A Super sign? The Falcons have flummoxed three elite QBs

Meet Asante Samuel, Eli Manning's not-so-favorite receiver. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Meet cornerback Asante Samuel, Eli Manning's not-so-favorite receiver. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

I understand, sort of, the temptation to underrate the Falcons. Their numbers — well, apart from 12-2 — aren’t gaudy. They’re seventh in total offense, 20th in total defense. Of those 12 wins, eight have come against teams currently under .500. Of those 12 wins, seven have been by a touchdown or less. They really didn’t whomp anybody any good until Sunday, and even then …

On cue, Vince Verhei of Football Outsiders posted Monday on ESPN Insiders that the Falcons’ 34-0 drubbing of the Giants was nothing special. Wrote Verhei: “It was just one game in a long season, and a clear outlier at that, not a new standard of excellence.”

Again, some of this I understand. To watch this team week by week — though not this past week, I should stipulate — has been to wonder how it wins so many games. But we’re at the point where the Falcons have amassed a substantial body of work, and in the NFL aren’t you supposed to be what your record says you are?

Apparently not. As Verhei notes, Football Outsiders didn’t have the Falcons in the top 10 of last week’s efficiency ratings. That’s a troubling number, yes. But there are a couple of others that should bring holiday cheer to Birdland, and they are:

  • 7-0. That’s the Falcons’ record in the Georgia Dome.
  • 43.9. That’s the cumulative passer rating compiled by three Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks against these Falcons in the Dome, and for those not familiar with passer ratings, 43.9 is terrible.

Know how it’s sometimes said that you don’t need a big-time quarterback to win the Super Bowl? That hasn’t been true for a while. The past 11 championship quarterbacks: Tom Brady (three times), Eli Manning (twice), Ben Roethlisberger (twice), Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers — and Brad Johnson, who’s the joker in the pack and whose Buccaneers took their title in January 2003.

If you look at the Falcons’ pass defense on graph paper, it’s middling at best — 17th in yardage, 15th in completion percentage, 20th in yards per attempt. But if you check how this defense has fared in the Dome against Brees and the Mannings, the numbers are stunning: One touchdown pass (that by P. Manning) against 10 interceptions.

Each time, the Falcons’ pass defense produced a superlative. Against the Broncos on Sept. 17, the Falcons became only the second team to intercept three P. Manning passes in the first quarter. Against the Saints on Nov. 29, they intercepted five Brees passes — a career worst for him — and broke his NFL-record streak of 54 games with a touchdown pass. Against the Giants on Sunday, they authored the first shutout loss ever suffered by E. Manning.

Yes, we’ve left out Brees’ showing against the Falcons in the Saints’ victory in New Orleans — three touchdowns, one interception, a passer rating of 113.8 — for a basic reason: That happened elsewhere. If the Falcons win either of their remaining regular-season games, they’ll be here until the Super Bowl, and under this off-white roof a remade defense has befuddled the very best.

If the playoffs began today, the other NFC qualifiers would be San Francisco, Green Bay, Washington, Seattle and Minnesota. Of those five quarterbacks, two are gifted rookies (the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III and the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson). The 49ers’ quarterback is second-year man Colin Kaepernick, who’s really good but who has started only five NFL games. The Vikings’ quarterback is second-year man Christian Ponder, who’s most famous for being engaged to ESPN’s Samantha Steele.

It’s possible that one of those youngsters could beat the Falcons here, but I’m not sure it’s probable. (The Mannings couldn’t. Brees couldn’t.) That leaves the aforementioned Rodgers, who torched the Falcons here in January 2011 and again 10 months later. But that was Brian VanGorder’s rather basic defense Green Bay exploited, not the craftier schemes implemented by Mike Nolan, master of disguise.

Can you win a Super Bowl by fooling people? Why not? There are no shutdown D’s anymore. The 49ers, ranked No. 2 in total defense, yielded 31 points in the second half at New England on Sunday night. Last season the Giants won the Super Bowl with the NFL’s 27th-best defense; in 2009 the Saints won with the 25th-best.

In the neo-NFL, defense isn’t about stonewalling anybody but about getting off the field, about late-down stops and turnovers. A hidden facet of the Falcons’ Sunday shutout was that the Giants punted only twice, but they didn’t score because the Falcons took the ball away three times and stopped them on fourth down three times. (The Giants also missed a field goal.)

Likewise, a hidden part of this giddy season is how good this secondary has become. The Falcons are fourth among NFL teams in interceptions, and 10 of their 18 INTs have come in the three games here against elite quarterbacks. Maybe I’m making too much of those games, and no, none of them came in the postseason. But if I’m the Falcons and I’ve shut down one Manning and shut out the other, I fear no man. Not even Aaron Rodgers.

Further reading: The Falcons’ domination, adroit Asante and one great play.

