The Falcons Strategy: Picking Against The Worst Defense In The NFL
Sometimes, a professional sports team has such a bad defense that week in and week out, no matter what team they are facing, nearly everyone on the opposing team becomes a good fantasy play. In basketball, that was the 76ers last season. In baseball, that’s perennially the Colorado Rockies (although they can blame their stadiums altitude for that). And as we’re starting to learn this season, in football, that team is the Atlanta Falcons. Which is why guys like Eli Manning, Rashad Jennings, Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, and Larry Donnell are all great plays this week.
The Giants point projection this week is a remarkable 27 points, which is a top 5 point projection this week. That puts the Giants in the company of 4 elite offenses, the Packers, Broncos, Eagles, and Saints, arguably the 4 best offenses in the NFL. The Giants did score 45 points last week on the Washington Redskins, but no one would confuse the Giants, who were bottom 5 in the NFL in scoring last year, with a powerhouse offense. The bottom line is the Falcons are so bad defensively that practically any team that faces them each week is going to have a high point projection, the Giants aren’t anything special. Just like the Vikings, who managed 558 yards of total offense, weren’t anything special either.
In the pass heavy NFL, the Falcons awful pass rush is the biggest reason why they can’t stop anyone. Last year, they were 2nd to dead last in sacks, repeating the feat so far this year with only 3 sacks in 4 games, only better than that Rams, who have played one less game. ProFootballFocus ranked the Falcons as the worst pass rush in the league last year, this year they are tied for 3rd worst.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan never had a winning record as a head coach in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers. As a further display of his ineptitude, Nolan’s 49ers went from an average to below average defense from 2005-2008, to almost immediately one of the best defenses in the NFL from 2009 onward with Mike Singletary and John Harbaugh at the helm. Nolan did have mixed success with the Dolphins and Broncos, but when he arrived at the Falcons they have went from an average defense to a bottom feeder.
The Falcons defensive scheme has been confusing to say the least this year. It was clear in the offseason that changes were being made schematically in the defense. But Nolan refused to acknowledge any sort of defensive system being used, just that they were going to be an “11 man defense.” It turns out the fans and media weren’t the only people who were confused, the defensive personnel also seem to have a hard time adjusting to whatever Nolan is trying to do as shown by their remarkably bad performances each week.
But you can’t completely blame Nolan, the Falcons have one of the least talented defenses in the NFL as well. First round pick in 2013 Desmond Trufant is by far the best player on the team, and one of the best cornerbacks in the league the past two years. But offenses have mostly avoided Trufant, as none of the leading fantasy receivers on Falcons opponents have been number one WRs. Brandin Cooks gashed them for 77 yards and a TD. The Bengals barely threw the ball Week 2, with Gio Bernard leading in receiving, followed by another RB Bobby Rainey leading the team in receiving Week 3. In Week 4. no name Jairus Wright managed 8 catches for 132 yards.
This is because aside from Trufant, the rest of the defense would likely ride the bench for the majority of NFL teams. Of the 10 other defensive team leaders in total snaps played, only one is a first round pick. That man is defensive end Tyson Jackson, who as the number 3 overall pick in 2009 proceeded to have the worst ProFootballFocus graded season of all time for a 3-4 defensive end since PFF started collecting data in 2007. Most of the starters on defense are either very old previously good players (Osi Umenyiora and Jonathan Babineaux, both 32 years old), or mid round or undrafted young players who have never been good in the NFL. In fact, former NFL coach Brian Billick said that he “can’t think of another team in the league that has less quantifiable talent on it defensively.” It’s getting less “quantifiable” too. The Falcons lost arguably their second best defensive player, safety William Moore, to injured reserve. He’s being replaced by 2nd year safety Kemal Ishmael, a 7th round pick who only played 3 snaps all of his rookie season.
I don’t think this is the lowest it gets for the Falcons defense. The only good offense it has faced this year was the Saints, who scored 34 points in the opening week despite being notoriously bad on the road. They still have to face the Saints in the Superdome, as well as the Packers, Lions, and Bears. Each of these teams should easily be even money to score over 30 points, which means there will be more fantasy gold to come. For now, target a lot of Giants players this week, and enjoy.
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