliver at cornerback, with his length and athleticism, should bolster the secondary -- particularly when it comes to defending taller receivers such as Tampa Bay's Mike Evans. Oliver's potential emergence could kick either Trufant or Robert Alford inside to nickelback, where Brian Poole held the title last season. And the Falcons count on free safety Ricardo Allen as the last line of defense in the single-high look to prevent explosive plays.

Tackling and creating turnovers continues to be Quinn's primary emphasis with the group. Last season, the Falcons were minus-2 in the turnover ratio with 16 takeaways and 18 giveaways. Of the teams that finished in the top 5 in either total defense or scoring defense last season, only one -- the Denver Broncos [at minus-17] -- lost the turnover ratio.

"Usually when you're really kicking [butt], if you can get to plus 8, 9, 10 for the year, you've played some good ball," Quinn said. "That's usually a good goal, to be in the plus. If you can get double-digit plus, you did a **** of a job.

"I generally don't make big stat predictions. ... I don't get too caught up in that as much as I say, 'Did we cause turnovers? Did we take care of the ball? Were we explosive?' Those are the things that I measure and probably talk about with the guys the most."

The Falcons have quite a defensive challenge from the outset with the Eagles on the NFL's opening night (Sept. 6). Philadelphia averaged 28.6 points per game last season, the same amount as New England and right behind the league-leading Los Angeles Rams (29.9 points per game). Four of the teams on the Falcons' 2018 schedule averaged better than 25 points per game last season: Philadelphia, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and NFC South rival New Orleans.

"We want to be the best defense we can be," Jarrett said. "This program is full of competitors. Why not [top 5]? Guys want to be the best. But at the end of the day, it's about us handling our business, being sharp, and not shooting ourselves in the foot. The rest will take care of itself."

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I agree with Quinn's comment above: "Tackling and creating turnovers continues to be Quinn's primary emphasis with the group."  We have to make the tackle at first contact and get back to getting turnovers.  It helped the scoring in 2016 as well.  If this team becomes a top five defense watch out. 

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33 minutes ago, tl;dr said:

The offseason Deion Jones is having; the addition of Oliver; Beasley moving back to DE full time.

Opposing offenses should be afraid. Very afraid.

Agreed.  Can't wait to see the additions to the DL and Takk in his second season with two good shoulders.

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No reason to believe we can't be a top 5 defense next season. After all, we held the top two NFC offenses (29.9 & 28.6 ppg average) to a combined 28 points total in the playoffs. We held the same offense that pummeled the Vikings' vaunted defense to only 15 points. IF we can get that kind of play week in/week out (14 ppg), that can very well likely be the top defense next season. (FYI - This year's best scoring defense was those Vikings that got killed in Philly with 15.8 ppg allowed). 

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We really could and should be. Beasley and Takk could prove themselves as the next great pass rushing duo, while Grady is already one of the best DTs. Debo and Campbell are one of the better LB duos as well, and that stays true when it comes to Tru and Alford. Poole and Oliver rounds out what has become a deep CB group. Rico gets the job done, and Keanu is one of the best safeties currently. With all this talent, top 10 should be expected at the very least. 

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1 hour ago, falconfansince66 said:

No reason to believe we can't be a top 5 defense next season. After all, we held the top two NFC offenses (29.9 & 28.6 ppg average) to a combined 28 points total in the playoffs. We held the same offense that pummeled the Vikings' vaunted defense to only 15 points. IF we can get that kind of play week in/week out (14 ppg), that can very well likely be the top defense next season. (FYI - This year's best scoring defense was those Vikings that got killed in Philly with 15.8 ppg allowed). 

Problem is we always seem to start slow and the defense clamps down as they get deeper in the season.  The key is for the defense to play stout from beginning to the end.

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41 minutes ago, Da_Truth said:

Problem is we always seem to start slow and the defense clamps down as they get deeper in the season.  The key is for the defense to play stout from beginning to the end.

Fully agreed. I think this year most everyone can gel earlier although the DT position opposite of Jarrett may be the reason for any slow starts.  If we can get some kind of solid play from Duke and that DT position and maybe having our new CB getting in by mid-season, it'll really be awesome!

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The defense has finished both of the last two seasons stronger than it performed over the firsthalf of the year. While the track record for "carryover" isnt all that great, I'm hopeful that this will be the year the defense starts the season well and carries throughout the year with a Top 10 season. (by DVOA of course) 

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16 minutes ago, DoYouSeeWhatHappensLarry said:

The defense has finished both of the last two seasons stronger than it performed over the firsthalf of the year. While the track record for "carryover" isnt all that great, I'm hopeful that this will be the year the defense starts the season well and carries throughout the year with a Top 10 season. (by DVOA of course) 

You're probably right, you can not count on carryover in the NFL, but I think we are all pretty optimistic this D, with its core of key players returning and several second and third-year players expected to have more impact, will be able to get off to a better start in 2018 than the last two seasons.

If they're able to get off to a good start, I can only see them continuing to improve throughout the season if we can avoid the injury bug. A good start and continued improvement would just about guarantee this D can reach Top 5 status this season and put the team in great position for a Lombardi run.

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Funny how some people are on board with the "our defense starts slow but gets hot late" thought but when I mentioned they underachieved early in the year, the pitch forks came out. 

The defense we saw in the playoffs is the defense they should have been all season. The talent is there. They need to use it and go play to shut teams down, not just corral teams. It was frustrating to watch because they have top ten talent, but didn't play like it until they felt like it (late). 

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On 6/7/2018 at 8:52 AM, Da_Truth said:

Top 5 Defense in 2018

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It's not a goal scribbled across a locker room chalkboard or written on a note inside each defender's locker, but the Atlanta Falcons feel confident about achieving a particular mark in 2018: evolving into a top-5 defense.

