The Hot Button: Did Falcons redo too much of their defense?

Here's why they needed to get younger and faster. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

And here's why they needed to get younger and faster. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

He could have taken half-measures: Dump three guys in one offseason, two more the next. Instead Thomas Dimitroff, who doesn’t eat meat, went whole-hog.

Five Falcons starters were cast off or allowed to leave. We knew such movement would yield growing pains, but events of the preseason suggest orientation might take a while longer. Already Dimitroff has had to make last-minute acquisitions to prop up a shaky secondary, importing cornerback Tye Hill and safety Brian Williams.

So, then, the question: Did Dimitroff overreach by changing so much? His e-mailed response:

“Absolutely no regrets as per our offseason defensive moves. Our desire at the outset of the 2009 offseason was to get younger, faster and increase our level of urgency. Our aim is to build for sustainability”

And that was always the key. The Falcons cut ties with four of the five starters because of that get-younger-faster-and-more-urgent mandate. The fifth was another matter. A look at each case:

Michael Boley, linebacker: There was a time — in 2007, say — when Boley seemed the Falcons’ next Pro Bowler. But he didn’t take to the new coaching staff, and the new coaches weren’t wildly enamored of him. The Dimitroff mantra for 2009 is “urgency and consistency,” and the Boley of 2008 failed on both counts. Which is a nicer way of saying he took plays off.

Keith Brooking, linebacker: The Falcons knew even before the playoff loss in Phoenix that Brooking had lost more than a step, but his feet didn’t fail him on that fateful third-and-16. He misread the play completely. And that sealed it. If you’re going to keep an experienced guy around as, say, a fourth linebacker, he’d better not get fooled like a raw rookie.

Domonique Foxworth, cornerback: This was the guy the Falcons wanted to keep, but he priced himself out of their market. Foxworth took a half-season of good work here and wrangled a $28 million contract from Baltimore (with $17 million guaranteed). The Falcons weren’t going to pay that much for someone they didn’t feel was a true No. 1 cornerback. A solid one, yes, but not a great one.

Which player, if any, should the Falcons have kept?

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Grady Jackson, tackle: The Falcons liked Big Grady, too — everybody likes Big Grady — but he’s 36. And it wasn’t  hard to find someone both younger and faster. Dimitroff did it by taking Peria Jerry with the first draft pick of 2009

Lawyer Milloy, safety: Outside perception held that Milloy was a team leader. The new regime thought he talked too much. (And they couldn’t have been thrilled when he was arrested for DUI following the second game of 2008.) The new regime also kept coming back to two plays in Phoenix, both Cardinal touchdown: On the first, Milloy got outjumped by Larry Fitzgerald; on the second, he got outrun by Anquan Boldin.

Let’s also recall that Dimitroff  worked for the Patriots, whose M.O. is to dump a guy before he gets too old or too expensive. Let’s recall that New England dumped Milloy in 2003, only one full season after he’d helped the Pats win their first Super Bowl, because he wanted too much. Let’s note that they just traded Richard Seymour, the Georgia program and a stalwart since 2001, to Oakland.

Yes, New England is always dealing from a position of strength, but there’s never a reason to propagate a weakness for the sake of cosmetic continuity. The 2008 Falcons ranked 24th in total defense. To become a Super Bowl team, they had to get better. There’s no time like the present, Dimitroff said, and he took urgent action.

174 comments Add your comment

Reid Adair

September 10th, 2009
10:38 am

I don’t know that keeping one or two of those five players would have made a significant difference. The defense will be young, but I think they will come around. I just hope that it happens sooner rather than later.

BT

September 10th, 2009
10:41 am

Ok, you can’t spell Atlanta on Twitter but you do right great articles and blogs. Only time will tell about the defense but I share the concerns.

Herschel Talker

September 10th, 2009
10:51 am

I believe in Dimitroff

BT

September 10th, 2009
10:51 am

And I spelled what you do right instead of write.