By Mark Bradley


62 comments Add your comment

Weyman C. Wannamaker Jr. (A Great American)

December 17th, 2012
12:58 pm

Weyman C. Wannamaker Jr. (A Great American)

December 17th, 2012
1:00 pm

Not only have the Falcons flummoxed three elite QBs…. (no apostrophe, MB) but they’ve flummoxed the public too!

How can the same team that lost to Charlotte shut out the defending SB Champs? You never know which team will show up – and for which half.

Mark Bradley

December 17th, 2012
1:21 pm

Kudos, WCWJ (AGA).

Dave in Buford

December 17th, 2012
1:24 pm

I have to admit, I’m beginning to wonder when it is that you DO get any respect, and I guess the answer is “when you win a playoff game”. San Francisco is being anointed as the Next Great Team, presumably because they won a playoff game last year and ALMOST beat the Giants at home in the championship game.

Except that before last season, they were bums … hmmmmm.

GTT

December 17th, 2012
1:28 pm

WE SPANKED THE VAGIANTS

December 17th, 2012
1:29 pm

Yes they did mark & not to sound like a debbie downer,we caught ol’ paytee pooh early on before he & his new team got on the same page!! However,nothing would please the FALCAN FAN more than to meet up in the SB & avenge our only SB appearance!!

ATLien

December 17th, 2012
1:35 pm

I don’t consider Eli Manning or Big Ben to be an elite quarterback. They are both products of their offensive system.

crackbaby

December 17th, 2012
1:36 pm

IMO, it would be much better to simply focus on the Detroit Lions on Saturday night in MEEEE-chigan.

Go Falcons!

Doug Rice

December 17th, 2012
1:40 pm

Very interesting points, I don’t care if the Falcons get any national media love as long as the keep winning. They played an almost perfect game against a team that scored 51 points last week, impressing. Great oberservations about stopping the elite, we’ll also need to stop the average.

Joey

December 17th, 2012
1:51 pm

Hope so, MB.

Great game yesterday – go Falcons!

vanomania

December 17th, 2012
1:55 pm

Just read that they haven’t even given up a passing touchdown in 3 straight games. Not too shabby

Fan in VA

December 17th, 2012
1:57 pm

Just read an article on the ESPN insider page-

http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/8754380/nfl-believe-atlanta-falcons-statement-win

Says Falcons still are not legit and this last game was a random fluke!
What a bunch of croc! Bulletin Board material for the rest of the season if you ask me.

GT Insider

December 17th, 2012
2:01 pm

My only question is WHERE ARE THE VILLAGE IDIOTS today?

My guess is hiding out in mothers basement.

bigdawg

December 17th, 2012
2:07 pm

To paraphrase John Abraham and Asante Samuel: “Just keep hating on us!” “Haters make us play with a chip on our shoulder!”
Winning in the playoffs will change the hater’s tune!!
And, to quote Al Davis: “Just win, babe!” Winning is the only thing that matters in the NFL!! Show me a better four-headed receiving monster than White/Jones/Douglas/Gonzalez!?!

Peter

December 17th, 2012
2:18 pm

Well I was surprised yesterday……… but I really liked at the beginning of the game they pushed the ball into the end zone and didn’t settle for field goals……. That to me was the statement, along with the great Defensive play !

Weyman C. Wannamaker Jr. (A Great American)

December 17th, 2012
2:31 pm

LDawg

December 17th, 2012
2:42 pm

Verhei wouldn’t pick us if we shut down everyone by 100 pts and sent them all home crying to their mothers. He is too biased to be a sportswriter.

JB

December 17th, 2012
2:48 pm

Mark, speaking of VanGorder…….Has his phone rang yet since being let go at Auburn. He’s not a bad coach. Hard to believe Johnson at Tech hasn’t called.

FalconJim

December 17th, 2012
3:21 pm

Flummoxed is a great word, Mark….and certainly describes what we’ve done to some pretty good quarterbacks this year. But we’ve yet to “conjure” Aaron Rodgers, Wilson in Seattle, and Kaepernick….all of which we may be playing in the NFC Championship Game. And out of the three, Kaepernick worries me the most. Not much film to study on him, and barring a sever injury, the guy is gonna be a force to reckon with for a long time!!!

loyal bird

December 17th, 2012
3:24 pm

Great article M.B.I would compare it to ,Me ide draft deon sanders,Colum of many years ago.When u rise up against the best in your house,you create a swagger.Was watching Brady last nite when he began his comeback on the 40 Whiners,He had that look that we have seen a million times b4.Iknow he lost,but that is the look we been lookin 4.Thats the look we have in our nest,and its startin to carry over to the road.

FaceTheNation

December 17th, 2012
3:27 pm

Why are we not good at developing young QB talent? Other teams have been very successful with this straegy.
Dominick Davis has more upside potential, talent and possible trade value than Luke McCown. We may have been better off to have kept Redmond. I pray that MR2 stays healthy.

