Atlanta Falcons: Lack of Defensive Pro Bowlers Works in Falcons' Favor
With the way the Atlanta Falcons have stifled opposing offenses all season long, one would think at least a few of the team's defensive players would be rewarded with Pro Bowl nods.
Yet not a single Falcon from that side of the ball was voted in.
Instead, all three of Atlanta's representatives in the annual all-star game are set to be Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones and Matt Ryan, all offensive players.
The fact they're part of one of the NFL's most explosive offenses helped, but it's safe to say the three received a big boost from their league-wide fame.
And that's understandable: one is a future Hall of Famer, another is a blossoming star who made headlines after the Falcons made a blockbuster trade for him, while the last is the face of the franchise.
For a lot of Falcons fans, what isn't understandable is how the likes of William Moore and Thomas DeCoud—arguably the NFC's best safety tandem—and ageless wonder John Abraham were passed over for the honor.
Admittedly, my initial reaction was, like many, to cry foul over the team's lack of defensive Pro Bowlers.
Then I realized the Falcons may actually be better off for it.
The Falcons don't make weekly national headlines and if they do, it's usually to discredit their success. That, in turn, keeps them from getting the league-wide recognition for their accomplishments like the San Francisco 49ers and their nine Pro Bowlers do.
Ask a random NFL fan about Moore or DeCoud and chances are they can't tell you who they are.
But I bet you they'll have plenty to say about a superstar like Aldon Smith.
For Falcons fans, Asante Samuel, Sean Weatherspoon, Moore, DeCoud and Abraham are their superstars. Outside of Atlanta, however, those guys are merely part of the crowd.
As a result, none of the above earned a trip to Hawaii.
But that loss is equally their gain.
The reasoning is simple: It's a sign that few realize just how dangerous Atlanta's defense is.
Week in and week out, opposing teams sing praises for Gonzalez or Jones. But they say little of Nolan and his crew of all-no-namers.
They underestimate Atlanta's defense. They don't respect Atlanta's defense the way they might San Francisco's, Pittsburgh's or Seattle's. They see it as the same one that was torched by Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs two seasons ago. They don't recognize it instead as the one that shut down Peyton and Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III.
In five Falcons wins, the quarterbacks above combined to complete just under 62 percent of their passes for an average of 231 yards a game and threw a collective two touchdowns to 10 interceptions. That's aside from the Falcons holding each team to an average of 12.8 points in those games.
And the best part about those stats? Atlanta’s defense didn't depend on one star player to achieve them. They're the result of Nolan's team-focused mentality and a scheme that maximizes its players' strengths.
Look at the 49ers and how many first downs, yards and points they allowed prior to defensive tackle Justin Smith's injury compared to how many they've given up since.
The Niners depend on Smith's brute force to rush the quarterback and stop the run.
The Falcons, void of that kind of athleticism along its defensive line, depend on Nolan's scheming to achieve the same goal.
The first team lives and dies by its players' health.
The second lives and dies by its defensive coordinator's brain.
You know what you’re getting with the first.
But that element of surprise will always be present when playing the second, especially one as underrated as the Falcons'.
And that plays entirely in Atlanta’s favor.
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