Atlanta Falcons: 4 Ways to Fix the Terrible Run Defense
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The Atlanta Falcons are off to the best start in franchise history at 5-0. However, one glaring weakness remains, and that's the run defense.
The Falcons are currently eighth in scoring defense, registering just 18.6 points allowed per game. But they seemingly have forgotten to stuff the run this season after putting up a top 10 performance in 2011.
Currently the Falcons are allowing the league's second-worst yards-per-carry at 5.4. They are also sixth-worst in yards-per-game at 142.8. They need to get these together before the blueprint to beat the Falcons includes pounding the rock as much as possible and draining clock out.
Once that blueprint to be beaten is established, multiple teams will try to copy it, and that will only be bad for a surging Atlanta team. So, here are four ways that the Falcons can shore up the rushing defense this season.
Start Playing the Best Run Defenders Instead of the Best Pass Rushers
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Normally when a team is struggling at something, the first thought is to change up the personnel. To get better at run defense, the Falcons would have to move more to base defensive looks and less nickel looks.
By adding a linebacker and removing a corner, the Falcons would be able to adjust the defense to something that would be able to stop the run better. Even by replacing a corner with a safety, the Falcons could accomplish this goal.
However, another thing they could do is play more Ray Edwards and much less Kroy Biermann. Biermann is an excellent player in both coverage and pass rushing, but against the run, Ray Edwards is arguably the best 6-technique defensive end in the NFL.
By making those two subtle changes, the Falcons could end up creating a much better run defense. The pass defense would suffer though and that's part of why the defense is so good right now.
Alter the Scheme with More Men on the Line and Less "Amoeba" Looks
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This would mean a transition to a much more vanilla defense, like what the team played from 2008-2011. However, this isn't Nolan's style. It will be hard to see if the Falcons do show more 4-3 and base-level looks to throw opposing offenses off.
However, by having more guys on the line to engage and take on blockers, the Falcons would be able to stifle the run defense as best as they can. The addition of leverage and double teams on the linemen would be able to create holes for the linebackers to fly to the ball through.
This isn't what's going to happen though. If the Falcons do decide to go with four down linemen on almost every play for a game, it will be because that is what has been working against the team they are playing.
Sell out Against the Run Every Play
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The third option is probably the worst one available. Right now, Mike Nolan is running one of the best pass defenses in the league and the Falcons have only been beat on one big passing play.
They are seventh in the NFL in pass defense averaging just over 200 yards per game. They also have 13 sacks on the season and are tied for second place in the NFL with nine interceptions. Throwing all those factors together, it's not shocking to see that the Falcons have allowed only a 68.7 passer rating against.
But at some point, it feels like the team is selling out against the pass. And unfortunately, that isn't the best option when it comes to stuffing the run. It is however indicative about how the league is going. The Falcons have kept three linebackers on the field for less than a third of their defensive snaps this year and that will continue to be the case.
Be Patient and Wait for the Impact of Corey Peters
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If the team is patient, they will get back the unflappable Corey Peters. He will be back after the bye and is easily the best run defender on the interior of the line. He's also arguably the most talented defensive tackle the Falcons have on the roster.
Despite having talents like Vance Walker step up or Peria Jerry improve, the center of the defensive line has proven to be the biggest weakness. With Peters back in the rotation and starting, not only will the run defense improve, but the pass defense will as well.
If Peters can come back and be at the fringe Pro Bowl form that led him to three sacks, an interception and three pass deflections as the centerpiece of the Falcons defense in 2011, they will be formidable against the run.
And once that happens, this defense will be at another level of greatness. Add this to the continued development of Akeem Dent and Sean Weatherspoon as run defenders and the Falcons could be in contention for one of the best single season defenses out there.
All stats are from NFL.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.