The Falcons have fielded some pathetic defenses in recent years, ranking close to last in every major metric, including turnovers, sacks, and points.
None has been more documented than the sack total. The club posted 18 sacks in 2021 (32nd) and 21 in 2022 (31st). In comparison, over the course of those two seasons, the Falcons rank last across the NFL by 23 sacks. For context, that two-year total (39) is 31 sacks behind what the Eagles posted in 2022 alone.
However, things are changing in Atlanta. The offseason came with a defensive overhaul for the Falcons, including free-agent additions to all three levels — Jessie Bates III, Kaden Elliss, David Onyemata, Calais Campbell, and Bud Dupree.
The early results are encouraging; in fact, the investment has made an immediate impact. The Falcons held the Panthers to 10 points and forced three turnovers. Granted, Carolina’s offense features a rookie quarterback, one of the worst receiving cores in football, and a new system.
However, the Falcons aren’t apologizing for beating who was in front of them. The national media is taking notice too.
ESPN analyst Dan Orvlosky tweeted Atlanta’s defense was the most surprising unit from Week 1, describing Ryan Nielsen’s scheme as multiple, always changing, and hard to decipher. He added that Bates is one of the trickiest defensive backs in the NFL.
Unit that I was most surprised by?
Very impressive unit
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) September 13, 2023
Packers insider Aaron Nagler also gave his two cents, noting a Green Bay coach said, “This defense is crazy.”
“This defense is crazy” is what a Packers coach texted me about them yesterday. Big test for Jordan Love and company. https://t.co/QWwZW6NMFO
— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) September 13, 2023
This is a stark difference from what Falcons fans have become accustomed to in recent years. The investment in that side of the ball has net encouraging results, but the Panthers offense isn’t on the level of the Packers.
The Green Bay run game is much more diverse and effective. Matt LaFleur is one of the best play designers and callers in the league, putting Jordan Love in a position to succeed against the Bears last week.
The Falcons, under Ryan Nielsen, will have to play a bit of a different game in Week 2. Similar to Arthur Smith’s offense, the Packers will stress the defense’s eyes with motion and misdirection. It won’t be an easy task, but Atlanta’s revamped unit is likely eager to prove their Week 1 performance was no fluke.