FLOWERY BRANCH – The Falcons led the league in a major stat last season.
They allowed teams to convert on third down 45 percent (97 of 214) of the time. Indianapolis (104 of 231) and Jacksonville (94 of 209) were also at 45 percent.
My esteemed colleague Mark Bradley is predicting a 12-4 campaign for the Falcons. He obviously believes they will drastically improve on this woeful third down stat.
In the preseason, the Falcons are experimenting heavily on third down, but nothing seems to be working consistently.
In the first series against New England, they used a 3-4 look twice, but were not able to stop Tom Brady.
On a third-and-7 at New England’s 33, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder put Jonathan Babineaux at nose tackle over center. John Abraham was at left end and Kroy Biermann was at right.
Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon were inside. Stephen Nicholas was outside on the right and cornerback Christopher Owens walked up on the outside left to put seven men in the box.
On the snap, everybody but Abraham rushed. He dropped into coverage. Biermann started to rush, but peeled off to his right to cover a back.
Brady wasn’t fooled and checked down to running back Kevin Faulk, who’d slipped out of the backfield. Faulk beat Abraham, who didn’t look very comfortable in coverage, and picked up the first down.
On that one, two of your three top sack leaders from last season were in coverage and not rushing Brady.
On the third-and-7 at New England’s 47, the Falcons went to the seven-man look again.
New England was in a shotgun with a spread look, but elected to pull Dan Connolly and he led Faulk up the middle on a power run that netted 8 yards and the first down.
Later in the drive, on a third-and-2 from Atlanta’s 37, the Falcons stayed in their base 4-3.
New England didn’t get pretty. They went with two tight ends, one receiver, a fullback and a halfback in the I-formation and pounded the ball right at the Falcons. The play was well blocked as Sammy Morris powered ahead for 9 yards and didn’t get touched until safety Erik Coleman stepped in to save a touchdown.
“My biggest concern is the way that we played third down,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “You can’t have situations when you are in third down on the first drive and have them convert on checkdown passes and get first downs. We have to make sure that we have solid tackles and knock the ball carrier back.”
On New England’s second series, the Falcons flashed their 7-man front on third-and-8. They sent six, with Lofton dropping into coverage. Brady passed to Julian Edelman, who sat down at four yards. Safety Thomas DeCoud came up to stop Edelman a yard short of the first down marker and the Falcons had a stop.
But that was one of the few third down highlights.
“They also scored three of their four touchdowns on third down,” Smith said. “One was a third-and-12. Those are all areas that we have to
Smith deflected a question about the 7-man fronts and the 3-4 looks. (Hey, everybody has DVRs now and well millions of folks saw it on national television! It’s not top secret info.)
“There was no game planning in this ball game,” Smith said. “We were working on certain things that we wanted to work on.”
It will be interesting to chart what the Falcons do on third down against the Dolphins since they will prepare a game plan for that one.
Do you have any recommendations for BVG and Smitty for third down? Like the 7-man looks with all the blitzing? Or, are you not alarmed and think the defense will tackle better when the season arrives?