The 2012 Atlanta Falcons may appear predominately the same as the 2011 Atlanta Falcons. Thomas Dimitroff sat back during free agency, watching big names such as Mario Williams and our own Curtis Lofton sign elsewhere. Instead Dimitroff went low-key, giving some reasonable contracts to a good, if inconsistent, free safety Thomas DeCoud, the speedy Harry Douglas, as well as special teams ace, mediocre pass rusher, and reality-TV squatter Kroy Biermann.
The changes will be based around Atlanta's offseason prize, after Dimitroff bamboozled the Eagles for Asante Samuel. Fans will potentially see a good bit of Lofa Tatupu at Lofton's old position as well. The remaining additions from late in the draft, as well as the undrafted free agents, are unlikely to see the field in 2012 outside of special teams.
Will this man lead to a change in defensive philosophy?
The biggest change will help complement our change in personnel. Falcons new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has said previously that he expects the base defense to include an extra defensive back, assumably meaning we will see Asante Samuel, Brent Grimes, and Dunta Robinson on the field together for the majority of the defensive snaps.
NFL offenses have grown increasingly pass-heavy, in case you missed the Saints game last year in Atlanta, which has necessitated (at least) five starting-caliber defensive backs to counteract the pass game. We may have all seen Lofton attempting to cover far too often last year, which is likely one of the reasons he is not here this year. Perhaps for that reason, Dimitroff grew tired of waiting for a nickel back to develop and instead traded for four-time Pro Bowler Asante Samuel. Sorry Chris Owens and Dominique Franks.
Samuel will take the left corner back spot, moving Grimes to the right side and Robinson down to nickel. This remains a formidable starting secondary, along with big hitter William Moore and DeCoud. The man with 45 career interceptions, Samuel, clearly has some sway, as he gets his preferred position, with our other corners switching positions.
After originally signing Robinson in 2010, there were rumblings that Atlanta wanted to move Robinson to the nickel in obvious passing situations. This was likely hurt by the Falcons not having much of anyone to replace him at outside corner. So moving Robinson to nickel may not be as extreme as it sounds, despite his sizable salary. In fact, Robinson said as much earlier this week.
While he never excelled in the nickel position in Houston, nor does he seem like a good fit in the nickel, Robinson will likely hope to show he deserves the next year of his contract, which has very little guaranteed money, by playing at a Pro Bowl level at nickel. Anything short of that will allow Robinson to find a new team for significantly less money in the next offseason. The fact of the matter is Robinson is being paid far too much money to play nickel, especially if he struggles at that position.
This may be the biggest change, as far as personnel is concerned, as former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder enjoyed the base 4-3 defense perhaps too much. Perhaps the lack of a quality nickel back made him uneasy in removing a starting linebacker, but VanGorder always seemed to sell out the pass in order to stop the run. Sure, it worked. Atlanta has been proficient in stopping the run while being abysmal against the pass. With three starting-worthy cornerbacks, expect to see all three on the field for a vast majority of the defensive snaps, considering Atlanta probably has the most expensive cornerback trio in the league.
Also important is Tatupu, who has been starting over Akeem Dent so far in OTAs. Tatupu, a three-time Pro Bowler, was having a fantastic bounce-back season in 2010 before having a pretty horrible looking knee injury. After sitting out last year, Tatupu figures to make a big push for starting reps after sitting out last year, and will certainly be a big improvement in pass coverage over Lofton. Dent figures to be more of the run-stuffer type, and I could certainly see Tatupu and Dent receiving reps depending upon the game situation. However, the winner will likely be on the field for limited snaps with the coaching staff putting additional emphasis on the secondary and budding third-year linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.
With this twinkering of the roster, as well as new defensive ideas from Nolan, expect to see a different defense on the field than we have seen the past four years under VanGorder.
I'm sure Samuel has lost a step, nonetheless it's a step we are sorely missing at corner. Obvious defensive players that need to step up:
Robinson. Overpaid - regardless of corner posistion based on production vs salary. Aside from taking out Eagles, (which I sinfully enjoyed), he has been expensive and lackluster.
