GM Dimitroff on his rebuilt Falcons’ D: ‘I like where we are’

Brent Grimes applies some urgency to Greg Jennings. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Brent Grimes applies some urgency to Greg Jennings. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Jan. 3, 2009: The Falcons had lost to Arizona in Round 1 of the NFL playoffs. On the flight home, Thomas Dimitroff, the general manager who in 12 months had lifted a 4-12 team to an outrageous 11-5, knew what he had to do next.

The Falcons’ defense had been their undoing in the desert. Lawyer Milloy, the ancient safety, was culpable on two touchdown passes. Keith Brooking, the long-serving linebacker, was flummoxed on the third-and-16 reception that sealed the game. The D hadn’t been all that good that season — the Falcons were 24th among 32 NFL teams in total defense — but never was it as bad as in its final act.

In the main, the 2008 Falcons were able to scheme around defense liabilities, which were manifest and manifold. Going forward, Dimitroff knew scheming wouldn’t suffice. He could have taken half-measures — dump a few guys that offseason, a few more the next — but TD the GM isn’t one for caution. Speaking Sunday, Dimitroff said: “My personality is to nip things in the bud.”

He dumped three aging starters — Brooking, Milloy and the overstuffed Grady Jackson — plus Michael Boley, a gifted linebacker who hadn’t responded to his latest set of coaches. When Domonique Foxworth received an offer of $27 million over four seasons from Baltimore, Dimitroff declined to counter because he didn’t think Foxworth, who’d been the Falcons’ best defensive back that season, was worth that much.

So: Five starters gone. There was, inevitably, a shakedown period. The 2009 defense wasn’t an overnight sensation, but it got better as it went. (It finished 21st in team defense.) But the 2010 D, with injured 2009 draftees Peria Jerry and William Moore returning to health and the addition of the pricey free agent Dunta Robinson, figured to resemble Dimitroff’s grand design more closely. And it has.

The Falcons rank 16th in total defense, which measures yardage, but fifth in points yielded. And for all the hype directed toward the offense — five Pro Bowlers! — the case can be made that the defense has, over the second half of the season, been the more consistent unit.

The offense laid an egg Dec. 27, managing one touchdown and 14 first downs. (This against a Saints defense gashed Saturday for 41 Seattle points.) The Falcons’ D kept that game close enough to win, same as it had against Baltimore and Green Bay. Not since Oct. 24, when the Bengals scored 32 points in the Georgia Dome, has an opponent managed more than 24 against these Birds.

Now comes Green Bay again, this time with a berth in the NFC title game at stake. The imposing Packers managed 17 points in the first meeting, testimony to this reconstituted D. Here’s Dimitroff’s impression of what he wrought: ” To me it’s an athletic and fast and smart defense. I like where we are …  I’ve been very impressed from the middle of the season to now.”

Back to the winter months of 2009. Dimitroff’s biggest gripe, borne out by the fleet Cardinals, was that his Falcons were too slow. “We had a very strong and definitive three-year plan to grow into being fast and urgent and disruptive on defense,” he said. And his defense now? “I believe we are very fast.”

And this has come without full-blown production from the tackle Jerry, the Falcons’ No. 1 pick in 2009, and the corner linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, this year’s top draftee. Dimitroff: “Peria is healing from his [knee] injury, and he’s being used more and more in the rotation. Right now he’s being used in the passing game, but our expectations as his leg gets better is that he’ll contribute in the running game.

“With Sean Weatherspoon, I was very encouraged with how he handled himself as a rookie. He seemed like a five-year man. Losing him was definitely a blow to his development, but he’s coming back — and he’s going to be very, very important down the stretch and into the playoffs.  Those two are a very big part of our future.”

Regarding which: Of the Falcons’ 11 defensive starters, only two — end John Abraham and linebacker Mike Peterson — are older than 30. If this year’s team doesn’t win the Super Bowl, next year’s might. This isn’t a defense that can’t keep up, literally and figuratively. This defense, Dimitoff said, is one that “can compete against the upper-echelon teams in the league.”

That was always the plan. What we’ve seen, happily enough, is the plan coming together.

By Mark Bradley

98 comments Add your comment

rawdawg

January 10th, 2011
11:44 am

Delbert D.

January 10th, 2011
11:45 am

Good morning, Mark.

todd grantham

January 10th, 2011
11:47 am

Thanks for the article Mark. You snowed in in Unfashionable South Cobb?

Ted M

January 10th, 2011
11:52 am

Why is it taking nearly 2 years for Jerry’s knee to heal?

I think he may be a bust. Hope not though

Mark Bradley

January 10th, 2011
11:54 am

Kudos to the unstoppable rawdawg.

Mark Bradley

January 10th, 2011
11:55 am

Snowed in. Five inches of snow with ice on top. It’s pretty bad where I live. Pretty bad all over, I hear.