Adam

September 10th, 2009
10:51 am

I think the defense is just going to have get better as the season goes along. It may be a bumpy ride at the beginning. I am really worried about the pass. Only one real pass rusher, no one of note in the secondary. Will the LB’s be effective in zone coverages?

Don't know that...

September 10th, 2009
10:56 am

…they did anything of significance to help the team except by getting rid of Brooking. Letting Foxworth go really was DUMB – we shall see if they did anything to add to the team, either by subtraction (probably) or addition (not likely).

Evil Richt 2009 S.E.C. World Tour: "Banned in Columbus"

September 10th, 2009
11:02 am

UGASPORTS reporting Cox with an “arm issue” and Logan Gray to start Saturday.

leland

September 10th, 2009
11:06 am

Dear Mr. MB–good, informative article. Fun to read. Your pal, Leland

Mac

September 10th, 2009
11:06 am

These were probably the right moves. But, boy did they need a defensive back upgrade. Maybe they accomplished it. After training camp. Maybe that was the plan all along, but probably not. They’ll be OK.

GeoffDawg

September 10th, 2009
11:07 am

How much would Lawyer Milloy have cost to keep around? It’d be nice to have an experienced veteran presence around in the secondary to settle the nerves of all the young guys even if he has lost a couple steps. Other than that, you can’t really find much fault with Dimitroff sticking to his guns and following his vision for the team.

Casey

September 10th, 2009
11:15 am

I’m just hope with all of our weapons on offense, we don’t abandon the run. Running the ball will keep the defense off of the field. If we score too quickly, it’s going to be back and forth and I’m afraid our offense will eventually run out of gas.

Ted Striker

September 10th, 2009
11:17 am

“There’s never a reason to propagate a weakness for the sake of cosmetic continuity.”

Man, that’s like something Stephen Hawking would write. I’m impressed.

eplayerj

September 10th, 2009
11:18 am

I had no idea that the new regime thought Milloy talked to much. I think he was the one along with Grady and Dom Foxworth to keep around. To me you ease into a new regime and not have wholesale changes. I have always agreed that Offense was good, but the defense will be the Achilles for this season. Remember GT in 99. Joe Hamilton’s senior year.

Oh the fans here are too fickle for us to not have a good season. This could backfire on the organization.

BAMA STAN

September 10th, 2009
11:20 am

Mark – Very good article. Liked the reply from Dimitroff and have to agree with him. Hope the Falcons Defense comes together in a hurry – plenty of new faces and talent – but need time to gel.

What is refreshing about the Falcons is Blank seems to have finally put a GM and a Coach together that really compliment each other. Dimitroff and Smith are a focussed team.

Really enjoyed watching Smith chew some the starting defense in one of the preseason games after they let a couple of screen plays get huge yardage and a score.

These guys want to win and win big!

shufzz

September 10th, 2009
11:21 am

A word to the wise. Of the twenty three passes Tye Hill’s way last year with the Rams, nineteen were completed. Grimes is too small to play cornerback. Who knows how this will work out other than a ton of points by the opposition in the early part of the season.

todd

September 10th, 2009
11:21 am

Foxworth was the one to keep. Yes it was going to cost some money but they would have at least had one decent defensive back and could have drafted another good one in 2010. Now we are stuck with nobody who really knows what they are doing and there is no way we are going to be able to find two first quality backs next year. Lets hope this does not come back to haunt us.

Tuck Fech

September 10th, 2009
11:22 am

Dear Clemson fans……

REMEMBER, as posted before, BE ON GUARD on your walk to and from the stadium tonight. The Tech campus mugging forecast is very high tonight (as is the case every night). There is apprx. an 87% chance a gun will he held to your head, but so far nobody has been shot, so feel free to joke around with your mugger, and tell him what a great job he did. They are open to constructive critisism in order to perfect future muggings of wimpy little nerds in the NEAR future.

As always, you are going to notice a great deal of empty seats in the small stadium you will be visiting tonight. Feel free to move down to the front couple rows to improve your viewing pleasure.

