The Falcons on defense: Faster, meaner and lots, lots better

Rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon after making a stop. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon after making a stop. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Falcons made the playoffs in 2008 with a defense they hated. They like their defense now. They like it because coach Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder no longer should have to outscheme opponents to stop somebody. This defense is stout enough to overpower people.

Only four starters — John Abraham, Jamaal Anderson, Curtis Lofton and Erik Coleman — are the same as in 2008, which means the Falcons essentially have started over. When you start over, you get worse before you get better. The Falcons actually improved a bit in 2009. Two years ago they had the NFL’s 24th-ranked defense; last season they inched upward to No. 21. Most places that would constitute good news. Not here.

During organized team activities this spring, VanGorder put that ranking — No. 21 — on the board for his men to see. “He said, ‘This is where we are,’” said Lofton, the middle linebacker. “It was like a slap in the face.”

Incremental progress isn’t on the Falcons’ agenda; a great leap forward is. They want to be up with the big boys. They want to be a top-10 defense.

Said Thomas Dimitroff, the general manager: “We definitely have the speed and the athleticism. We definitely want to be a top-10 defense, and we think this defense is developing in that direction.”

On Friday the Falcons played their first exhibition. Three defensive starters — tackle Peria Jerry, linebacker Mike Peterson and the high-priced import cornerback Dunta Robinson — didn’t participate. Didn’t matter. It wasn’t until the final play of the first quarter that Kansas City managed a first down. The Chiefs’ first six snaps yielded yards, a sack and a turnover.

The Falcons changed five defensive starters from the end of the 2008 season to the beginning of 2009. The idea was to get faster and meaner, but an increase in speed wasn’t immediately evident. Because it’s hard to play fast when you’re not yet sure where you’re going. “We’re jelling together now,” Peterson said. “We’re seeing how much of a difference that makes.”

Said Kroy Biermann, the backup defensive end whose strip of quarterback Matt Cassel generated the fumble recovered by Abraham: “We’re always working to be a fast and violent defense, and now guys are starting to get comfortable.”

Said Thomas DeCoud, the free safety: “We want to play with more urgency. We want to have a swagger, a chip on our shoulder. We want to be a defense that dares the offense to move the ball on you.”

In 2008, a new coaching staff had a hard time finding 11 capable defenders. With three offseasons behind it, this administration has had time to build a D of its choosing, and that number doesn’t end at 11. Rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, conspicuous Friday night, figures to supplant Stephen Nicholas at linebacker before camp is done, and William Moore is pushing Coleman at strong safety. And young linemen such as Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury and Corey Peters are coming hard.

And the big noise figures to be made by Robinson, whom Falcons fans haven’t yet seen. After two seasons of hand-wringing over failures of the cornerbacks, this team has a big-timer in place.

Said DeCoud: “He’s a lockdown corner.”

Said Peterson: “Dunta is going to be big. He’s going to take one side of the field and shut it down.”

Said Lofton: “You can pick a lot of guys who are going to make a difference this season — Dunta, Peria, Spoon, Kroy Biermann.”

And that’s the key: The 2010 Falcons have a lot of guys. In 2008 most all the big names were on offense, and while it’s sometimes fun to outscore people, it’s a nerve-racking way to live. The imbalance between the O and the D has been addressed. This is a real team.

Said DeCoud: “We’re full-fledged. We’ve got all our ducks in a row, so to speak.”

The upshot of that: Offenses arrayed against this full-fledged defense better get used to ducking.

138 comments Add your comment

E.Lo

August 14th, 2010
2:33 pm

First now give me my kudos Mark!

Mark Bradley

August 14th, 2010
2:34 pm

EmJay

August 14th, 2010
2:35 pm

Looks like a fun season could be in store for the football fans in the ATL!

Samuel L. Jackson

August 14th, 2010
2:36 pm

Reid Adair

August 14th, 2010
2:40 pm

I was very much impressed with Sean Weatherspoon and the entire defense. While it was pre-season and the Kansas City Chiefs, it is clear that the defense has improved.

