While calling it “championship-caliber” may still be somewhat of a stretch, the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive unit is playing much better this year than it had the first four years of Mike Smith’s coaching tenure.
You probably couldn’t tell by looking at the statistics though. The Falcons rank 23rd defensively and have given up a lot of yards this season.
Yards-allowed really isn’t the best statistic to judge a team by anyway. I mean the Pittsburgh Steelers have the league’s number one ranked defense and won’t even make the playoffs this year.
No, the best way to judge a defense’s effectiveness is to look at how hard they are to score against and right now the Falcons are the fourth stingiest defense in the league in terms of points-allowed this season.
The Falcons have been here before though. During Mike Smith’s tenure, they have usually been among the league’s best defenses in terms of not giving up points.
This year has been different though. Atlanta’s defense seems to have a swagger that they didn’t have in times past.
As a matter of fact, they seemed to have a swagger now that they didn’t have earlier this season.
If you watched how Atlanta’s defense handled both the New York Giants and the Detroit Lions over the past two weeks you can easily see the high level of confidence this unit is playing with.
Atlanta’s game against the Lions was especially telling of their newfound confidence.
Detroit made some huge plays but Atlanta’s defense responded time and time again. Like when Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford burned Atlanta’s defense, hitting receiver Calvin Johnson for a 49-yard gain.
In times past, Atlanta’s defense has had trouble regrouping after big plays like that one but the Falcons didn’t come undone. Instead they forced the Lions to turn the ball over on the very next play.
The Falcons forced the Lions to turn the ball over on a few more occasions where they seemed to be threatening to score. And as timing would go, it seems that the Falcons would always force a turnover the very next play after the Lions had burned them for a big gain.
Watching the Falcons defend against the Lions high-powered offense was almost as entertaining as watching the Falcons pitch a shutout against the Giants a couple weeks ago. Both teams have very explosive offenses so Atlanta’s recent defensive performances bode well for their playoff hopes.
I say that because all three of the Falcons’ last three playoff appearances ended with a defeat at the hands of a team with a high-powered offense like the two teams they just faced.
As a matter of fact, the Giants were the team that sent the Falcons home during last year’s playoffs which was probably the thing that most motivated the Falcons during their shutout. Before that it was the Green Bay Packers and the Kurt Warner-led Arizona Cardinals.
Hopefully the Falcons are up for the challenge because this year’s playoffs will be just as challenging for Atlanta as their previous three appearances. While the Falcons have earned themselves a first-round bye, they will most likely face either the fourth or fifth seed in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
The fourth seed will be the NFC East division leader and that will be decided by the winner of the Week 17 matchup between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys. It currently looks like the Seattle Seahawks will be the fifth seed.
The Redskins and the Cowboys are playing pretty inspired ball this year but neither team is having a season like the one the Seahawks are having. Seattle has already dropped 50 points on two opponents this season and scored 42 last week against arguably the league’s best defense.
If the Seahawks make it to the NFC Divisional game on a hot streak, it may spell trouble for the Falcons.
But enough of the gloomy forecast, I’m sure the Falcons are up for any challenge they may face this year. I mean it’s not like they’ve ever let us down before.
Roosevelt Hall is an NFL Blogger for The Sport Mentalist and an NBA Blogger for The Sport Mentalist 2. He is also a Sports Reporter for Pro Sports Lives. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow him on Twitter @sportmentalist.
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