The defense has been bad, but these guys have not been the problem.
The Falcons defense is a work in progress. We always knew this unit was lacking in overall talent, though there are enough good/great players to not be a bottom-5 unit each week. Veteran defensive coordinator Dean Pees has made adjustments and improved this unit week over week and there is some hope they can be a decent unit in the future. Let’s take a look at the defensive players that have done their part.
It’s almost old hat to include this guy these days. You just expect him to be on a list like this and while he’s here for good reason, I think Grady’s best football in this defense is still ahead of him. For the year he has just 1 sack, 1 hit and 9 hurries, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He has been disruptive all year long and if there’s one critique, it’s that he has had several near sacks that he didn’t finish. That trend won’t continue.
He needs some extra help on the defensive line, though. Guys like Jonathan Bullard and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner are decent rotational players, but Atlanta really needs to pair Jarrett with another long-term option that can be a disruptive force on the line. Marlon Davidson, if he gets and stays healthy, could still be that guy.
We all know Fowler is likely here for just 2021 so the season he’s having could help him get another good deal out on the open market. After taking a pay cut, Dante has bounced back from a disastrous (and injury-riddled) 2020 season.
Through the first 5 games he has tallied 2 sacks, 1 hit, 10 hurries and 10 tackles. He’s been reliable against the run and as a pass rusher and has also had several “near sacks” which I know is not a stat, but it feels like those numbers are going to start coming home soon as well.
The 2nd year corner has some work to do on penalties (3 in 4 games) but that should not overshadow the excellent work he’s done this year. In the 4 games he’s played, he has been targeted 16 times but has only allowed 6 completions. That’s an incredible 37.5 reception rate. On top of that, he has only allowed 42 total yards all year for a 7 yard per reception average. He also hasn’t surrendered a touchdown all year. In fact, if you take away the longest play he’s given up (28 yards in week 1), he has only allowed 14 yards on 5 receptions.
No player has made a bigger turn-around on this defense than Isaiah Oliver. It makes his season-ending injury that much more painful. In the 4 games he played, Oliver ad allowed 9 receptions on 15 targets but was only allowing 9 yards per reception. Those aren’t fantastic numbers, but he was clearly playing better than he had. He was also a chess piece for Dean Pees that he could use in multiple ways around the line of scrimmage. Oliver showed he could be a solid tackler and his spot in the slot looked like a perfect fit for him. It’s upsetting that he’s done for the year.
Who else do you think deserves recognition from the Falcons defense through the first 5 games?