Ted M

January 10th, 2011
11:59 am

I walked about a mile and half to the grocery store, got back about an hour. More cars on the roads then you’d think. Even the main roads were solid ice.

todd grantham

January 10th, 2011
11:59 am

Who do you consider the Falcon’s defensive MVP this year? Abraham’s a good choice.

Ted M

January 10th, 2011
11:59 am

Ted M

January 10th, 2011
12:00 pm

Grimes is have a great year too.

todd grantham

January 10th, 2011
12:00 pm

NOTHING could get me out of the house and on the roads today.

O my Lord, there’s not a cigarette in the house.

Bubba

January 10th, 2011
12:04 pm

It doesn’t hurt that BVG is probably the most underrated D-coordinator in the league.

Mark Bradley

January 10th, 2011
12:04 pm

Brent Grimes is the defensive MVP.

jwilli120

January 10th, 2011
12:07 pm

we are even faster in the GA DOME! GO FALCONS!!!!!!!!!

jwilli120

January 10th, 2011
12:07 pm

we are even faster in the GA DOME! GO FALCONS!!!!!!!!!

Mark Bradley

January 10th, 2011
12:07 pm

Atlanta people are nuts. They try to drive the normal speed — meaning 80 — on ice and are shocked when they wreck.

deja vu

January 10th, 2011
12:08 pm

I hope the offense was holding back some of their scheme all season for the playoffs…they make me more nervous than the D.

Bandwagon Bill

January 10th, 2011
12:08 pm

The Saits defense looked like they would rather not be in Seattle. They were pumped up in Atlanta, but they looked horrible in Seattle. Apathatic.

takethebirds - 2.5

January 10th, 2011
12:11 pm

Not to mention Decoud and Lofton really coming into their own this year as defensive leaders.

PMC

January 10th, 2011
12:11 pm

Leave next year to next year. Who knows when you get back. Have to win NOW!

PMC

January 10th, 2011
12:11 pm

Grimetime 20 has certainly had an outstanding year!

mountain_jim

January 10th, 2011
12:18 pm

Up here in remote WNC mountains, this 5″ added to the 17″ already on the ground from friday/saturday. I was just happy the power stayed on to watch all those games this weekend. :)

Hope TD finds a speedy RB for next year who can find and hit the holes quicker than the not-Burner – and forget Norwood – he’s gone.

JB

January 10th, 2011
12:20 pm

Falcons have finally lucked up….. They’ve hired real pro’s to run the team, and they have turned out real nice. Better lock them up, other folks notice also. Dimmitroff is the real deal. He could leave the Falcons and be hired on the way to the Airport. Finally, a pro.

Connecticut Falcons Fan

January 10th, 2011
12:20 pm

SeenThisB4? Hello? You out there? It’s okay…come back in off the ledge…you’ll be fine…there’s always next year…no shame in losing to–wait, you lost to a 7-9 team??? The defending Super Bowl champs lost to a 7-9 team in the playoffs???!?!? That’s horrible!!!!! OMG!!!! Too funny!!!!! Without a doubt the worst way for any defending Super Bowl champ to fail to repeat!!!!!

ATL FAN

January 10th, 2011
12:21 pm

Defensive MVP = Curtis Lofton. Very underrated season. 118 combined tackles, 1 INT, 2 FF

Hayseed Dixie

January 10th, 2011
12:25 pm

For whatever reason in Atlanta, “driving in an SUV” = “i’m invincible”.

People must’ve really bought all that cowboy crap they show in truck ads.

4 wheel drive doesn’t help you if all 4 wheels have no traction.

GO FALCONS!

cattle dawg

January 10th, 2011
12:29 pm

How would you rate Duntas play, mark? I didnt thinh he was worth all the money in preseason.

THE AFFIRMATIVE-ACTION NICK FURY

January 10th, 2011
12:29 pm

At Playoff Time, What Do Falcons Do?

WHAT DO FALCONS DO ??????????????

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

AGENT COULSON!

WHERE YOU AT?

ATLFalcons4Eva

January 10th, 2011
12:29 pm

Come On Mark. I know Recycling is a good thing for the environment and all, but recycling a article/blog like this…we demand more from our local writers :(

As a Professional Saints Hater by trade, I do love the Nola.com Saints Fanzone. There readers can create & write their own Headline Blogs and have other readers participate and make comments on it 24/7 and not have to wait for a new “recycle” story like this one you lazily decided to put up. Why won’t the AJC do something similar ?

Its all good though.

Go Falcons!

todd grantham

January 10th, 2011
12:29 pm

Some people go nuts in the snow. a couple of neighbors trying to cut doughnuts in the street.

