While most of the country was raving over the Atlanta Falcons’ historically great offense during last year’s playoffs, the youthful Atlanta defense was quietly growing into not just a respectable unit, but even a potential game changer. Full of now second and third year players, Atlanta’s defense might not boast any household names (yet), but what it does have is playmakers. Lots of them. Whether it’s the sheer power of Vic Beasley, the hard-hitting Keanu Neal, or the ball-hawking Deion Jones, the Atlanta defense has smart, versatile players at every position. Combine that with the speed and energy that comes with being as young as most Atlanta defenders are, and you have a unit that could open some eyes in the coming season.
It’s no secret that head coach Dan Quinn is a defensive minded coach. In fact, midway through last season, he took over defensive play-calling duties and immediate results ensued. Atlanta had the third most disruptive defense in the NFC during last season’s playoffs, according to the NFL. This was the group, after all, that frustrated Tom Brady for three and a half quarters, before the fatigue of being on the field for as long as they were set in. Another thing that set in that fateful night, however, was the defense’s clear lack of experience. There were simple assignments and coverages missed all throughout the fourth quarter. It was clear that the defense still had a ways to go.
So what did the Falcons do in free agency? They brought in a talented defensive tackle on a team friendly contract in Dontari Poe. Poe is a man with a ton of NFL experience who should be a great mentor to the young defensive core, particularly the defensive line. Players like Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett, who was on his way to Super Bowl MVP had the Falcons not collapsed, should gain a wealth of knowledge from Poe.
Another easy thing to forget about last year’s defense is that it was missing arguably its best player in Desmond Trufant for the second half of the season and the playoffs due to an injury sustained earlier in the year. Well, the Pro Bowl cornerback is back with a vengeance this season and he will undoubtedly do great things now that he’s healthy.
In Trufant’s absence, young cornerback Jalen Collins got his opportunity and appeared to be a rising star after playing brilliantly in the playoffs. However, Collins apparently has not been able to quit his drug-taking ways dating back to his LSU days as the NFL announced a 10 game suspension for the young cornerback earlier this offseason. His days with the Falcons appear to be coming to an end now as Atlanta is likely only playing him in the preseason to boost his trade value.
However, even without Collins panning out, this Falcons defense has potential to do big things this year. On paper, Atlanta looks to have one of the more talented defenses in the NFL. As every Atlanta fan knows, paper doesn’t decide who wins the game, execution on the field does, but this core has the talent to potentially make big strides from last year and be mentioned along with that superb offense.