Erik Coleman is by far one of the best leaders on the Atlanta Falcons team. He was a major part of the Falcons amazing turnaround going from the 4-12 debacle in 2007 to the excellent playoff run in 2008. Even though Michael Turner was the biggest name that Thomas Dimitroff grabbed in the 2008 Free Agent period, Erik Coleman may have been just as important for the defense. The free safety, at the time, led a surprising superb defensive effort in 2008 and was essential to the D’s improvement. Although Lawyer Milloy was the leader of the secondary at that point, Coleman was one of the best secondary defenders, much more so than the declining Milloy. Dimitroff surely had a good idea on what was coming with the release of impending free agents Milloy, Keith Brooking, Grady Jackson, Dominique Foxworth, and Michael Boley. The Falcons GM likely was counting on Coleman to become the new leader of the revamped secondary. After a terrific 2008 season at free safety, Coleman switched positions to strong safety to allow Thomas DeCoud to start at free safety. Coleman understandably had some issues with the switch, but was much more of a weakness than many prepared for in 2009. After being the main veteran leader of the secondary, and team overall, there is a possibility he may not even start. The question: was Coleman’s lower play due only to the switch to strong safety, or was there evidence of general decline as he edges towards 30? Let’s dive in………
All safeties are combined into the ratings and rankings (free safety and strong safety), so take that into account when looking at the statistics. Also, safeties have different philosophies in different systems such as Cover 2, 4-3, and 3-4 defense, although not the dramatic difference of linebackers. For instance, strong safeties will be more likely to blitz the passer and support the run so they should have a higher run support rating, whereas free safeties are more cover the pass more so they should have higher coverage ratings.
2008 (Free Safety) according to ProFootballFocus.com
Snaps – 1058
Overall Comprehensive Safety Ranking – 57th (out of 83; -4.8 Rating)
Pass Rush – 59th (-0.4)
Coverage Rating – 35th (-0.2)
Run Support – 68th (-3.2)
Tackles – 6th (79)
Stops (Tackles Resulting in OFF Failure) – 46th (13)
Catch % (Percent of Opposing WR’s Catches in their Coverage) – 20th (56.1%)
Yards After Catch – 52nd (113 yards)
Touchdowns Given Up – Tied 36th (2)
Interceptions – Tied 13th (3)
Passes Defensed – Tied 21st (3)
NFL QB Rating (Opposing QB Rating in their Coverage) – 27th (72.4)
2009 (Strong Safety) according to ProFootballFocus.com
Snaps – 1051
Overall Comprehensive Safety Ranking – 43rd (out of 88; -2.0 Rating)
Pass Rush – 18th (+0.6)
Coverage Rating – 78th (-8.6)
Run Support – 4th (+6.0)
Sacks – 0; QB Hits – 1; QB Pressures – Tied 8th (5)
Tackles – 4th (88)
Stops (Tackles Resulting in OFF Failure) – 6th (31)
Catch % (Percent of Opposing WR’s Catches in their Coverage) – 70th (69.2%)
Yards After Catch – 58th (114 yards)
Touchdowns Given Up – 87th out of 88 (6)
Interceptions – Tied Last (0)
Passes Defensed – Tied 10th (5)
NFL QB Rating (Opposing QB Rating in their Coverage) – 82nd (137.6)
Often times its pretty easy to decipher how a player did overall, either really good, somewhere in the middle, or pretty bad. That’s not an easy task when looking at Erik Coleman’s statistics. Coleman is really good in some areas (Pass Rush, Run Support, Tackles, Passes Defensed), but is poor in other areas (Overall, Yards After Catch) and is downright atrocious in other areas (NFL QB Rating, TDs Given Up, Catch Percentage, and Coverage). Much of this debate is too hard to examine because there are so many variables including his position switch from free safety to strong safety, but some of the statistics are too hard to ignore such as Coleman being one of the best tackling safeties in the NFL, but also being one of the poorest safeties in terms of coverage. Some can be explained away with changing positions, but even when he played free safety he ranked right in the middle in terms of coverage. Coleman’s definitely a case study because he seems to be either really good at part of his game or very poor.
Yes Erik Coleman has some improving to do as he gets settled at strong safety a year after switching from free safety, but he is one of the surest tackling safeties in the entire NFL. Whether being a free safety or a strong safety, Coleman has finished top ten in tackles of all safeties in football. When he played FS in 2008, he tied for 13th with 3 interceptions, 21st in passes defensed, and almost top 25 in terms of keeping the QB with a low productivity when throwing into his area, the NFL QB Rating. He did struggle a touch when he made the position switch to strong safety to allow Thomas DeCoud to flourish at free safety with the slightest touch of unhappiness or resentment, a sign of a true leader and teammate. Even though he had issues of coverage on the switch to SS, he thrived in run support (a main requirement at strong safety) finishing 4th in overall run support, 4th in tackles, 6th in defensive stops, and tied for 10th in passes defensed.
Coleman will need to improve his pass defense this year to prove he’s justified in retaining the strong safety spot, but he deservedly should get this year to show that his issues in coverage were a product of switching positions after only playing free safety in his career. Throw in the fact that he’s one of the best leaders that helped to engineer the turnaround and William Moore can’t seem to stay healthy for a long period of time, and you get the feeling that the much ballyhooed competition won’t even be close.
Coleman deservedly should get all the recognition and credit for helping to get the Falcons turned around in a very short period of time with his veteran leadership and locker room presence. But when it comes to his production on the field, #26 will likely be replaced sooner rather than later. Some of the issues he had probably were due to his position change, but placing so far down and being so weak in coverage is troubling at best. If anything, Coleman should be good at coverage coming over from the FS position. #26 is a very sure tackler, but to be considered a great or even good safety, you have to do both reasonably well. Switching to strong safety aside, Coleman finished 43rd among all safeties and was regularly topped by free safety Thomas DeCoud in areas that he should better at such as QB sacks. Most alarming of all was the fact that Coleman finished next to dead last in terms of touchdowns given up with a whopping 6. As well, the strong safety ranked 82nd out of 88 total safeties in terms of opposing NFL QB Rating with 137.6. This means that he was essentially 20 points short of having the opposing QB have a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3.
Thomas Dimitroff must have known something when he selected William Moore with his second round pick last year. They had to already know that Thomas DeCoud was a favorite to take the free safety position and hoped Moore could compete for the SS spot. Some even thought that Moore may challenge Coleman last year. After an injury-riddled rookie season, Moore appears ready to mound a serious fight for the spot. With Moore missing mini-camp due to a freak weight room injury, he may not have enough time to claim the starting spot outright by the beginning of the season, but if he can replicate his play from his junior year at Missouri, then #25 will be the Falcons SS, not #26.
-What’s your thoughts on Erik Coleman in general?
-Was his lower production just a position switch or general decline?
-Is his poor coverage worth his excellent run support?
-Should he be given plenty of time to improve his coverage?
-Is Coleman’s starting spot safe?
-Can William Moore mount a legitimate challenge?