NFC South Champs

December 17th, 2012
3:54 pm

Super Bowl or Bust !

Sean

December 17th, 2012
4:26 pm

Preach on, brutha! I agree 100%. If the Super Bowl runs thru Atlanta, I think we’ll be ready this time. No way do we let what happened with the Packers, happen again. Critics seem to hold on to the past way too much. They’re basing our post-season potential off last season. We have a different team, new coordinators, different schemes, different attitude…everything about this team is different. Some players might be the same, but ask them if they feel like the same team as they did last season. I have a feeling after seeing what they did with the Giants, that the critics will be eating crow very soon…and I cant wait.

Who Me?

December 17th, 2012
5:02 pm

Damn Good team, Damn Good game, Verhei can go screw himself. Sure we “should” take care of business against Detroit but who knows? This team may take another day off, just to piss off the “pundits” and raise further ire. But bring ‘em to the House, we’ll see who owns who when it counts.

Puma

December 17th, 2012
5:03 pm

If Sundays game was an outlier then so was the loss the previous week to Carolina – can’t have it both ways. Fact is, the Falcons are good, but any team can beat any other team in this league because the talent is that close.

The ones who seem to win in the playoffs are the ones who peak at the right time. Falcons usually seem to peak mid-season then coast into the playoffs and loss to the hot team (see Giants, Packers, and Cardinals) I am hoping this year will be different because although we are winning, I don’t think we have seen this offence in full effect yet.

Dodney Rangerfield

December 17th, 2012
5:18 pm

Defense wins championships…

Getaway

December 17th, 2012
5:35 pm

I have to agree with a previous poster. The only game that matters right now, is the one they play in Detroit next week. It’s been over 24 hrs now, moving on.
The Falcons can’t be legit unless they beat Detroit. Unless of course, they don’t cover the spread, which means they got lucky again, so the win doesn’t count, except in the standings and that shouldn’t matter because strength of schedule doesn’t apply to the standings, which means great teams with tough schedules have more loses and even though some of those loses come against teams with losing records, it doesn’t matter because they have played tougher teams and sometimes even beaten them, but not always, but that is still better than winning, but not covering the spread, which is the best indication of how good your team is. Green Bay usually covers the spread, except when they lose, so they’re great even though they could only score 10 points in a loss against the Giants.

Felix the Cat

December 17th, 2012
5:36 pm

GO FALCONS! BEAT THE DETROIT LIONS!

okeetee

December 17th, 2012
5:43 pm

Yes, I think this secondary can stay with and slow down Aaron Rodgers. I don’t think he can come into our backyard like he did a couple of years ago….and slap 50 points on our heads! That being said, I’m still pulling for the 49ers to get that second seed and Seattle to advance against the Packers in the playoffs, because I think we’d have a better chance in our house against two rookie quarterbacks than dueling it out with Aaron Rodgers again!!! The tough thing with playing the 49ers will be stopping Frank Gore….but I’d rather take my chances doing that, than stopping Aaron Rodgers! Plus, when was the last a “rookie” quarterback ever won a NFC Championship to get to the Super Bowl? Probably NEVER! Rookie quarterbacks in our house are going to make some mistakes! Whatever deficiencies we might have could possibly be made up with rookie quarterback mistakes! Just a theory I happen to subscribe to! Give me the 49ers or the Seahawks…….let’s try and leave Aaron Rodgers OUT of this equation, if possible!

1990_Champs_GT

December 17th, 2012
6:19 pm

Respect from the media (of which I am a part by the way) is useless. It is based on pedigree, or the perception of pedigree.

The Niners are not the team they were in the 80’s and 90’s, but it “would be a great story” if they were.

The Cowboys haven’t won jack since Clinton was in office, but it “would be a great story” if they came back.

We need to do like the Patriots did: Make them respect you!

That is only done by winning championships, with an “S.” Our poor friends in the bayou are learning that they aren’t respected, they were just a flash in the pan.

R OReilly

December 17th, 2012
6:37 pm

Pretty class act,,,,the Falcons deciding not to score the last minute of the ballgame. Little things like this denotes a true winner and respect for your opponent and their fans. Maybe the Seahawks should take notes.

Snarky

December 17th, 2012
6:44 pm

First!!!!!????

"Chef" Tim Dix

December 17th, 2012
6:47 pm

I think the Falcon’s brass omitted these stats about how these Falcons perform in the dome when pitching the new digs plan.

"Chef" Tim Dix

December 17th, 2012
6:52 pm

One touchdown pass (that by P. Manning) against 10 interceptions.
——————————————————————————————-

Done without B. Grimes. Who’d thunk that?

eddie willers

December 17th, 2012
6:57 pm

I had seen every second of this year’s games…until last week. I came in at the half of the Carolina game.

