The Atlanta Falcons lost to the New Orleans Saints this past Sunday for their first loss. In doing so, they had holes in the defense exposed and have at least four adjustments they need to make in order to get back on track.
The Falcons lost 31-27. However, they should have won the game because the defense had kept them in it late. The biggest issue is failed execution on offensive plays. On three straight plays from the one-yard line with two minutes left in the game, the Falcons could not punch it in the end zone.
Don't get me wrong, the defense did it's part too. Had the defense been able to avoid small errors and simple fundamental mistakes, the Falcons wouldn't have even been in the position they were in. Honestly, the Falcons could have made this a complete and utter blowout had they played better football.
The four major defensive failures in the Saints game are related to the run defense, the inability to cover the tight end, the stupid penalties and the inability to get to Brees. The combination of these four failures are what allowed the Saints to score the most points any team has against the Falcons this season.
Read the run, Crash down correctly, Wrap up and tackle efficiently
This play tells everything needed about the Falcons run defense. The Falcons lined up in a 3-4 alignment which had been a big reason as to why they were able to crash down and play the run effectively against Philadelphia and Dallas.
However, the entire three-man line got blocked out of the play. Not only that, none of the three defensive linemen was able to draw a double team. Also, the play-side linebackers of John Abraham, Mike Peterson and Akeem Dent all got drawn into the play before the cut back because of a poor read of the blocking.
Towards the middle of the run, Stephen Nicholas and the rest of the defenders look like they give up because Ivory looks like he has been pushed out of bounds. Then Ivory breaks two more tackles after he cuts back inside and stiff arms Dunta Robinson multiple times before he walks into the end zone.
This play has been typical of the Falcons defensive struggles all season. This play shows everything the team has done wrong in order to have the 30th best run defense (h/t NFL.com) in yards per carry. The Falcons have trouble diagnosing the plays and flowing to the ball correctly.
But the biggest issue is the tackling. Once the Falcons learn how to wrap up and not go for the knockout hits, they will have a much more efficient defense. Once the defense gets efficient, it will not only become a top unit in points, but a top one in yardage allowed as well.
Get Sean Weatherspoon healthy and double team the best tight ends in the league
Jimmy Graham continually beat single coverages by Stephen Nicholas, Akeem Dent and Robert McClain like how he did in the video example above. His size and speed combination was too much for any of the Falcons to handle. Thankfully, very few teams have a tight end at the caliber of Graham.
However, if the Falcons want to compete with the Jimmy Grahams and Rob Gronkowskis of the world, they will need Sean Weatherspoon to get healthy. In part, because he can help increase the pass rush but also because he has the ability to cover anyone one on one.
When Weatherspoon is pass rushing, the Falcons need to make sure they keep the guys like Graham covered though. So double teaming with both a safety and a linebacker is always the best idea when you have the guys like Graham out there.
Don't have stupid penalties
As you can see after the interception that Asante Samuel has, he gets a stupid celebration penalty. If he doesn't screw up and have another 15 yards tacked onto the play, the Falcons can score even quicker and maybe even get a touchdown instead of a field goal here.
These small mistakes may seem menial, but Mike Smith preaches penalty free football. So losing yardage over dumb mistakes is not playing "Smitty-ball." The Falcons were ninth in penalties (going from least to most) in 2011 and have been first in penalties this year.
If they can continue to play mistake-free football unlike the Saints game, they should be able to finish with at least a 13-3 or 14-2 record.
Increase the pass rush on any and every quarterback
As you can see on this play, the Falcons rush just four. They also run an inside-out stunt on the right and have a three defensive tackle alignment to the weak side. The issue with this is that Jonathan Babineaux at left end has been able to get more pressure than Ray Edwards.
The Falcons have since gotten rid of Ray Edwards and his non-production. However, they have also completely changed the scheme in 2012. Under Mike Nolan, the Falcons have used blitzes over 30 percent of the time compared to last season's percentage of under 10 percent of the time.
The problem is that they are getting the sacks this year, but the overall pressure is the same. Atlanta is on pace for 37 sacks in 2012 after getting just 33 in 2011. However, the Falcons are on pace for just 247 combined pressures in 2012 after getting 267 in 2011.
Now, the biggest thing the Falcons need to do is just get to the quarterback. Easier said then done of course, and it's not going to be cured overnight. However, at this point, the best hope for the Falcons is that the combination of Cliff Matthews, Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Massaquoi and Lawrence Sidbury can pick up the slack that cutting Ray Edwards leaves.
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.