Another week, another huge game for the NFC leading Atlanta Falcons. The Birds have the top record in the NFC and tied for the best in the NFL and they just keep getting bigger and tougher each and every week. After being cozy at the Home Sweet Georgia Dome for several tough games, including hosting the Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers, the Falcons will begin a grueling 3 game road trip starting with the Tampa Bay Bucs on Sunday. Even though the Eagles, Bucs, and Packers lost last week, the margin for error is still razor thin if you’re talking about home field advantage and a first round bye. The New Orleans Saints and the Chicago Bears are still right on their heels, only one game back. The Falcons could put really put themselves in the drivers seat with a victory in Tampa Bay against a fired up Bucs team. Win this one, and the Birds move to 10-2 with two games against Carolina, a game in Seattle, and the big showdown with the Saints on Monday Night Football. Can the Birds continue their winning streak outside of the Georgia Dome? Four searing questions as the Falcons travel to Tampa Bay……….
Part 1 of a 2 part question on the defensive scheme. Who knows the exact reason, but for all the talk of being faster, younger, and more aggressive in the transformation since Head Coach Mike Smith got here, the Falcons defense just isn’t a very attacking one. Sure, they pick their parts here and there to blitz, but many times even when they blitz they don’t get there. Granted, sacks aren’t the only stat to determine a good defense, but the excuse was always that the Falcons didn’t have the speed or playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Hard to argue they don’t have enough with William Moore, Sean Weatherspoon, Jonathan Babineaux, John Abraham, Dunta Robinson, and Curtis Lofton. The Falcons big youth movement occurred last year, so that’s not a valid excuse. They seem to play a traditional Bend-but-Don’t-Break defense, which is fine if that’s what you want to run, but many fans have believed that it would become more attacking when the personnel changed. DC Brian Van Gorder was always known for his attacking defense and creative blitzes coupled with disguised coverages at Georgia, but that doesn’t seem to have translated. Mike Smith had a huge advantage in Jacksonville with Marcus Stroud and John Henderson at DT, so perhaps that’s where its coming from. Who knows the reason, but doesn’t the Falcons defense seem to be a Bend-but-Don’t-Break, soft-zone coverage defense?
The next question to ponder regarding the BBDB defense (as many of our awesome Cage Family have termed it) is whether or not it is effective. It’s hard to nitpick a 9-2 record and tied for the best in the NFL. The Falcons definitely stop the run as good as anyone in the National Football League. Almost every single great back that has faced the Falcons has had little success, so the only for teams to beat the Birds is through the air. That hasn’t been a problem. The Falcons only rank a miniscule amount better than last year in terms of pass defense, an issue they were dead set on to improve in the off-season with the signing of Dunta Robinson, the drafting of Sean Weatherspoon, the emergence of William Moore, and the hiring of Tim Lewis. Whatever it is, the Falcons are getting it done and are keeping them out of the endzone. They held a red hot Packers team to 10 points for 58 minutes. Can they keep winning by giving up yards by the boatload as they get into the cold months and playoff territory? Some argue yes. Others argue no since they’ve relied on the offense to bail them out at the end of the game several times over the year (Niners, Ravens, Packers). As long as they keep winning who cares, but what’s your thought on the BBDB Defense?
In a word: doubtful. But the Falcons will have to try to get something out of either Antone Smith or Gartrell Johnson after Snelling went down with an injury against the Packers and Jerious Norwood went out on IR at the very beginning of the season. Michael Turner has been running extremely well this year, but he’s also gotten a lot of help out of the backfield from Jason Snelling, especially in the passing game. Antone Smith beat out Dmitri Nance in the preseason, who was snatched by the Green Bay Packers, but has never done much of anything besides special teams. Gartrell Johnson was picked up off waivers when Norwood got hurt and gave a glimpse of hope against the Bengals when he took off like a rocket on a 20 yard burst. Not much else from him after that. Here’s to hoping that Smith or Johnson can pick up the slack or that Snelling is good to go on Sunday. Many fans believe, correctly, that running back will finally be high on the priority list when the next draft rolls around. Doubtful that they’ll keep Norwood, and it’s going to be really tough to keep Snelling as well since many teams could be looking to pay him a starters salary. For now, someone needs to step up.
Josh Freeman’s not on the level of Aaron Rodgers yet, few are, but surely has the same athletic ability and many will argue more so with his large frame and quick feet. Will the Falcons have a similar gameplan when they tee it up in Tampa Bay today? If so, it could be a long day for the team and fans alike if they allow him plenty of time to move around the pocket, look for open receivers, and then have a chance to take off. As mentioned before, the secondary gets a lot of the criticism for being so low in NFL ranks and giving up passing yards by the ocean, but they’re not getting a ton of help from the defensive line in terms of pressure either. Van Gorder and Smith seem hesitant to use their linebackers to blitz, so John Abraham has been one of the only consistent pass rushers on the defensive side of the ball. It could be all the secondary’s fault, but when a talented quarterback gets 10 seconds to stand in the pocket, bake a cake, do his taxes, and phone a friend, there’s only so much the defensive backs can do. The defensive front seven better get more pressure than they did against Green Bay or it could be a long day.
-Will the Falcons be suffering from the “big game” hangover?
-Can the Birds jump out on the Bucs and take the crowd out of it?
-Is the game against the top team and hated rival not a sellout?
-Fox’s national coverage is Colts-Cowboys instead of Falcons-Bucs…why?
-Not just the Falcons, but does the NFC South as a whole get the shaft?
-Can Spoon finally get back to his pre-injury form?
-What is the deal with Thomas DeCoud this year?
-Can Stephen Nicholas prove he’s worthy of a permanent starter position?
-Should Jamaal Anderson be placed back at starting D-End?
-Will Brent Grimes get picked on again?
-Can Weems finally break one for a TD?
-Will Michael Palmer or Brian Finneran get in the mix today?
-Simply put….Will the Falcons prevail once again?
-Defensive shutdown or offensive shootout today?