Some might be surprised about the Falcons’ hot start in 2023, but fans from Atlanta aren’t shocked at all.
After 14 wins over Arthur Smith’s first two seasons, Terry Fontenot finally had money to spend on free agents. The club’s dead cap money associated with the former regime’s mistakes was in the rearview. The result? A haul of free agents that completely reshaped the roster.
Most of the acquisitions came on the defensive side of the ball. On the first day of free agency, the Falcons went out and signed Jessie Bates III, David Onyemata, and Kaden Elliss. Over the next month or so, they would add Calais Campbell, Bud Dupree, and Jeff Okudah.
Those free agents joined two stars in Grady Jarrett and A.J. Terrell along with a slew of youngsters in Troy Andersen, Richie Grant, Arnold Ebiketie, and Ta’Quon Graham. That investment has netted positive results early. The Falcons defense was the primary reason the club began the season 1-0, holding Bryce Young and the Panthers to 10 points while forcing three turnovers.
Last week, Bijan Robinson and Desmond Ridder got a lot of attention for Atlanta’s comeback win over Green Bay, but the Falcons defense held the Packers offense scoreless in the fourth quarter, which is the second time they’ve done that this season.
Ryan Nielsen, who was brought over from New Orleans, has righted this ship thanks to the offseason acquisitions, and it’s beginning to turn heads on the national level.
Randy Mueller of The Athletic just did a piece titled ‘The Atlanta Falcons have the best defense nobody is talking about.’ According to TruMedia via Mueller, Weeks 1 and 2 were the Falcons defense’s best two-game stretch of yards per play allowed (4.2) since at least 2000.
They’ve allowed just two explosive plays. For comparison, the Falcons gave up 15, 15, and 12 in that same period over the last three seasons. That’s a dramatic improvement.
The Falcons’ free agent additions have had immediate and drastic impacts. Bates recorded three turnovers in Week 1. Onyemata has been one of the most disruptive interior defenders in football, and Kaden Elliss had his first sack of the season in Week 2. However, it was an undrafted free agent that piqued Mueller’s interest.
“Starting inside linebacker Troy Anderson suffered a concussion in Week 1, and his fill-in — 2022 undrafted free agent Nate Landman, might be the biggest steal of the whole crew. The former practice squad player jumped out at me on tape with really good instincts, a nose for the ball and his willingness to hit anything that moves,” he stated.
Mueller, who is a former GM of the Saints and Dolphins as well as an Executive of the Year winner, went as far as to put the Falcons on the early Executive of the Year watch, adding that it’d be hard to find a team that is playing better complementary football right now.
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