Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

16 Oct 2012

ESPN: The Falcons' Potentially Fatal Flaws

Atlanta is 6-0, the last undefeated team, so they must be the best team in the NFL, right? We argue not, as the Falcons are a flawed team that can't run or stop the run, and has won close games over poor opponents.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 16 Oct 2012

7 comments, Last at 03 Mar 2013, 2:02am by perruques


by jw124164 :: Tue, 10/16/2012 - 3:22pm


I actually think the article was optimistic about the Falcon's future schedule - they have 5 division games left, 3 of them on the road, and those games are always competitive. Philly is going to be desperate for a win, at home, coming off their bye, the Cowboys can run the ball, etc. This Falcon's fan is not giving them the NFC South title just yet. Ryan/Jones/White need to shift to Bird Mode ...

by Peregrine :: Tue, 10/16/2012 - 3:37pm

Heck, you don't need ESPN Insider for that. I could have told you for free.

The weakness of the team is the OL. That's a bad weakness to have. We've got a handful of young OL on the bench, all picked by Dimitroff, so there are alternatives. Curious if the coaches will make a move there. McClure and Reynolds seem to be the weakest links, while Clabo has declined since going to the Pro Bowl a couple years ago. Bizarre that Baker might be the best performer so far.

Oh, and about run blocking, Tony Gonzalez is terrible at blocking. Yeah, I know. But I mean *extra* terrible.

by Independent George :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 10:26am

It's a particularly bad weakness to have when the other current NFC division leaders (SF, CHI, NYG) are arguably the three best defensive lines in the game, and ALL of the wild card (GB, ARI, SEA, PHI) can also get to the QB.

That's not to say they aren't a contender - they're good enough across the board to win it all - but that particular weakness does not match up well within their conference.

by Just Another Falcons Fan (not verified) :: Tue, 10/16/2012 - 5:33pm

While I agree with the gist of the article, I will note that one of the teams without a winning record is ranked #5 by DVOA, 3 places above #8 Atlanta.

I think some of the issues with run defense are related to Mike Nolan's preference for a 4-2-5 base defense. The philosophy seems to be that Atlanta will risk giving up some long runs in return for better pass protection and the ability to stuff some runs for little or no gain, setting up more obvious passing situations.

This ties into another weakness, LB depth. Witherspoon is good, Nicholas is good but injury-prone, Dent can't seem to pick the right hole to fill, and Peterson is kaput. Surprisingly, one of our best looks in recent games has been a 52 defense with 3 DTs and Edwards/Biermann as DE/LB hybrids. We may see more of this on early downs or when the opponents have established the run.

One positive is that Mike Nolan appears to be very good at making halftime adjustments. My gut sense has been that when an opponent has been successful with a particular play type in the first half, they will not have success with the same play in the second half.

by Michael19531 :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 2:52am

IMO, this is shaping up as 2010 redux for the Falcons.

A 13-3 record, a lot of close, lucky wins over mediocre teams and the Saints regressing all added up for the Dirty Birds' success that season.

I think that it's highly probable that the Falcons could wind up as the NFC's #1 seed again and get cold cocked in the playoffs by someone like Green Bay or the Giants. Just like 2010.

by Mekias :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 10:42am

The Falcons have been getting it done with a good passing game, turnovers on defense, and a low amount of penalties. Is that a winning recipe? Sure. It certainly doesn't make them a dominant team though.

The big difference between the 2010 Falcons and the 2012 Falcons is that the emphasis in 2010 was on ball control, the running game, and a bend/don't break defense. The 2012 version is far more reliant on the passing game and creating turnovers through hard hits and clever defensive scheming. In 2010, when the defense finally bent & broke, they didn't have an offense that could come back. In 2012, they can come back on teams but can't put the game away with a running game. And when the defense isn't creating turnovers, it's susceptible to big plays and decidedly ordinary.

I think the 2012 version of the Falcons is better equipped to beat teams like the Packers and Giants but would still be underdogs unless they got some turnovers and the O-line stood up under the pressure.

I'd put the Falcons at about #5 in the NFL right now.

by perruques (not verified) :: Sun, 03/03/2013 - 2:02am

It's a particularly bad weakness to have when the other current NFC division leaders (SF, CHI, NYG) are arguably the three best defensive lines in the game, and ALL of the wild card (GB, ARI, SEA, PHI) can also get to the QB. http://www.hairwigs.de/