Now, you may notice the University of Georgia team will not be in the stadium, nor do they have anything to do with tonight’s game. HOWEVER, you will hear lots of anti-UGA chants, and see lots of anti-UGA attire. This hatred and jealousy of their cross state “rival” is directly related to the abundance of empty seats in the stadium. (See, Georgia Tech has beat the University of Georgia 12, twelve, times since the year of 1965. and since they won a sloppy game last year they have visions of being undefeated or something like that this year. Just reference the rings they made for the victory last season)

Please do not show up tonight if you are in any mood to make asian or terrorist jokes. About 90% of the half filled stadium will likely take offense to said jokes. Thank you for your cooperation with this.

Please do not get frustrated if the game does not start on time. Of the 19 Georgia Tech season ticket holders, 7 are well known to show up a little late. They have priority and control of game times.

As always, we invite you to visit the Varsity to claim your free Naked or Chili Dog coupon on the back of your ticket. If you do not have a ticket, please knock VERY VERY hard on the ticket booth window. The non-english speaking arabic freshman running the booth is not used to selling tickets, so he may be asleep or listening to his orders on his terrorist cell pod-cast.

IF you are not car-jacked on your way out of the ghetto (10 blocks surrounding campus) we wish you a safe trip back to Clemson. Remember to celebrate when you get home, not on the road.

- Paul Johnson

Philo Beddo

September 10th, 2009
11:25 am

“…there’s never a reason to propagate a weakness for the sake of cosmetic continuity” Wow, MB, have you been taking Bisher’s writing course?? Very well written….these birds aren’t playing for this year, they are being built for sustainability. Wins this year will be nice; playoffs this year will be icing on the cake. But, this team is being built for Championships.

Jt

September 10th, 2009
11:29 am

The thing that lets me trust Dimitroff is that he is clear in his philosophy and goals. He does not make haphazard or kneejerk moves. He has a plan in conjunction with hsi head coach and makes decisions based upon it. It may be rough in the early going defensively this season but they have become younger and faster and if they learn how to play it will be an improved defense before the end of the season. In Dimitroff I trust

BugKiller

September 10th, 2009
11:30 am

With a team as far under the cap as the Falcons, slightly overpaying for one player, a player you need, is not such a sin.

Not nearly as bad as the voluminous amounts of sins committed by Artie and Richie the last 5 or 6 years, anyway.

One guy, one guy would have made ALL the difference in the secondary as the No. 1 corner, bumping Houston to 2, where he belongs, and Grimes / Owens to Nickle.

But I digress.

Here’s a question that jibes with what you said in your blow, Mark…

… I’ve long heard that Lawyer Milloy was more than just a lawyer by name, but somewhat of a locker-room lawyer by trade as well.

Did he really chafe Smith and BVG? Milloy and Belichick were supposedly really tight as well, until something happened in the NE 2002 season, the year after they won their first Super Bowl, which is one of the reasons Milloy pouted for more money and why Belichick had no problems cutting him.

Greg from Marietta

September 10th, 2009
11:34 am

The defense was getting old and slower the overhaul was needed. When the decision was made to “Go younger, faster & more urgent” it was a good one. However, the team will have to live with the mistakes of youth until these guys learn the trade of playing defense in the NFL. This is probably going to be a hard thing to watch at first but as time passes and the Falcons suffer a few (I truly hope it only a few) loses due to the young guy’s mistakes. I just hope that the offense is powerful enough to compensate until they eventually come around. In any event, this is going to be a very unpredictable year for this team and a very emotional one for the fans.