ATLFalcons4Eva

January 10th, 2011
12:33 pm

Oops my bad Mark…I see where you’ve added more content to this story than what was originally posted back on Jan 3rd. My apologies. (egg on my face!)

5150 P.O.A.D.

January 10th, 2011
12:34 pm

Mark I think you have officially reached the BIG TIME. You have a STALKER and his name is RAWDAWG. LOL

The SPUD WEBB of the NFL is going to DUNK all over the Packers. Grimes is a BAD MAN a Damn B.A.D MAN.

Mike Vick

January 10th, 2011
12:38 pm

Hi.

My name is Mike.

I need a… uh, you know…. job now.

Are you guys… uh, you know… hiring?

still@the bar

January 10th, 2011
12:39 pm

Cut Doughnuts in the street? Why? I take my truck throught peoples yards. You get better traction and yard knoms look so cool on my Brush Bar.

Frontman

January 10th, 2011
12:40 pm

The guy that worries me most on D now is Curtis Lofton. He has been non-existent the last half of the season. I sincerely hope he has been struggling with injuries, because if he hasn’t, he’s gonna be a real weak link. His play over the second half has reminded me of Brooking his last couple of years in Atlanta – lots of tackles 5+ yards downfield with no big plays at all. Let’s hope he gets well is and is able to produce at a higher rate for the playoffs. Go Birds!

eddiedawg

January 10th, 2011
12:42 pm

Great piece, Mr Bradley. Now I implore you-please DO NOT pick the Falcons to win. Pick the Packers-so we can win. Your track record aint so good……..

My prediction-31-17 Falcons. That “running game” the Packers just found is bogus-the Eagles were awful and still should have won the game. And our defense is even BETTER than it was when we allowed the Pack to get 17 points.

Rest,getting healthy and home-field advantage allow us to kill em.

GO BIRDS-OUR YEAR!

collegeballfan

January 10th, 2011
12:42 pm

I love it when a plan comes together.

still@the bar

January 10th, 2011
12:43 pm

Falcons are going to kill the Ugly colored UGA Dawgs from the BAY.

Lowcountry "Snowed-in" Bulldawg

January 10th, 2011
1:05 pm

I would say Grimes is the MVP. The addition of Robinson meant more pressure would come to Grimes on his side of the field and he has had a Pro Bowl type season. This defense with its youth is going to be interesting to watch over the next few seasons for sure.

FalconIce

January 10th, 2011
1:05 pm

Enter your comments here

Bubba

January 10th, 2011
1:07 pm

To all complaining about Atlanta drivers: About 70% of the population here comes from the North. The only person I know who’s had a serious accident here in the snow was a former co-worker — who was from Michigan.

74 Dawg

January 10th, 2011
1:10 pm

falcons 4eva- Go to that blog then. Or talk the ajc into giving you your own. Go Birds, sack the Pack!

FalconIce

January 10th, 2011
1:10 pm

You know you has impressed me? William Moore. That guy laid some serious wood here lately. I mean, he is nasty. He is hitting guys that boarder on felonous. It’s awesome.

I think the bye week will prove instrumental in Weatherspoons and Peria’s health down the stretch here. The D, even though they lost to the ‘aints, really proved something to me. They were playing really tough and improved throughout the year. It was great. Hopefully the trend continues.

The Packers don’t have much of a running game and ATL’s defense is sneaky good at run D. Consistent anyways. The stats won’t really jump off the page, but they have been strong against the run.

Also, don’t let the their win over the Eagles fool you. The Eagles were 21st in the league in total defense and they Eagles haven’t done much defensively lately. They gave up a lot of points to Dallas. Furthermore, DeSean being injured for a while last night definitely benefitted the Packers.

Go Falcons!

Ted M

January 10th, 2011
1:15 pm

They get snow up north, we get ice which is much worse.

RomeDawg

January 10th, 2011
1:27 pm

I hope we can limit Green Bay to 17 this time!

Terrell

January 10th, 2011
1:51 pm

Ted M

Usually it takes the sencond year from major knee surgery before you are usually back to yourself. Jerry injured it early last year so by next year you should really see him take off, and the same goes for Harry Douglas.

mountain_jim

January 10th, 2011
2:00 pm

These blogs today show how many posters that are usually wasting time at work are neither at work today nor on these blogs – very low post counts over time.

UGAFan

January 10th, 2011
2:08 pm

I just hope Smith and Mularkey open up the offense a little. We only scored 20 on Green Bay the last time.

This is the best oportunity to win the NFC that we may ever have. No Giants, no Eagles, no Saints.

Go Birds!

UGAFan

January 10th, 2011
2:09 pm

That’s true, Terrell – look at Brady.

cattle dawg

January 10th, 2011
2:16 pm

The Starks kid looked pretty good running the ball for Green Bay yesterday. This Green Bay team has overcome alot of injuries this year.