And I’m glad I did.

I looked at the 16-0 score and shrugged thinking, “OK …meaningless game since virtually everything already sown up. Maybe not even playing starters..”

So the half I saw….we won. Only Newton’s big romp for a TD making us look bad. And the denial of the (obviously good) 2 point conversion changed everything by making a one score game into a two score game.

So I didn’t come away with the pessimism that seemed so endemic when I searched the blogs later. It seemed like it was no big deal…and I was right.

Ed

December 17th, 2012
7:10 pm

34-0 what more needs to be said now let’s put it on the back burner and get ready for the Lions and lock up home field and stay focused headed into the playoffs and keep our eyes on that Lombardi trophy with our name in it. Go Falcons!!!

Big Nose Kate

December 17th, 2012
8:02 pm

Yeh, VanGorder got a call. A call from Buford High School where he helped coach and scheme their defense in the playoffs (his son plays on the team). Is this really legal? The intent of high school athletics?

Get Back Jojo

December 17th, 2012
8:25 pm

I’m with you Mark. I BELIEVE that this is our year.

@Ed…..Yeah buddy! Let’s just stay focused, and keep our eyes on that Lombardi Trophy,

Naysayers, how ya like us now??

GO FALCONS!!!!

Truckstop

December 17th, 2012
8:52 pm

Why is it so important that the sports world acknowledge the Falcons? What does it have to do with them winning games, even the Super Bowl? This years’ Falcons can be looked at as one of the worst “good” teams ever and still go on to win the Big One. What does one have to do with the other? Is this a case of the “experts” having their OPINIONS validated? Who cares. Your opinion, my opinion, everybody’s opinion, don’t count. Only wins!

phil

December 17th, 2012
8:53 pm

Believe all you want….

Means nothing.

Professor Waldo E. Culpecker

December 17th, 2012
8:53 pm

Just remember folks, we still have not played anyone yet…………the Giants?..who dat?

phil

December 17th, 2012
8:54 pm

Amen, Truckstop!!

Professor Waldo E. Culpecker

December 17th, 2012
8:57 pm

I am not satisfied with a 34-0 slap down of the Giants, I want a 45-0 steamroll over the Lions !

phil

December 17th, 2012
9:01 pm

Who Me?
December 17th, 2012
5:02 pm

Damn Good team, Damn Good game, Verhei can go screw himself. Sure we “should” take care of business against Detroit but who knows? This team may take another day off, just to piss off the “pundits” and raise further ire. But bring ‘em to the House, we’ll see who owns who when it counts.

*********
like how we showed GB two years ago when it counted? Like that time?

WTF?

December 17th, 2012
9:14 pm

Atlanta will fold in the first playoff game as they don’t know how to handle the big game atmosphere and Matt Ryan will have too much pressure on him to win a playoff game and will under deliver as usual. Hopefully they won’t have to face San Fran or Green Bay or it’s good bye again!

Ryan's dad

December 17th, 2012
9:16 pm

It’s too bad we only made them punt twice. Dominique Franks would have run the third one back for a TD!!

vrdrago@yahoo.com

December 17th, 2012
9:45 pm

Great article and absolutely spot on. They is not one team who has punished the Mannings more this season than the Falcon did. You can’t say that just because we beat Peyton early, before he got to know his team; was even a factor. Peyton is Peyton. He makes his money walking up to the line, reading the defense, and then torching them. He did it at Tennessee and Indianapolis and he tried to do it against us. The problem was, when he got to the line, there was nothing to read. Our defense was running around like rabbits in heat. He had no idea what we were going to do and the Falcon burned him over and over and over. I have no doubt that the Falcon have been sandbagging everyone. And why not? No need to show your hand when you are winning even it is by 1 point. They have done exactly what they needed to do. They turned it up when they needed to turn it up and that backed off when they needed. This coming post season will be remembered by every single Falcon fan out there.

Stinger 2

December 18th, 2012
3:15 am

Truckstop: Your comments @8:52 were spot on. I for one could care less what the national media thinks about the Falcons. How good they are in reality is shown by the score of every game. A win is a win and a loss is a loss no matter how pretty or ugly
the game is played. And you are also right about opinions. Nobody`s is better than another.

Ho Kogan

December 18th, 2012
7:20 am

Verhei needs to stick to doing wrestling podcasts f4wonline.com

BobDawg

December 18th, 2012
7:43 am

Mark, I usually shut folks up with 2 items: 1) Do you really think Ryan will go an entire career without winning a playoff game??? Answer: No
2) This team has matured with our young-uns AND we have 2 super Assistant Coaches that know how to dial up schemes for Game Day against opponents.

I’m very confident going into the Post-season… Beat the Lions and then the Tampa game is Luke McCowans with a Cameo pre-season type appearance by Ryan if he plays at all….