The Falcons offense is good. Really, really, really good. The advanced stats tell an even more intricate story, about an offense that beat up good defenses and absolutely demolished bad ones. Aaron Schatz, the founder of Football Outsiders, spoke with Robert Mays on the latest Ringer NFL Show about the Falcons’ numbers that jump off the page.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Atlanta Dominates Good and Bad Defenses
Robert Mays: I want to start with the Falcons offense, just because when you look at so much of what they’ve done from a standard numbers perspective — points per game, yards per play — everything that we usually use to measure an offense, they’ve been great. When you look at it [with] a little bit more [complexity], the way you guys do, are they as good as we think they are?
Aaron Schatz: Yes. The offense is even better than we think it is, to be honest. Atlanta played the second-hardest schedule of opposing defenses this year.
Mays: It was first for a while. Did they get knocked off at the end with New Orleans?
Schatz: Yeah, it was first for a long time, then they played New Orleans in the finale, [and] New Orleans was a terrible defense. Carolina and Tampa were both top-12 defenses. The AFC West: mostly good defenses, other than Oakland. The NFC West, and this is something by the way, that the Patriots and Falcons have in common, they both played the NFC West this year. Well, the NFC West this year was four teams that were really good on defense and really bad on offense, except for the Seahawks for some of the season. So, everybody who played the NFC West this year ended up with offenses that didn’t look as good as they really were and defenses that looked better than they really were.
Mays: It’s not even just that. It’s that they played a really good slate of defenses and, when they didn’t play a good defense, they absolutely destroyed them, and I think that’s the mark of a good team. You guys have talked about this for years. You need to beat up the teams that are worse than you, and that’s what they did. It wasn’t just that they had a couple blips of 40-point games. It’s that whenever they played a defense that was slightly below average, they absolutely destroyed them.
Now the Defense Is Improving
Schatz: Although for most of the season, that only went one way. 45 [points] against the Saints, but they let the Saints score 32. 48 [points] against the Panthers, but they let the Panthers score 33. Now, at the end of the season, the defense improved a bit. You have the Rams, 42–14. The 49ers, 41–13. The defense has played well [in the playoffs] because those are much better offensive teams, Green Bay and Seattle, and they allowed just 20 and 21. The thing is, the Patriots defense has been gradually improving throughout the year. Whereas the Falcons defense was pretty much bad all year until you get to like, mid-December, and then it gets better. Even there, by our numbers, in the last five games, the Atlanta defense has not been as good as the Patriots defense. But the Atlanta offense is so good that it helps even things out a little bit.
Mays: And when you break it down even further with the Falcons, it’s interesting. You sent me these numbers last week, when I was writing about the Falcons defense. They were 11th in pass defense DVOA over the second half of the season and 32nd in run defense, which makes sense. You lose a guy like Adrian Clayborn, but the guys in your defense that are young are the guys in the back end, the faster guys. It makes sense that their run defense would get worse, with the personnel they’ve lost, and their pass defense would get better.
Schatz: I think some of it is also playing more nickel. That makes it easier to run on you. It’s really interesting. Desmond Trufant, the eye test, the film-watching scout test, Desmond Trufant is their best corner. But that pass defense improved when Desmond Trufant went out. By our charting over the last couple years, Trufant doesn’t come out better than Robert Alford; they come out about the same. The thing about the run defense, I will say, though — for the Falcons — is that in the two playoff games, it’s been really good. It helps that they basically took the running game away from Green Bay last week, and Green Bay had offensive line injuries. They also really slowed down Thomas Rawls the week before. The one thing the Falcons have been really susceptible to is quarterback scrambles, but that is not really a worry unless the first two New England quarterbacks are injured.