Still@theBAR

August 14th, 2010
2:42 pm

I still think the Falcons may have to play the Saints 3 times this year and can’t win 2 of 3 if the second win has to be in the playoffs.
Sam L. Jax can you come to my church on Sunday and chase everybody out of God’s House and send them to Arthur’s house?
Go Falcons do your job and the other stuff will not matter. Pleas no Injuries early.

Still@theBAR

August 14th, 2010
2:48 pm

Mark are you going to go to moer training camp practices or it just not worth it with the direct media outlet being blocked? It sounds like college and Pors want to just send out info and stats without any fans or media there to spill secrets. Will that make your job harder in the Preseason to give info to the fans?

Charles J.

August 14th, 2010
2:51 pm

Great job Mark. Thanks
This D. wil be A lot of fun to watch this year, and man I like watching C. Peters in the trenches P. Jerry better get hisbut in there.lol
Our young guys showed alot last night, T.D. might have more than one steal from the last Draft because Franks look very very good out their.

jim

August 14th, 2010
2:53 pm

It may be preseason and may not count, but a win is a win. Our defense started a pattern last night and that is a good thing. Go Falcons.

hogmtnfalcon

August 14th, 2010
2:59 pm

Meanwhile, the pass protection was poor . . .

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley, Daniel Knapp and Sean Womble, Charley Beans. Charley Beans said: RT @MarkBradleyAJC: The #Falcons on defense: Faster, meaner and lots better. #nfl http://bit.ly/dvPbUM [...]

tony

August 14th, 2010
3:15 pm

The defense was 10th against the run last season but terrible against the pass. I will hold my judgement until the regular season in terms of how well they have improved against the pass. I am more concern about their offense because I’m still not impress with Matt Ryan. As a matter of fact, I’m more impress with John Parker Jr. He just seems so relax out there and he makes good decisions when he get his opportunity. He’s a very good passer as well. Sooner or later they will see that they made a bad decision for drafting Ryan that high in the draft. I see bust written all over that young man.

Carter

August 14th, 2010
3:19 pm

Can somebody phonetically spell out “Dunta” for me. Appreciate it.

Mark Bradley

August 14th, 2010
3:20 pm

Dunta is pronounced DON-tay, Carter.

jshizzle

August 14th, 2010
3:23 pm

tony – you are a moron. matt ryan is widely recognized by the national football league as a very good quarterback. this after starting as a rookie and being hurt with turf toe in his sophomore year. we will see this year just how moronic you are.

TROTTINGHOME

August 14th, 2010
3:24 pm

tony is a joke

jshizzle

August 14th, 2010
3:24 pm

if he was not that good (ryan) we’d already know. and how come it was a given that he was our starter straight out of college and you look at bradford and he’s not even gonna start for the rams? obvioulsly he’s the balls

Mike Jay

August 14th, 2010
3:25 pm

id’ hold my judgment of JPW until you seem him play against a first string defense. Many a backup QB has looked like solid gold playing against another teams third stringers. Matt Ryan, bust? that’s laughable considering he has already taken a team to the playofffs and been in a pro bowl in two seasons.

74 Dawg

August 14th, 2010
3:26 pm

jshizzle

August 14th, 2010
3:27 pm

JPW is really good at one thing – handing the ball off to the rb. i hear he’s alabamas alltime leader in that category.

74 Dawg

August 14th, 2010
3:27 pm

I have that directly from June Cleaver.

Mr. Turnip-Green Jeans

August 14th, 2010
3:27 pm

Franks would be great in a goal-line defense. The guy flat-out knocks people backwards. His tackling technique is textbook.

74 Dawg

August 14th, 2010
3:31 pm

It is never a good idea to read too much into any pre-season game. So, my ‘first impressions’. Running game and defense, better than last year. Passing game, too soon to tell. Concerns, Sam Baker getting blown up in pass protection and red zone issues continuing.

BT

August 14th, 2010
3:31 pm

Tony,
I guess, you will have to stay in the short line of small time hacks, who`s opinion runs contrary to a long list of NFL experts, that happen to be getting paid to voice their opinions.
Good luck, with that.

lawzoo

August 14th, 2010
3:32 pm

With John Abraham and Dunta(pronounced exactly like it’s spelled) Robinson the Falcons’ opponents better have good dental insurance.
Their teeth will be all over the Ga. Dome.

falconfiend

August 14th, 2010
3:36 pm

Secondary looked good. Give Spoon some time to adjust. Bierman, Anderson and Sidbury look like trouble for opponents.

