Atlanta’s numbers may not be pretty, but despite appearances, Pees is a glass half full kinda guy.
Dean Pees does not frequently have a sunny demeanor, as he likes to play the curmudgeon in his press conferences. This is a man who mused/joked that he might run for office as a Whig, a political party that dissolved 166 years ago. He has a role he likes to play, and that is the ancient angry man who can’t believe anyone’s disrespecting the Falcons defense.
Depending on your perspective, that role is either exhausting or hilarious in a given week, but either way it’s one Pees has embraced to help take heat off his guys. That heat has been cranking up in recent weeks as the Falcons once again settle at the bottom of the league in most statistical categories you can think of, from points allowed to yardage to passing efficiency against. Pees was asked about third down performance and more on Tuesday, and is often the case, he was not a fan of what those questions imply.
Falcons DC Dean Pees super fiery today when he was asked about 3rd down D & big plays.
Talked a lot about media negativity & how he feels their D is trending positively.
“I’m not disappointed in this defense.”
(Also in there — Pees started talking about Election Day)
— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) November 8, 2022
Pees talked before the season about the defense needing to build toward being great and not just okay, a welcome message and goal but one that was going to be difficult to fully realize in 2022. Atlanta has been missing their top two cornerbacks for weeks, but even when A.J. Terrell and Casey Hayward were healthy, this was a unit struggling to rush the passer effectively and to work in coverage. Given that they’re faring so poorly overall, you might be tempted to dismiss what Pees said on Tuesday as yet another attempt to deflect from the level of play from this Falcons defense, which isn’t that close to living up to those lofty thoughts of greatness.
But maybe we shouldn’t. In an illuminating story, Tori McElhaney with the Falcons writes that Pees came prepared to talk about why he felt the Chargers performance, while frustrating given Justin Herbert’s long stretches of surgical efficiency, was actually an encouraging sign of progress.
As she wrote, Pees noted that:
Atlanta gave up the fewest amount of big plays they have all season against the Chargers
The Falcons held Justin Herbert to the second lowest quarterback rating this unit has given up all season
The Chargers averaged 5.7 yards a catch, which was a number significantly lower than what it was against Cincinnati (11.5) and Carolina (8.8).
There’s also a breakdown of one play in particular that Pees felt the Falcons executed in a way they simply wouldn’t have done in 2021, or even necessarily earlier this season, which you should read about in Tori’s article. But while it’s funny to see Pees disparage stats in one moment and then call on them in another, the man ultimately responsible for how this defense fares is trying to point out something important: He’s seeing progress.
Progress, you’ll remember, is the name of the game for this team. While they’ve been competitive and may well contend for a playoff spot all year, nobody in the front office or coaching staff viewed this as a juggernaut roster, one you could simply add a piece to at the trade deadline and then take off. Especially on defense, where the Falcons have a lot of young, unproven defenders with promise, it was always going to be a question of how much growth we saw during the season. It isn’t the stratospheric improvement we’re all still hoping for—and it probably isn’t coming in the final seven games—but if Atlanta’s making plays they weren’t in September and seeing things click for players they need to rely on going forward, that’s a win for 2022.
The Falcons are in a position to add a considerable amount of talent in the offseason, which would get Pees and company closer to that great defense and reputation we all this team to enjoy. In the meantime, we’ll hope these small signs of progress Pees is bringing up in his spirited defense of his defense wind up meaning a lot for the guys who are already key building blocks for the Falcons.