I’m a Georgia boy at heart. My teams have always been here in Georgia. I love the Falcons, the Dawgs, the Hawks, and the Braves despite the frequent disappointment I’ve found in their seasons. I’m from Albany after all, so what do you expect? For example, take last football season. Georgia had a horrible season. The only thing that made it tolerable for me was the Atlanta Falcons enjoying a 13-3 record.
Unfortunately, the Falcons aren’t quite doing it this year. Sure, they enjoy a 6-4 record at the moment and are just a game back of New Orleans in the NFC South, but they’ve done it ugly. Despite the addition of former Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones, they’re just not producing like they should.
I won’t pretend like I know exactly what the problem is, but I will tell you that I suspect the problem is somewhere on the sidelines. Mike Smith will, at the rate he’s going, be revered in Atlanta like Lombardi is in Green Bay or Landry is in Dallas, and with good cause. He isn’t the problem. The offense isn’t really the issue either, though you could have fooled me early in the season. They’re back to the method that won them 13 games last year, which is simply put the ball in Michael Turner’s hands and let the defensive players contemplate early retirement with just enough passing to keep defenses honest.
The problem shouldn’t even be the run defense. A third place run defense, that only allowed the usually electric Chris Johnson a mere 13 yards, is hardly anything for a member of the Falcons faithful to be worried about. The Tennessee Titans are a good running team that managed only 41 total yard. All but Johnson’s 13 were quarterbacks who ran for their lives.
The problem though rests in the Atlanta secondary. Despite the acquisition of big time free agent Dunta Robinson two years ago, we’ve seen remarkably little improvement in the secondary. Robinson managed a pick in Sunday’s game against Tennesse, and undersized cornerback Brent Grimes has been a total stud against players who can poke out their stomachs and break Grimes’ nose. Despite this, the Atlanta pass defense is ranked 26th in the league, allowing 261 yard per game.
Sunday, rookie Jake Lockers stepped in for the ailing Matt Hasselbeck and looked more like Joe Montana, throwing a touchdown pass shortly after entering the game to receiver Nate Washington. While time will tell whether Locker is really that good – and as an eighth overall pick, he should be – there’s really no excuse for a veteran defense allowing that to happen.
With Atlanta, I don’t think it’s so much the personnel on the field. The lack of big time playmakers isn’t that much of a detriment in the grand scheme of things. Instead, I can’t help but think the problem rests with secondary coach Tim Lewis.
While Lewis gets a lot of credit for Grimes ascendency to NFL superstardom – or at least the pro bowl last year – he hasn’t managed to make Robinson into a shutdown corner. As Robinson was the most sought after corner in free agency two years ago, that shouldn’t have been a massive challenge. Instead, Robinson was practically anonymous last year and almost invisible this year prior to his pick on Sunday.
In addition, there’s been a profound lack of awesome coming out of the safeties. Great defenses need great safeties. One of the most impressive moments I’ve ever seen in professional football was when a ball carrier, tied up and unable to advance, fell down when he saw the venerable Ronnie Lott charging in for the hit. The commentators said they couldn’t blame him, and neither could I.
However, Atlanta has yet to cultivate a safety like that. In fact, I can’t remember one like that since Scott Case retired. Where is the nasty, pound you into the ground safety?
Without a shutdown corner, a punishing safety, or anything else to hold onto as an accolade besides Brent Grimes, which I suspect had more to do with Grimes than Lewis, it’s clear that Lewis and his contributions need to step up. If not, then I think Defensive Coordinator Brian VanGorder and head coach Mike Smith might want to reevaluate whether to keep Lewis for another season. By all means, let him finish this one. He’s only in his second year after all. However, there’s only a finite amount of time you should let the Lewis experiment continue. A 6-4 record at this point is proof enough of that.
Joe Sanchez (not his real name) is a lifelong Albany resident who knows how insane his friends and neighbors get about sports.