Are the Falcons changing their defensive scheme?

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Head coach Dan Quinn is apparently unhappy with the current scheme. It is not bringing the same ferocity that he saw with the Seahawks when he was their defensive coordinator. Here is a snippet from the Athletic explaining the lengths Quinn has gone to figure out how to fix things in Atlanta:

“Quinn saw a combination of inconsistent and/or inadequate performances from players and a lack of players working together. He also saw scheme problems. He personally looked at “6,000 plays” from his defense during the past five years: 2013 and 2014 in Seattle and 2016 through 2018 in Atlanta. The plays were categorized by level of effectiveness. The Falcons head coach took note of how opponents’ pass routes that weren’t used too often three to five years ago were more frequent in the past two seasons.. obvious conclusion: something had to change besides the players.”

Perhaps an adjustment is in order – something fans have been clamoring for after a miserable 7-9 campaign. Switching from a 4-3 under to an attacking 3-4 would be a seamless transition due to the personnel.

College Defensive Schemes

When you take a look at the Falcons roster, most of the players came from schools that ran a 3-4 defensive scheme. The 4-3 under has a lot of 3-4 elements, so it is not like trying to put circle pegs into square holes. Another advantage would come in the form of preparation. Most of the NFC runs a 4-3 and rarely see 3-4 defenses outside of the casual matchup against the AFC. It could pay substantial dividends for Atlanta to make the change.

Why the Lack of defensive players in the draft?

This offseason told us the coaching staff considered last year to be a fluke. Atlanta’s defense suffered a plethora of injuries causing their decline in play – namely to Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, and Deion Jones. On the other side of things, there were gaping holes to fill along the offensive line; which were addressed in the 1st round with the selections of guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary, along with the additions of Jamon Brown and James Carpenter in free agency.

The Falcons also elected not to draft 4-3 DE depth – something that has been a problem on this team for nearly a decade. The team selected DE John Cominsky (who is more of a tweener and will be moved inside gradually) and signed former Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn.

These acquisitions don’t inspire confidence unless you think of them as transition moves. The Falcons brought in former Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton as a Senior Assistant. Coincidently, he was the one who installed the 3-4 in Kansas City.

Depth Chart

Switching to a 3-4 is all about putting players in a position for them to succeed – a concept Quinn has been preaching since becoming the Falcons head coach. Stopping the run is the first mission. The Falcons were abysmal at that in 2018. Placing space-eating defensive lineman along the front line freeing up rangy linebackers might even turn run defense into a strength for Atlanta.

Here is my projection of the players that would make up the roster using a 3-4 scheme.

RCB Oliver/Miller

WLB McKinley/Odom

RDE Jarrett/Clayborn

NT Davidson/Senat

LDE Crawford/Hageman/Cominsky

SLB Beasley/Campbell

MLB Jones/Carter

MLB Oluokun/Riley

NCB Kazee/Sheffield

LCB Trufant/Wreh-Wilson

FS Allen

SS Neal/Wilcox


Would you like the Falcons to switch their schemes? Leave a comment on how you would draw it up. Big shout out to the F.I.L.A sports podcast crew, Madmikesports, and Unintentional Grounding who have been talking about this concept for months and helping me out with this article.


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