FALCONS SORRY

September 10th, 2009
11:34 am

SORRY CHEAP SKATE FALCONS! YOU PEOPLE WENT AND FLUSHED YOUR WHOLE 2009 SEASON DOWN THE TOLET WHEN YOU GOT RID OF BIG GRADY JACKSON AND AND HOLEY BOLEY AND LAW MAN! SOME OF THE SO CALL EXPERTS THOUGHT YOU ALL KNEW WHAT YOU WERE DOING WHEN YOU GOT RID OF KIETH JUMP ON THE PILE AFTER THE WHISSLE DONE BLOWED BROOKINGS BUT YOU ALL DIDNT KNOW WHEN TO QUIT WHILE YOU WERE AHEAD AND YOU ALL KEPT ON JUST CUTTING OFF MORE AND MORE OF YOUR DEFENCE! THE FALCONS D ALONG WITH TURNER BURNER IS WHAT KEPT THE 2008 FALCONS IN THE PLAY OFF HUNT AND HELP THE TEAM OVER COME THE ROOKIE MISTAKES BY MATTY HOPELESS! WHEN THAT ROOKIE MISTAKE MAKING QB HAVE HIS SOFTMORE SLUMP THIS YEAR THERE WILL NOT BE NO DOMINATING DEFENCE THERE TO BAIL OUT THE OFFENCE LIKE THERE WAS LAST YEAR! THE FALCONS SAY THE MEANT TO GET YOUNGER BUT ALL THEY DID WAS GET CHEAPER! THERE AINT NO HALF PRICE PLAY OFF COUPON TO HELP YOU GET IN TO THE PLAY OFFS FALCONS! THAT COUPON EXPIRE THIS PAST OFF SEASON! IF YOU THINK THE FALCONS D IS GOING TO HAVE PROBLEMS THE FIRST MONTH OF THE SEASON YOU JUST BETTER WAIT UNTIL DECEMBER 6 WHEN A CERTAIN GUEST OF HONOR COME TO TOWN TO RUN CIRCLES AROUND IT! THAT IS RIGHT! THE ATL IS GOING TO REMEMBER PERL HARBOR IN A WHOLE NEW WAY WHEN THE EAGELS FLY IN HERE AND SINK THE PLAY OFF BOAT OF THAT DISHONEST AUTHUR BLANK WHO WENT CHEAP ON THE DEFENCE TALENT THIS YEAR AND GOT RID OF THE TALENT AND PAST WINNERS LIKE LAW MAN! MV7 WILL HAVE HIS VENGENCE! YOUR SEAT CAN NOT BE USE AS A FLOTATION DEVICE THIS TIME WHEN YOU GO UNDER THIS TIME AROUND WHEN YOU GO UNDER AND START TO DROWN BLANK!

midnite

September 10th, 2009
11:39 am

It had to be done. ALL of those guys can be replaced and needed to be replaced.

As for Foxworth, $17M guaranteed no way, we got him off the scrap heap last year. I would liked to have kept him, but not for that money.

Grady at 36 and his size could go down anytime.

Brooking, great hometown guy, too old and almost done.

Milloy, too old, DUI did not help at all.

Boley, really regressed in 2008, maybe his personal issues played a part in that. Giants overpaid for him too.

You have to trust Dimitroff and Smith. The D looked bad this time last year also. You have to admit the D bent in 2008 but did not break.

FALCONS SORRY

September 10th, 2009
11:46 am

DOWN WITH WHITEY

uga_b

September 10th, 2009
11:56 am

None of these guys were worth keeping at the price they commanded. Foxworth and Boley were the only 2 I would consider keeping, but Foxworth is a numnber 2 corner and Boley is a number 4-5 LB. Good luck elsewhere.

I think you have to keep the secondary trades in perspective. Brian Williams is an CB/S upgrade from Jamaal Fudge. Tye Hill is a potential starter who is on the team in place of William Middleton. Both of these guys were young and fast. Tye is faster and has more upside if he can regain some of his rookie form. If we are going to develop a 6th CB,it might as well be a former 1st round pick starter who is still very young.

Kurt

September 10th, 2009
11:59 am

Although I know there will be growing pains with the infusion of youth on the defense, I still find it hard to believe that what we all witnessed in the preseason is a precursor of what we can can expect to see in the regular season. Mike Smith knows defense, therefore I am of the belief that he did alot of experimenting with his new defense to gauge their strentghs and weaknesses.

Mark Bradley

September 10th, 2009
12:03 pm

Stephen Hawking? I say, “Thanks, Ted.”

