As of Week 16, the Atlanta Falcons allow 243.7 yards per game through the air, which ranks 23rd in the league. It’s not exactly an ideal ranking for a playoff team with Super Bowl aspirations, but numbers often fail to show the entire story. Sometimes, you have to dig a little deeper to get a more accurate picture.
Before facing the Detroit Lions last week, the Falcons were ranked 17th in the league, allowing 229.5 yards per game. However, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for 443 yards in a losing effort. Looking at the amount of passing yards Stafford passed for is startling at first glance, but let’s take a look at his statline for the game: 37/56 for 443 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. That’s right; Stafford failed to record a passing touchdown despite his amount of yards and attempts. Even with Calvin Johnson being force-fed balls to break Jerry Rice’s receiving record, the two failed to connect on an end zone score.
In fact, Atlanta didn’t allow any passing touchdowns in three straight games: Week 11 versus the Arizona Cardinals; Week 12 versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Week 13 versus the New Orleans Saints. Arizona’s quarterback situation is bleak, so holding Ryan Lindley and John Skelton without a touchdown pass isn’t impressive. However, blanking a Josh Freeman who was on fire during that time and ending Drew Brees’ NFL record of 54 consecutive games with a touchdown pass are indeed impressive feats.
Opposing quarterbacks have averaged a passer rating of 77.5 – that number puts the Falcons at fifth-best in the league. Quarterbacks have combined to pass for 3,656 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 19 interceptions on 318 of 516 passing. Needless to say, that’s pretty good. The 19 interceptions rank fourth, and the 13 touchdowns are the least allowed by any team in the league.
A lot of the pass defense’s success has to be attributed to defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. To no one’s surprise, Nolan turned out to be a great hire. The scary thing about the pass defense is they’re doing it without Brent Grimes. You have to wonder how those numbers would look if the team’s best cornerback was healthy.