Falcons quietly have one of stingiest defenses in NFL

NFL: SEP 10 Panthers at Falcons

Coming into the season, the hype surrounding this Falcons team surrounded the offense.

Arthur Smith’s unit was effective last year, despite Marcus Mariota holding them back. They added Bijan Robinson, Jonnu Smith, and Matthew Bergeron, giving Smith one of the most versatile skill groups in football. All Desmond Ridder had to do was be a game manager and distribute the ball to his playmakers.

There was excitement surrounding the defense too, though. The Falcons added Jessie Bates III, Kaden Elliss, David Onyemata, Calais Campbell, Bud Dupree, and Jeff Okudah with a new coordinator in Ryan Nielsen. There was reason to be confident in that group, but it was fair to expect them to slowly gel.

Four weeks into the season, it’s been the offense that hasn’t gelled and the defense that is a top 10 unit.

Nielsen’s group doesn’t have the gaudy turnover or sack numbers, but it’s a stingy unit that isn’t getting enough recognition. Everyone around the league talks about the 49ers, Browns, Cowboys, and Jets, but the Falcons are quietly one of the best defenses in football, ranking in the top 10 in just about every significant metric.

They’ve allowed 19.3 points per game, which ranks 10th. Despite a Desmond Ridder interception that set up a short field for the Jaguars last week, Atlanta’s defense forced Jacksonville to turn it over on downs, which makes sense because 31.8% of the drives the Falcons face end in a score (8th) with 40% of red zone trips ending in a touchdown (5th).

They Falcons are allowing 290.8 yards per game (7th). Opposing quarterbacks only complete 62.7% of passes (9th), and runners to average 3.8 yards per carry (T-11). The Falcons’ defense is as good against the pass as it is the run as well as limiting explosive plays.

Atlanta ranks 5th in explosive plays allowed through four weeks. They’ve surrendered 16 total, eight runs of 10+ yards and eight passes of 20+ yards. They get off the field when they need to and pressure opposing quarterbacks as frequently as any. The Falcons are getting pressure on 29.5% of quarterback dropbacks (4th) and hold offenses to a 33.3% third-down conversion rate (9th).

That’s a lot of stats to say the Falcons defense is criminally underrated and a top 10 unit. If the offense can get its head out of its ass, this is a playoff team every day of the week.

Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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