Bob in SF

September 10th, 2009
12:12 pm

Branch Rickey was right when he said, “Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.”
Malloy and Brook looked old and slow last year, Fox wasn’t worth crazy #1 CB money, Boley got beat out by a career special teamer who is a converted safety and Perria will have made us all forget about Big Grady by mid-season.

D Money

September 10th, 2009
12:16 pm

We obviously need an upgrade going into the season which is why I don’t understand why we addressed it so late. I think we could have picked up some free agents earlier that could have gone through training camp but oh well. I think Hill and Williams will be starting by the 3rd game.

lawton

September 10th, 2009
12:23 pm

lol, atlanta ALWAYS on that character crap, while certain teams sign the best players available and WIN. new england, they wasnt too good for randy moss, but the falcons, always on that character stuff, which is WHY they never had back to back winning seasons. dumping milloy because of a dui, that defensive end up in minnesota, the one all over espn every other day, they didnt dump him when he got his dui. now, to address the players dimitroff let go, shouldve keep foxworth, i knew we was in trouble when they let him go. good defensive backs dont grow on trees. when they trotted brent grimes out there as a starter, i KNEW right then and there falcons management had written this season off, i dont care what NOBODY says, you can pick a defensive back up off the street and be better than the guy who they just throw it up high, knowing he cant jump THAT high, lol. grady jackson, big mistake, you KNOW what you was gonna get out of him, peria jackson, who knows? milloy, you know what you gonna get, shouldve keep him around as a backup, brooking, no lost there, plenty of linebackers can run and jump on piles late. boley, eeeh, 50 50 on that one. well, say hello to 8-8, and thats pushing it.

Beautiful Monte

September 10th, 2009
12:25 pm

The white Terence Moore strikes again.

Not content to merely brand Brooking as merely old and slow, Mr. Bradley has to label him as dumb, too.

I think that’s quite ironic, since Mr. Bradley has “great affection” for a certain player who was so stupid that he threw away millions of dollars for a life of crime.

homer

September 10th, 2009
12:26 pm

Hey, Tuck…you are a blithering idiot! Get lost kid.

Mr. Phil

September 10th, 2009
12:28 pm

Out of those guys, only Brooking, Foxworth, and Jackson are expected to start or get significant playing time with their new teams. Brooking is merely keeping a spot warm for the Cowboys up and coming rookie Williams who is currently out 4-6 weeks. Jackson is in Detroit where just about any experienced DT worth a thought could start. With Foxworth it was a money decision so no surprise there. Makes more sense to get rid of those guys for some younger guys who can give you equal production now with the promise of better things in the future.

for the secondary, remember Tye Hill can still qualify as developmental and B. Williams is a solid corner. I think we will be far better off come week 8 and getting ready for the playoffs.

Zorro

September 10th, 2009
12:39 pm

If you preseason whiners think you know about football than either Dimitroff or Smitty, I only wonder why you’re not coaching somewhere. I have much greater confidence in the Falcons’ current organization than I have in you Monday morning quarterbacks. These guys are building a championship team for the long term, they are not running a popularity contest.

Stu

September 10th, 2009
12:44 pm

Beautiful Monte, you’re absolutely wrong on two counts. There’s only one TM, and MB has been writing well for this rag for years now. If you don’t like his opinion that’s another matter, but he can write and lays out a logical case. TM could do neither and was completely formulaic in his writing.

ErnisTbass

September 10th, 2009
12:49 pm

24th last year and the secondary got lit up by Brees and Cutler, and don’t forget the great Delhomme before they got shown up by Warner. At least the new guys have a shot at getting better, the older guys with all of their great leadership skills couldn’t get it done when it counted most. It was pretty much the same bunch that couldn’t get it done in 08 as 07. I would rather suffer through growing pains than perpetual failure with the same bunch of underachievers. The deffinition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. Will these guys be the answer? Maybe not,at first glance you can say probably not, but at least now we can say we aren’t sure. With the last bunch we were.