Mr. Turnip-Green Jeans

August 14th, 2010
3:52 pm

Got a great friend (a country-boy, THE REAL DEAL) who pronounces Dunta, “Dooney.” Boy ain’t trying to be funny either, he pronounces Tuna, “Tooney.” Just got back from “Flarder” a couple days ago; think they went to “Pannymaw City,” not sure. I feel guilty writing this, he really is the greatest of guys. He’s country as cracklin’ cornbread, and as big a Falcons fan as you ever saw. Sides me, of course.

Hope he doesn’t see this, though I don’t think he’s much into blawgging.

Confess_Jesus_Now

August 14th, 2010
3:57 pm

I liked what I seen from the defense last night. The Chevis Jackson interception was incredible. He wasn’t even covering that guy. That shows his awareness out there. Shan Shillinger as well. It seems that the new secondary coach Tim Lewis has got these guys moving in the right direction. That was my main question, would he be able to fix our secondary as far as technique and focus and ball hawking. i love the way Franks hits, as well as Spoon.

gman

August 14th, 2010
3:59 pm

i want to talk about Nance, its going to be a shame if we cant find some way to keep this kid, i dont know what sacrifice we’ll have to make, but he wont clear wavers. and with Norwood entering free agency. id hate to spend a top pick on running back. this kid is the truth, good blocker, good out of the back field, in between the tackles, if we cant find a way to keep this kid, its not going to be good. dont get me wrong i like Norwood, and every year i cant wait to see him play, then he doesnt,he is not a between the tackle kind of guy, we’ve got to find a way to use him with out putting him in more danger than he has to be. if Mularkey’s supposed inspector gadget, then were the hell is his trick bag

tony

August 14th, 2010
4:03 pm

Why the name calling? I’m only expressing what I see during the games. jshizzle, Ryan is widely recognize because they want most folks to get over Vick. Ryan did ok as a rookie but Michael Turner was the reason why we had a good season that year.

The year before Ryan and Turner became a falcon the pass offense was rank 18th and the rush offense was rank 25th. With Ryan and Turner the pass offense rank 14th and the rush offense rank 2nd. As you can see Turner had the biggest impact on offense not Ryan. Ryan is an average qb and that’s it.I like John Parker Jr. I

Still@theBAR

August 14th, 2010
4:05 pm

Tony it is like Dante of “Dante’s Inferno” Fame. Maybe you have heard of it? I am pretty sure you have not read it. I myself will live forever in the 6th ring of Hell, but that is because of my lifestyle choices.

CPat16

August 14th, 2010
4:06 pm

From what I saw in last nights game, the defense looked good, but the offense slightly sputtered. We got lots of pressure on the qb and make great plays in the first quarter. In the 2nd quarter, our defense looked a bit worn out and we let them convert some important 3rd downs. The OL looked good at points and then broke down. We got 3 more games to work out the kinks…Gooo Falcons!!!

Still@theBAR

August 14th, 2010
4:06 pm

Reid Adair did you have a sister Kelly? Did you hear about Bobby Fay? He has cancer and you can findout more on the HIES alumni site.

rekingball

August 14th, 2010
4:08 pm

tony@3;15………..I served in the cold war to protect every citizens right to free speech.
But come on brother, at least know a little bit about what you are talking about, before you start free speaking.

I think that Ryan has done a great job both years, that he has been the Falcon’s QB.
That OLine better keep those head hunters off of him. I think that the OLine will get their MOJO a risin’ and play like a solid unit.

Still@theBAR

August 14th, 2010
4:12 pm

Tony it is like PEE-CAN or PA-CON, ALL-BENNY or ALL-BUN-E , KI-ROW or KAY-ROW it just depends on where you are from. HAHAH
That would be
Pecan
Albany
Cairo

GADAWG88

August 14th, 2010
4:14 pm

Tony is a tard. I believe Matt Ryan just led our team to our first back to back winning seasons in his first 2 years!

gman

August 14th, 2010
4:15 pm

Tony, its Ryans work ethic, any guy who has the work ethic that he has, and the toughness that he has, is going to be special, but i feel you. some time he does get a little over anxious, and a bit antsy. but he comes to work, he studies, and he is a leader. have a little patience. hell come around

Still@theBAR

August 14th, 2010
4:16 pm

Is JPW releated to SJP? I would like to See Mathew Broadrick and SJP at some Falcon games this year.