Last season, under first-year defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, the Falcons finished in the top 10 in both scoring defense (eighth at 19.7 points per game) and total defense (ninth at 318.4 yards per game) for the first time since 1998. Linebacker Deion Jones and strong safety Keanu Neal both played in the Pro Bowl, and nose tackle Grady Jarrett showed the NFL world why he should be an intimidating force for years to come.

The Falcons return nine of 11 players who started on defense in a 15-10 divisional playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. It's still a relatively young unit as defensive end Brooks Reed, at 31, is the only player over 30. But most of the projected starters have at least two years completed in the system.

"We're well capable of being a top-5 defense," said linebacker De'Vondre Campbell. "I think last year was just a glimpse of how good we can really be. I think we kind of started to put it all together toward the end of the season, and we've got something to build on now. We're all getting very comfortable with each other, day in and day out. This time of the year, this is when we really become close and get communication and all that stuff down pat. So, I think we definitely can be a top-5 defense. That's on us to make it happen."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn certainly knows the makeup of a top-5 defense. He was the defensive coordinator in Seattle during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, as the Seahawks finished No. 1 overall in total defense and scoring defense in back-to-back years. He brought the same fast-and-physical mentality to the Falcons while installing a simple scheme that allows his players to play freely.

However, the Falcons evolving into a top-5 defensive unit is not a topic Quinn is ready to approach.

"Those are cool things that people can talk about postseason," Quinn said. "But during [the season], the main thing for me is it still comes down to points allowed -- and points scored, offensively -- and then that turnover margin. When those things are in order, you'll be a pretty [respected] defense.

"I hope when people watch us play, they see the speed, they see the toughness, they see that ball-hawking mindset to go after it. I feel like we're definitely making progress to be the unit that we'd like to be. Put it this way: The goal is to be the best team."

The Falcons, who finished 27th in scoring defense and 25th in total defense during the 2016 Super Bowl run, made their significant improvement last season despite not getting stellar performances from '16 sack champion Vic Beasley Jr. and one-time Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant. Beasley struggled through a hamstring injury and had to, at times, drop into coverage at strongside linebacker, and Trufant didn't look his confident self coming off a season-ending torn pectoral. Both are expected to rebound this season, specifically Beasley with his focus now solely on playing defensive end.

The loss of '17 sack leader Adrian Clayborn to the New England Patriotsshouldn't be too painful as long as Takk McKinley takes the next step in his second season. McKinley continues to be limited coming off shoulder surgery, but the flashes he displayed in limited snaps as a rookie proved he could terrorize quarterbacks while rushing opposite of Beasley.

Free-agent signee Terrell McClain and rookie third-round pick Deadrin Senatbring experience and depth, respectively, to the defensive line. Jack Crawford's return from a season-ending biceps injury and the re-signing of once-released Derrick Shelby also will add more bodies up front. The Falcons lost run-stuffing, space-eating defensive tackle Dontari Poe to Carolina in free agency.

The team's addition of second-round pick Isaiah Oliver at cornerback, with his length and athleticism, should bolster the secondary -- particularly when it comes to defending taller receivers such as Tampa Bay's Mike Evans. Oliver's potential emergence could kick either Trufant or Robert Alford inside to nickelback, where Brian Poole held the title last season. And the Falcons count on free safety Ricardo Allen as the last line of defense in the single-high look to prevent explosive plays.

Tackling and creating turnovers continues to be Quinn's primary emphasis with the group. Last season, the Falcons were minus-2 in the turnover ratio with 16 takeaways and 18 giveaways. Of the teams that finished in the top 5 in either total defense or scoring defense last season, only one -- the Denver Broncos [at minus-17] -- lost the turnover ratio.

"Usually when you're really kicking [butt], if you can get to plus 8, 9, 10 for the year, you've played some good ball," Quinn said. "That's usually a good goal, to be in the plus. If you can get double-digit plus, you did a **** of a job.

"I generally don't make big stat predictions. ... I don't get too caught up in that as much as I say, 'Did we cause turnovers? Did we take care of the ball? Were we explosive?' Those are the things that I measure and probably talk about with the guys the most."

The Falcons have quite a defensive challenge from the outset with the Eagles on the NFL's opening night (Sept. 6). Philadelphia averaged 28.6 points per game last season, the same amount as New England and right behind the league-leading Los Angeles Rams (29.9 points per game). Four of the teams on the Falcons' 2018 schedule averaged better than 25 points per game last season: Philadelphia, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and NFC South rival New Orleans.

"We want to be the best defense we can be," Jarrett said. "This program is full of competitors. Why not [top 5]? Guys want to be the best. But at the end of the day, it's about us handling our business, being sharp, and not shooting ourselves in the foot. The rest will take care of itself."

Jeez Broncos at -17 really shows just how good that defense truly is (was).

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40 minutes ago, Vandy said:

The key is to create more turnovers. That’s the only thing that kept this D from being elite last year.

So many ruined by petty mistakes causing penalties... It's been making me cringe as I rewatch these games. 

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13 minutes ago, vel said:

So many ruined by petty mistakes causing penalties... It's been making me cringe as I rewatch these games. 

To your point, this team is too talented to play timid, it’s time Quinn/Manuel take the reigns off. I hated that ‘bend but don’t break’ mindset they had last year. 

Turn them loose!

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3 minutes ago, Vandy said:

To your point, this team is too talented to play timid, it’s time Quinn/Manuel take the reigns off. I hated that ‘bend but don’t break’ mindset they had last year. 

Turn them loose!

You're preaching to the choir. I complained all season. They finally took those cuffs off late in the season. But just like Sark, it was Manuel's first year as DC. He's got good additions and his shut down corner is fully healthy. He better let those boys attack all season or I'm gonna be pissed! 

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