Bubba

September 10th, 2009
12:52 pm

TD did the right thing. Yes, he wants to win now but he’s also looking ahead because – well, that’s his job. The Falcons D hasn’t been right for a while, and it’s beyond a little speckle and filler to make it right. Let the young kids play, let them taste blood (including their own), and build from there. I don’t think the D will be as bad as everyone thinks it will be, but certainly no top 10.

Jackets2009

September 10th, 2009
12:54 pm

Actually the Falcons got good too soon. Remaking the defense would be a lot easier could we have drafted earlier like last year. I’ll bet the Tuna get second guessed since he doesn’t have a QB who can get past either the Ravens or Steelers but he, like TD, is still in honeymoon mode.
Uga fan, I’d rather our criminal element robbed Tech men than raped or kidnapped the women as happens on your campus.
Is Carolina to blame for the death of the Athens lady who was school president and had a bright future?
Get real.

JRod

September 10th, 2009
12:54 pm

Ronnie and Ricky are going to have a field day…

Jeff_in_NY

September 10th, 2009
12:55 pm

Beautiful Monte, where did MB say that Brooking was dumb? He said that he misread the play (fact) and that he got fooled like a rookie (fact). I had seen where Brooking was considered one or the smarter players in the NFL, but he sure didn’t show it on that play, when it mattered most.

tryanx

September 10th, 2009
12:55 pm

Enter your comments here

Atl falcon

September 10th, 2009
12:56 pm

Good analysis of the Falcons offseason moves on defense. But is it unreasonable to think that the Falcons rookies can make an impact and improve the defense? Look at last year’s rookies on offense and what a great job they did. MR, SB and the injured HD were all superb. So why can’t PJ, WM, and CO make this defense better?

JRod

September 10th, 2009
12:59 pm

Pennington is going to slowly dissect you guys… But… Ryan scares the hell out me… We will see…

Go Dolphins!!!

tryanx

September 10th, 2009
1:05 pm

FALCONS SORRY,

You are a racist idiot. MV7 did this to himself and then lIed about it. But I guess lying is ok in our society today. That is the bigger problem is that we accept being lied to. It is a privilege to play in the NFL not a right I wish people would remember that because this whole idea that by suspending a player they are somehow preventing them from making a living is ludicrous. So in closing, Falcons Sorry quit blaming everyone but MV7 for what has happened, and by the way if you are think that MV7 will take Donavan’s job keep dreaming because Donavan is twice the quarterback MV is. I think several NFC championships with out a star receiving corp proves it.

SOUTH GA BIRD FAN

September 10th, 2009
1:11 pm

I have confidence in the whole organization , and I do believe they are moving in the right direction to compete for the title for years to come , but I also believe that this year is asking to much to think they can compete for a super bowl now. Lets try to enjoy the fact that they are trying to get better and compete and forgive the youth when it messes up this year . After all at least we don’t have the smith’s anymore it could always be worse.

Bullish-on-the-Falcons

September 10th, 2009
1:29 pm

No reason Falcons Sorry should be allowed to comment on any AJC story again after the “Down With Whitey” gem.

Falcons 31 – Dolphins 24. The road to the Superbowl begins Sunday.

D Money

September 10th, 2009
1:34 pm

Wait a minute people…they said the same thing about Arizona last year. Their defense was porous yet they went to the superbowl. They peeked at the right time.

Bullish

September 10th, 2009
1:34 pm

Enter your comments here

MadDawg

September 10th, 2009
1:39 pm

Bullish,

Falcons Sorry is likely some pencil-necked (and d-ed) white guy from, oh, let’s say, Chicago (maybe New York) with a taste for confrontation. Not direct confrontation. This guy would NEVER get into a confrontation in real life – he’d get his ‘hat handed to him’ as the old-timers would say.

Let the geek try to rile the unaware, but MB’s likely not to keep him from posting ’cause MB KNOWS this guy’s irrelevant and other bloggers will simply IGNORE HIM.

Thanks for your time.

Ted Striker

September 10th, 2009
1:42 pm

Beautiful Monte is what my girlfriend says to me when I get out of the shower.