Goober Pyle

Coverage woes go ‘hand in hand’ with Falcons’ inability to rush the passer

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https://theathletic.com/1302848/2019/10/17/coverage-woes-go-hand-in-hand-with-falcons-inability-to-rush-the-passer/

 

A lot of time has passed since the Falcons recorded a sack.

The most recent instance when this occurred was Sept. 22 against the Indianapolis Colts, when Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley shared a sack in the third quarter. Since then, the Falcons have only five quarterback hits the past three weeks. Against Arizona in Sunday’s 34-33 loss, Atlanta registered zero sacks and zero quarterback hits, even with the team dialing up what head coach Dan Quinn said was 17 blitzes.

Given this tough stretch to open the year, Atlanta’s defensive line has received the brunt of the criticism for failing to get after the quarterback. And it is more than fair to place a good bit of the blame on the defensive line, considering there are two first-rounders at defensive end whose primary objective is to rush the passer.

But the defensive line shouldn’t be asked to absorb all of the scrutiny. While the pass rush has struggled, so has the coverage unit. Those two groups are married together. Without a solid pass rush, the secondary is forced to cover for too long, which inevitably will result in a receiving option getting open. Without good coverage, a quarterback can get the ball out quickly and negate good pass rushers.

In last week’s game, the Cardinals got the ball out quickly on a lot of plays, sometimes in fewer than two seconds. This helped prevent the Falcons from getting to rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, who had a banner day. Atlanta’s secondary did little to stop Arizona’s quick game, or even when it went vertical, as Murray racked up 340 passing yards and three touchdowns.

Quinn wouldn’t publicly point to whether the pass rush or coverage was more to blame for the team’s inability to affect the quarterback the way he would like. But he noted the two facets of the defense haven’t been aligned properly.

“I think the whole thing ties together,” Quinn said. “To be really good on defense, you have to have the whole thing going together. I don’t know if I’d put it on to one or the other. It usually comes down to a combination of things.”

The Falcons have allowed numerous completions to take place in three seconds or fewer. They rank 25th in the league at passing yards allowed in three seconds or fewer with 185.7 per game and 27th in defensive completion percentage at 75.2, according to radar360. When that number drops to two seconds or fewer, Atlanta has allowed 67.7 yards per game (30th in the NFL) with an 87.9 completion percentage (32nd in the NFL). In total, teams have completed 71.4 percent of their throws against the Falcons, the third-worst mark in the league.

Atlanta’s base defense is a Cover 3 zone, which isn’t too difficult when it comes to concept and terminology. Players have described the defense as simple to understand, with it designed to allow them to read what opposing teams are doing and to react swiftly.

The Falcons have struggled with the zone, which prompted defensive passing game coordinator Jerome Henderson to be asked if the unit should turn to more man-to-man defense. But that hasn’t exactly been a strong suit either.

“You always have those thoughts,” Henderson said. “When you look at it, we’ve struggled a little bit there, too. We’ve just got struggles in coverage right now. We’ve got to get them fixed.”

During the playoffs of Atlanta’s Super Bowl run in 2016, the Falcons executed this defense at a high level. This year, with Quinn taking over play-calling duties for the second time as a head coach, there have been numerous breakdowns in communication.

Considering the experience across the board on defense, FOX Sports analyst Charles Davis has been surprised by Atlanta’s defensive performance.

“That’s the great mystery to me,” Davis said. “A team like that should have pretty good communication. You have the linebackers who have been out there who ostensibly make the calls. In the secondary, you lose Keanu Neal, but you’ve got Ricardo Allen. That’s another guy who makes calls in the secondary. Yet I’m seeing breakdown after breakdown, big play after big play. That doesn’t make sense to me because this defense is really set up to take away big plays. It’s a defense that’s set up to where if you’re going to get them you’re going to have to bleed it downfield to get them.”

Davis said that for this defense to work, the pass rush has to apply pressure on the quarterback, which forces short throws underneath. Defenders are then in place to keep the gains at a minimum. On third down, the pass rush starts from the middle with the rest of the defense working in conjunction.

Although Davis called Neal “one of the great chess pieces when he’s healthy,” Davis doesn’t have an explanation as to why the Falcons have performed as poorly as they have on that side of the ball.

He did mention, however, that he has seen the Falcons’ cornerbacks struggle quite a bit when reviewing the tape. And that’s an area NFL defenses can’t help with extra defenders too often, considering the hole that rolling a safety could leave elsewhere.

“All in all, it’s not a defense that you look at on the surface and say, ‘OK, that’s one of the more complex terminologies in the league,’” Davis said. “They know what the coverages are, they play them, they tune them up, they play them well. I think that’s why I’m surprised at the number of breakdowns and big plays that have been given up.”

The Falcons rank 27th in pass defense (271.2 yards per game), and they are tied for 32nd in sacks with five through six games. If Atlanta is to turn its season around, these numbers need to somehow turn around quickly.

“The pass rush and the coverage go hand in hand,” Henderson said. “If we don’t buy them time, they can’t get there. Sometimes, they can help our coverage with their rush. It works hand in hand, and we need to have a partner relationship, that the coverage is working and the rush is working. We’re trying this week to get that fixed.”

