With Julio Jones, Steven Jackson, Roddy White and what seemed like every other one of Atlanta’s playmakers watching the Falcons in street clothes, fans were waiting for someone to step up in Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That someone turned out to be Atlanta’s defensive unit.
Though the D forced only one turnover and surrendered 24 points to the Buccaneers in the win, the group was impressive. They consistently pressured rookie starting quarterback Mike Glennon and blanketed receivers all over the field, forcing him to hold the ball or throw it to the sideline with regularity. The defense set the tone early with a sack fumble caused by strong safety William Moore and picked up and run in for a touchdown by safety Thomas Decoud.
According to the fourth-year secondary star from Missouri, the play was “right on time.”
“That was a good play [call] by [defensive coordinator Mike] Nolan,” said Moore. “That type of stuff should’ve been happening all season; we just gotta execute the plays that he calls.”
Nolan was on the field making the calls for the game and Moore said it made quite an impact.
“No doubt about it,” he said, “it was definitely good. He let us know during the week that he was gonna be out there. It was great. He came out there and celebrated with us. That was an extra thing, a motivation. We’d love to have him out there every week.”
Head coach Mike Smith said he was unsure whether Nolan would return to the sideline rather than the press box where he has called plays for most of this season, but did say the team would not be opposed to it.
“We thought that it would be in our best interest to bring [Nolan] down,” said Smith. “Mike has called games from the press box and from the sideline and we thought it was in our best interest, we weren’t playing as efficiently and as good as we’d like to, so we thought it would be in our best interest to bring Mike down. It was a decision that was made last week.”
While the defense is ranked only 20th in the NFL this season, Sunday’s performance could be the start of a defensive renaissance for the Birds. They got things cooking on their first drive when Moore hit Glennon in the backfield and forced the fumble that put the first points of the afternoon on the board for Atlanta.
“We’ve got some winners on this team,” said Moore. “Nobody want to lose and we had that mindset coming into the game. The bye week definitely helped and all the guys flying around, but now we’ve got to take it on the road.”
The Falcons travel to Arizona Sunday to take on the 3-4 cardinals. For the team to be successful in the coming weeks, Decoud says it will be less about replicating the big play from the first quarter and more about continuning the stifling coverage that kept the Bucs from making big plays in the second half.
“Though they got some yards in the second half, we finally finished a game out and kept them from scoring touchdowns in crucial situations,” he said, “so I think we definitely took a step forward in that sense.”
The statistics may not look particularly impressive but the Falcons secondary held its own and their head coach took note. He would like to see a few more turnovers, though.
“They played very tight coverage and they forced the quarterback to hold the ball and in turn allowed us to put pressure on the quarterback,” said Smith. “We only had one [turnover]. It’s a start, that’s how we’ll sell it. I thought there were some other opportunities to take the ball away. But it is a step in the right direction in terms of what we want our defense to do.”