As part of an offseason that can just be boring leading into training camp, it's time to take a look into every unit and pick a story that could change the defense. With all this news about Asante Samuel, it's only logical to start with him.
The Falcons had one of the better defenses in the NFL in 2012; however, they had a couple of glaring weaknesses that showed up in the 2011 season. These weaknesses should be solved by the addition of Samuel and Robinson sliding to the nickel spot.
According to NFL.com's stat section, the Falcons had a lot of trouble on third downs, allowing 44 percent of third downs against them to be converted, which tied for third-worst in the NFL. Their fourth-down percentage allowed was eighth-worst in the league at a 54 percent clip.
Another issue the Falcons had was their pass defense. It was the 21st-best passing defense in the NFL by yardage and the 20th-best in terms of allowing touchdowns. The brightest spot is that the Falcons were top 10 in interceptions with 19.
In order to reign in opposing offenses, the Falcons will have to play as well on third downs in 2012 as they did on first and second downs in 2011. In order to do that, the Falcons have decided to upgrade their nickel package and pass defense by bringing in Asante Samuel for a seventh-round pick.
While Samuel's talent and skill set isn't much different than incumbent starter Brent Grimes, it's only a good thing to have multiple playmaking cornerbacks. Between Robinson, Samuel and Grimes, the Falcons have arguably the best cornerback trio in the NFL.
According to stats derived from ProFootballFocus.com, the Falcons have the only two corners in the NFL who allowed under 5.00 yards per attempt thrown their way in Brent Grimes and Asante Samuel.
Using more stats from Pro Football Focus's signature stats section, Grimes and Samuel were the top two corners in terms of yards per coverage snap played, both guys under 0.65 yards per snap. in terms of cover snaps per target, the "thrown-at" rate, Robinson, Samuel and Grimes are all in the top nine.
The Falcons talent at corner is unparalleled, and their safety combo will be just as deadly under the new scheme with Mike Nolan. But Asante Samuel brings much more than just his talent; he was also part of two super bowl teams with the Patriots.
Outside of talent and championship experience, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter notes that Samuel has been bringing an energy and swagger to the defense that it hasn't had in the Mike Smith era.
Samuel was calling for passes to be thrown against him during the practices and even got GM Thomas Dimitroff. As Ledbetter reported,
“Get me some action over here so I can show these people [as he pointed to the coaches] what I can do,” Samuel said Tuesday.
When no passes immediately came his way, Samuel went to the top and involved Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff in his antics.
“Dimitroff, tell them to get me some action,” Samuel said.
This kind of swagger will only help the Falcons when it comes to facing some of the top offenses in the NFL. It's the kind of swagger you need when you go against offenses in the playoffs and truly need to get stop on third down in that crucial situation.
Defensive leader and starting linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was quoted by Ledbetter as saying:
“It was cool,” linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “I really don’t know him that well, but just getting out there with him today and seeing the way that he competes. … He talks a little smack, and I definitely like that. He was having a good time out there today, and he was making some plays.”
The Falcons believe Samuel could add swagger to the defense.
“I think so. We definitely need something like that,” Weatherspoon said. “Anytime that you can add a player of that caliber to your defense, that’s going to be a bonus.”
When one of your defensive leaders believes that you will be bringing the confidence needed to the team that it has lacked for the past four years, it says a lot about the kind of player the Falcons have just brought in.
But that confidence won't end up to a cancerous attitude throughout the locker room. Atlanta Falcons.com's Daniel Cox makes a great point about how Samuel was trying to assimilate into the locker room and how the talent between the corners could mean a lot of change in how the three top tier corners are used:
Samuel didn’t waste any time getting to know his teammates. He said he’s felt very welcome and he thinks his new teammates love his energy and confidence. Two of his teammates, Robinson and Brent Grimes, are hoping to make a cornerback trio that is deadly in a pass-happy league.
The trio of corners means some roles will be shifting. Early indications are that Robinson will move inside to defend the slot receiver in nickel packages and Samuel and Grimes will man the outside of the field. Samuel is traditionally a left cornerback, but got snaps at both locations on Tuesday. He said it’ll work itself out and isn’t spending any time worrying about it, but if anyone’s interested, he prefers one over the other.
“Yeah, you know I have a preference,” he said. “I’m a left corner, but I’ll do anything to help my team. That’s the quarterback’s favorite spot since it’s mostly a right-handed league. I want to be where the ball is coming.”
Samuel's preference for the left corner role could mean that he will end up winning that job. This would then force fellow Pro Bowler Brent Grimes to the right side and Dunta Robinson to play the nickel role he has been wanting to play for years, according to Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com.
The Falcons will have one of the best corner combinations, but the swagger and confidence that Samuel brings will help the team become one of the more clutch teams out there. And with Robinson sliding to nickelback on third downs, it will only help the Falcons get closer to their goal of a top defense and win some playoff games.