Ray Edwards. Play was adequate last year - and I'll give him last year to adjust to the Atl.. Honestly though, I was disappointed and expected a better showing.
Jerry. The one thing that kills any good team (or player) is injury - I'll give him that much. If Nolan isn't able to get production out of him this year - I imagine he'll be sitting on a couch in Miss. next season.
@vantuck thanks for registering and commenting.
@vantuck Thanks Vantuck. I agree with all of that.
I believe we can cut Robinson after this season without much, if any, of a cap hit. We did overpay for a guy with "potential" but is just not very good in coverage.
Even if Samuel has lost a step, his numbers are fantastic. I wish I had the numbers on hand, but opposing QBs complete under half their passes, with low YPA, low QB rating, etc., I think he was a top 3-5 corner according to Pro Football Focus. I don't think there is any question he is a big improvement over Robinson.
Edwards was the biggest disappointment for me. I really do not think his head is in it. I am pretty hard on him for the same reason I am hard on Kroy, and that is because both players get completely manhandled by just one offensive lineman. I hope he is healthy and has a great season, but I'm not holding out hope.
Peria has been an afterthought because thankfully Corey Peters proved to be such a quality tackle. Honestly, anything out of him this year would be a welcome surprise. For a guy struggling to even receive reps at age 28, the future does not seem too bright for him.
My only concern with Samuel - Philly has had some talent finding appropriate times to release veterans. I realize the Eagles were looking at 20 mil over the next 2 seasons for Samuel - guess they had to clear payroll but still seems crazy to let him go for a 7th round pick? Considering out of the 3 corners he is the only one who knew their system, guess they really like Rodgers-Cromartie. Asomugha is great, but he has lost a step himself...
Nolan has a good history of improving a defense, regardless of their previous scheme, and plays to the strengths of his team instead of forcing his philosophy. He has been historically around the top-ish of the league in 3rd down defense, historically our weak spot, and I think he can get a lot out of our current roster. Obviously Thomas Dimitroff feels the same.
I think I mentioned somewhere that Koetter remains a big question mark. He coordinated for Jacksonville. Seriously, last year their #1 wide receiver was Mike Thomas, who is now expected to get cut.
But I maintain a level of cautious optimism, if only because Koetter is saying he will do all the things Mularkey refused to do: screen passes, a balance of reps (at least for running backs), and spreading out defenses with the four verticals offense. Not sure anyone knows how it will look, but I've been a big critic of Mularkey for years, so I think this will at least be addition by subtraction.
@vantuck I think Nolan is a clear upgrade over BVG. BVG wasn't awful but I think he's a better fit for college. I think the entire reason he came to the NFL (and this is just speculation on my part) was to pad his resume to get a college head coaching gig at the FBS level.
In terms of the OC, I really don't know. Mularkey was a good OC at times but I think he really got stuck in a rut. I think change is good and it was needed here in the ATL. DIrk Koetter is a big question mark. He wasn't very good in Jax as the OC but he also didn't have nearly the toys to play with that he does in Atlanta (Maurice Jones Drew vs Matty Ice, Roddy, Julio, Gonzo, Turner, Jacquizz, HD, etc). @mFalcons5
@mFalcons5 @CFBZ What do you think about our new OC and DC? I was never a huge Mularkey fan, but the flashy offense and bend-don't-break defense had their moments. I realize Jacksonville may not be the best place by which to judge someone's coaching talents. Would like to hear your opinions regarding our new personnel- and if you think they are upgrades, ==, or <=....
@vantuck Remember, the Eagles turned their OL coach into their DC last year, so no one has a better feel of the defense than anyone else. I do think the Eagles were in a better place to get rid of an older vet based on Aso and DRC.
One of the considerations for the trade was restructuring his contract, and it seemed that Samuel was willing to do that only for a few teams. The Eagles just did not have very much choice and Samuel was too expensive to just cut.
All in all, we will have to see how Samuel plays in our scheme, but he has still been one of the best corners in the league the last few years, if not longer, and hopefully he can continue that streak.