 

 

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44 minutes ago, Goober Pyle said:

The Falcons have allowed numerous completions to take place in three seconds or fewer. They rank 25th in the league at passing yards allowed in three seconds or fewer with 185.7 per game and 27th in defensive completion percentage at 75.2, according to radar360. When that number drops to two seconds or fewer, Atlanta has allowed 67.7 yards per game (30th in the NFL) with an 87.9 completion percentage (32nd in the NFL). In total, teams have completed 71.4 percent of their throws against the Falcons, the third-worst mark in the league.

This is exactly what I said when I defended the pass rush win rate the other day. You can't even touch the QB within 3 seconds. That's been the biggest issue. Grady and Takk are beating their blocks enough to provide some semblance of a pass rush, but the back end is so terrible it doesn't matter.

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47 minutes ago, SirCzah said:

Ah jeez, I have a sickening feeling that we are going to celebrate our next sack as if we just won the Super Bowl.

won't have to see it happen often. 

Both parts are just bad. 

SirCzah likes this

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Shouldn't this be an argument to play more man-to-man defense in coverage and scrap the zone? At least that should increase the time the QB takes to throw the ball and give the pass rush more of a chance to get there. 

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1 hour ago, Goober Pyle said:

The Falcons have struggled with the zone, which prompted defensive passing game coordinator Jerome Henderson to be asked if the unit should turn to more man-to-man defense. But that hasn’t exactly been a strong suit either.

“You always have those thoughts,” Henderson said. “When you look at it, we’ve struggled a little bit there, too. We’ve just got struggles in coverage right now. We’ve got to get them fixed.”

“...struggled a bit” is being awfully kind.
 

17 minutes ago, falcon22 said:

Shouldn't this be an argument to play more man-to-man defense in coverage and scrap the zone? At least that should increase the time the QB takes to throw the ball and give the pass rush more of a chance to get there. 

 

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Man I don’t know. DQ said that Arizona had a ton of passes come out in under 2 seconds. Pass rush can’t do anything about that. 

NeonDeion likes this

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7 minutes ago, JD dirtybird21 said:

Nobody has really talked about him much. But Kemal Ishmael might be the worst starter in the NFL right now...at any position. He is terrible 

It was a total mystery to me why he made the 53-man roster over Cooper. Even posted here that his career was over with the Falcons, before the final roster cut-down. 

JD dirtybird21 and Cole World like this

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WTF happened to Jack Crawford? Did this new alignment render him useless? Never a world beater by any means but he was at least solid and showed some promise.

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25 minutes ago, JD dirtybird21 said:

Nobody has really talked about him much. But Kemal Ishmael might be the worst starter in the NFL right now...at any position. He is terrible 

Been that for years. Didnt know why Quinn elected to keep him and transfer him into a safety linebacker.

Cole World likes this

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1 hour ago, JD dirtybird21 said:

Nobody has really talked about him much. But Kemal Ishmael might be the worst starter in the NFL right now...at any position. He is terrible 

And Dondre compbell

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2 hours ago, JD dirtybird21 said:

Nobody has really talked about him much. But Kemal Ishmael might be the worst starter in the NFL right now...at any position. He is terrible 

Devondre Campbell would like to have a word with you

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3 hours ago, vel said:

This is exactly what I said when I defended the pass rush win rate the other day. You can't even touch the QB within 3 seconds. That's been the biggest issue. Grady and Takk are beating their blocks enough to provide some semblance of a pass rush, but the back end is so terrible it doesn't matter.

Exactly. This has been my gut as well. Quinn said Kyler Murray had like 20 passes released in 2 seconds or less.

:ninja:

Side note:

I like it. Blidi at RCB and Sheffield reps at LCB. For now, I think Miller probably is still on that year 1 strengthening and grooming plan...

Cole World and vel like this

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2 hours ago, JD dirtybird21 said:

Nobody has really talked about him much. But Kemal Ishmael might be the worst starter in the NFL right now...at any position. He is terrible 

Neal and Rico had shown rust early. 

Tru flat since Titans game started.

Oliver has just been terrible several times; too often. He looked slightly better vs the Cards and !!! When we started going MAN coverages after 5 straight scoring drives to open in zone didn’t get it done.

That and no Neal to support run while covering well? It’s all Vondre trying to do too much again like last year. He never reached solid proactive instinct to attack plays.

That’s our entire unit almost it seems...casual mistakes here and there. Easy yards and points allowed.

Edited by Ergo Proxy

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4 hours ago, SirCzah said:

Ah jeez, I have a sickening feeling that we are going to celebrate our next sack as if we just won the Super Bowl.

I wouldn’t know what that’s like.

Cole World likes this

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2 hours ago, PeytonMannings Forehead said:

“...struggled a bit” is being awfully kind.
 

 

I mean, wasn’t peaking 2016 Defense running a lot of man vs the Pats until they got too tired?

I can understand zone vs mobile QBs like Wilson and Rodgers.

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If DQ loses his job he deserves it simply for keeping VB for 13M. He really ****ed up on that one and the whole crowd knew it other than a few VB homers. I knew when DQ kept VB he was in trouble....what a stupid DA decision 

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2 hours ago, RoddyWhite84 said:

Devondre Campbell would like to have a word with you

Campbell has higher expectations making it seem like he’s worse. But he’s not

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