Smythe

August 14th, 2010
4:17 pm

Turnip Green Jeans, they always leave the City off Pannymaw up here in carpetland. As a former resident of that city, it sort of rubs me the wrong way.

Mike Jay

August 14th, 2010
4:19 pm

Tony,

You ever think that having a legit QB who can actually throw the ball has caused defenses to play the Falcons honest? Therefore enabling their running game to be that much moroe effective?

Mr Charlie

August 14th, 2010
4:19 pm

Ryans is da man. Is he beyond criticism? Proof is in the pudding.

No, he is his own biggest critic. Was he or Turner the reason for their success in 08? That is a matter of opinion, personally, I think the O line was the reason for their success.

gman

August 14th, 2010
4:23 pm

Mr charlie, you get a THATTA boy check for that

fish2774

August 14th, 2010
4:25 pm

The most impressive defensive player lastnight was Corey Peters. That young man gave the front line a heck of a push. He demanded a double team every play and the guy motor just kept running. The second player that’s a keeper with the possibly of replace Norwood is Nance. He has good vision, power, speed and picked up the blitz very well. If we were to cut either of the two I’ll be very disappointed in TD.

BT

August 14th, 2010
4:25 pm

Tony,
Lets cut to the chase here.
JPW was a undrafted rookie FA last year who just barely made the roster and was taken on as a project because it was becoming clear DJ Shockley was not a fit, in the Falcons scheme.
There are almost always good reasons why guys are drafted high in the 1st round and others wind up being walk on FA`s.
Musgraves has done a fine job bringing our young 3rd team QB around and he did a fair job against the Chiefs 3rd team defense, in the 1st preseason game.
I am not trying to flame anyone but that`s just the reality of the situation.

[...] The Falcons on defense: Faster, meaners and lots better | Mark Bradley [...]

tony

August 14th, 2010
4:29 pm

rekingball
August 14th, 2010
4:08 pm
When did you become my brother young man? I know what I’m talking about so what the heck are you talking about? FREE SPEECH? GET REAL! You like Ryan abilities I don’t so what’s your point?. I rather see John Parker as the #1 QB.

fish2774

August 14th, 2010
4:31 pm

Nance and Peters are keepers!!!!!!!!!! They were the most productive lastnight out of all the rookies. Nance will soon replace Norwood which he showed that he can run between the tackles. He ran for speed, power, caught of the backfield, and picked up the blitz very well. Peters has a motor that never stopped and demanded a doubleteam most of the night, but the young fella got a enormous push on the pocket.

rekingball

August 14th, 2010
4:34 pm

I believe that the OLine is the foundation of the offense, they played a very important part in the Falcons success in 2008.
They had many injuries last year, but still played as hard as they could.

getbuzzed

August 14th, 2010
4:38 pm

Mike Jay- that is asking alot of Tony, to think! Until every pass Ryan throws is a 50-60 yard bomb, these morons are gonna get on here and wish for somebody else. Would these idiots prefer Jamarcus Russell? Ryan Leaf? Hell, even Matt Schaub, who I like. BUT, what has he ever won and he has been in the league longer. I wish you fools would understand football before spouting off some of this nonsense. BTW, pulling his shorts down to his ankles over JPW, is his way of trying to look like he knows something while proving he knows nothing. There are 32 teams in the NFL who want nothing to do with JPW starting.

gman

August 14th, 2010
4:44 pm

TONY,TONY,TONY. are you kidding? i hope so cause if your not. WOW!!. i like JPW but over Ryan. i dont think so buddy. JPW played against 3rd. stringers and yea he was pretty decent. but but he doesn’t hold a candle to Ryan.lets put it like this. there are scouts that study and research players for a living. their ins and their outs. so if JPW was any comparison to Ryan why wasn’t he predicted to be at the top of the draft, more so why was all these other QB’s taken and he wasn’t. CLUE!!