Falcons Taking Pride in Scoring Defense

Falcons Taking Pride in Scoring Defense

Jay Adams

Published December 20, 2012 at 3:32 PM

Sean Weatherspoon’s eyes opened real wide as a surprised look came over his face. Asked what he thought about the Falcons defense being ranked No. 4 in the league in points allowed per game, Weatherspoon’s surprise quickly turned to pride as he realized just what that meant.

“Really? I think it’s cool. I think that’s the ultimate stat on defense,” Weatherspoon said Thursday. “You don’t want to give up a lot of points because you put that pressure on your offense. We do have a great offense, and sometimes they save us so we’re thankful for that but we definitely want to keep that stat down. We’re trying to get it to where we can move up a little more.”

For a defense that has been much maligned in the national media for apparently not being good enough, sitting in the top 5 in arguably the most important defensive stat ain’t too shabby.

Overlooked because total defense rank is measured by yards given up per game, the Falcons feel like they’ve been good enough all along — it’s just that no one really noticed what was really important in their equation.

Yes, the Falcons give up a lot of yards per game compared to the rest of the league — an average of 354.4 which puts them at 19th in the NFL — but the fact that the unit has allowed just 18.5 points per game is truly the key to the Falcons being 12-2.

“It’s the most important defensive stat,” head coach Mike Smith said of defensive points per game. “We talk about it all the time. Much like you can have empty calories eating, you can have empty yards in the game of football. You can give up a lot of yards and if you don’t give up points they don’t really amount to anything. So many times I think people want to talk about the best defenses are the ones that give up the fewest yards, it’s really all about points and our guys have done a very nice job this year. We’re starting to trend in the right direction at the right time.”

Shutting out the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants with an offense that contains stars like Eli Manning and Victor Cruz is a good start, but the Falcons have consistently been able to keep teams out of the end zone by either forcing punts, turnovers or field goals when it matters most.

But because of their middle-of-the-road placement in all other major defensive statistics, the Falcons defense has been overlooked in the conversation of best units in the league, or even the NFC for that matter.

Here’s a look at what the Falcons have done on defense this year:

Category Stat NFL Rank
Opponent PPG 18.5 4th
Yards Per Game 354.4 19th
Rushing Defense 124.9 24th
Passing Defense 229.5 17th
Total Yards 3,395 16th

To the Falcons, those categories that have the unit at the middle of the pack aren’t nearly as important as the one that directly influences wins and losses.

“Oh, definitely, because it means teams aren’t scoring a lot of points against you,” cornerback Dunta Robinson said. “I don’t care if we’re giving up 500 yards a game. If we can keep people out of the end zone, then we’ve done our job and we take pride in that.”

The Falcons couldn’t really put a consensus finger on what one thing has been the biggest key in scoring situations. Whether it’s disguising defenses (as pointed out by SI’s look at Mike Nolan’s scheme) or the swagger that the team has thanks to the offseason addition of Asante Samuel, the Falcons find that there are a lot of different things that have come together at the right time to build an attitude that the defense will not be scored against.

“We’ve all struggled together and put in the hard work,” defensive tackle Vance Walker said. “It’s just one of those things where we have to realize that we can let them get in. We’ve got to basically look each other in the eye and be like, ‘That’s it. They’re not going to get in. It’s over with.’ “

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