FLOWERY BRANCH — From his spectacular playing days, Fox television analyst John Lynch knows good safety play when he sees it.
After reviewing tape of the Falcons’ wins over Denver and San Diego, the nine-time Pro Bowl player came away impressed with the play of William Moore and Thomas DeCoud.
“[They] were just kind of guys the last couple of years,” said Lynch, who will work the game against Carolina on Sunday at the Georgia Dome, in a phone interview Wednesday. “You saw flashes, but you didn’t see consistency. But these guys have taken it to the next level.”
With Moore and DeCoud leading the way, the Falcons’ defense has morphed, under the direction of coordinator Mike Nolan, into an opportunistic ballhawking unit.
“They are playing at a high level,” Lynch said. “They seem to be at the center of most of these turnovers.”
The takeaways have been coming in bunches for the Falcons, and Moore and DeCoud have accounted for seven of the team’s 11.
Against Kansas City, they came on three consecutive drives in the second half. Against Denver, the Falcons’ secondary pounced on Peyton Manning passes on the Broncos first three possessions. They added a fourth turnover on a fumble recovery by linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Against the Chargers, the four turnovers came throughout the game.
“You had Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, and both of them seem to be confused at times by what Mike Nolan and this Falcons D was throwing at them,” Lynch said. “There are a lot of people moving all over the screen. I think it looks like Mike has told them to show whatever you want to show, so long as at the snap you are where you are supposed to be. When you can confuse two guys like that, you are doing something.”
The Falcons have been an opportunistic bunch and lead the NFL with a plus-10 in turnover ratio. Carolina, which is 0-11 when quarterback Cam Newton throws an interception, is minus-6 in the key indicator.
Over the offseason and in training camp, Falcons defensive players would pounce on any loose ball and return the interception or fumble. Sometimes, they lateraled a couple of times in order to score.
“It’s a real point of emphasis when the ball is available, to get to it,” Nolan said.
While the practices have paid off, Nolan, a defensive-coordinating veteran of 14 years in the NFL, knows that something else is at play.
“I’ve worked on awareness for a lot of years, the exact way that we are doing it,” Nolan said. “There have been years where we couldn’t get [many turnovers]. In some years, obviously, we set the record one year in Baltimore.
“There are players that have the knack for getting the ball, and there are some that don’t.”
Nolan said coaches emphasized getting turnovers in Baltimore, but noted that they didn’t teach safety Ed Reed how to get the ball.
“He just has a knack for it,” Nolan said. “Right now, you’ve got a couple of guys who have a knack for it as well.”
DeCoud had two interceptions and a fumble recovery against San Diego. He also had one of the interceptions against Manning. Moore had an interception against Kansas City and Denver and a fumble recovery against San Diego.
The two have grown together as pros.
“As a young safety, they tried to trick you a lot,” DeCoud said. “They expect you not to have seen a lot of stuff. That’s paid dividends for William and I. He’s in his fourth year, and I’m in my fifth year. We’ve seen a lot of stuff. Since we’ve seen a lot of stuff, we are less susceptible to being tricked, and we can make a lot more plays.”
Nolan doesn’t know if this is only a hot streak or if the Falcons can sustain such a high turnover margin.
“We definitely hope that it continues,” Nolan said. “If it happens for the right reasons, meaning that your players have that awareness and are able to do that, then that’s great, and it will just keep going.
“It lasts a lot longer when you have a knack for it than when you have just some gimmick scheme that you’ve got going.”