The Atlanta Falcons' defense may not have the numbers to back up being one of the more exciting units to watch in the league, but with the amount of young talent on the field and the speed at which they play, this is a really intriguing team to watch moving forward.
With head coach Dan Quinn coming from Seattle, the Cover 3 scheme is the staple of what the Falcons do on the back end much like the Seahawks.
Shot 1 - The base of Atlanta's defensive scheme is 'Cover 3' in the secondary. Two big INTs from Trufant / Allen in these two plays #Falcons pic.twitter.com/h8ATAIm52X — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 11, 2016
With Cover 3, you have three deep defenders splitting the field into thirds along with four defenders underneath. It's a basic zone coverage concept that has many different variations, but this is it at its core. You can see one of the positives of the scheme on the first play above with this interception by Desmond Trufant. On this shot, Trufant drops to defend the widest and deepest receiver, all while keeping his eyes on the quarterback. For that reason he's able to jump the route and reel the ball in for the pick. On the second play, this time against Denver, Ricardo Allen, who is the single-high safety, plays with great range and makes the interception along the sideline. Trufant, Atlanta's version of Richard Sherman, and Allen, its version of Earl Thomas, are key parts of their secondary, and have been very productive for them in the first half of the season. However, Trufant is out for Sunday's game with a shoulder injury.
When you get away from the secondary and look at the defensive line, you see two key players up front in their second year for the Falcons. One was a Top 10 pick a year ago, and the other a third-day draft selection, but both came from Clemson and both have been very disruptive in their respective roles. The two players? Vic Beasley Jr. and Grady Jarrett.
Shot 2 - Vic Beasley isn't a starter, but they're starting to move him around in their subs. Wins with speed off the edge #Falcons #Eagles pic.twitter.com/ty3jZyq4da — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 11, 2016
Beasley's game is based purely on speed. He flashes the ability to go speed to power and bench-press linemen into the backfield, but his strongest trait is the ability to win with his feet off the edge. He'll flash some "high-side" pass rush moves like a hand swipe or a swim or a chop, but it ultimately comes down to his ability to line up out wide, fly off the ball and turn the corner with freakish flexibility, balance and acceleration on his way to the quarterback. Beasley enters this week ranked fifth in the NFL with 7.5 sacks, although 5.5 of them came in two games. He is a player who typically lines up over the right tackle. This means that Halapoulivaati Vaitai will have to bring his A-game when he takes the field on Sunday. Beasley isn't a starter, and is actually listed as the backup strongside linebacker in the Falcons' 4-3 scheme, but he is their most explosive pass rusher without question.
Shot 3 - Had a lot of fun studying #Falcons DT Grady Jackson, who has developed into a really nice player inside. Quick, tough, relentless. pic.twitter.com/SY5lvzhMow — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 11, 2016
Inside, Jarrett is a bit of the opposite. I viewed him during the draft process as a penetrating 3-technique, but Jarrett has developed into a nose tackle inside for the Falcons and defensive coordinator Richard Smith. He is a bit of a force against both the run and the pass, as he wins with quickness, leverage and sneaky power. The Falcons rotate players up front much like the Eagles do, but Jarrett is the player the Eagles must be sure to block on Sunday afternoon.
At linebacker, the Falcons feature a rookie duo inside in mid-round picks Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell.
Shot 4 - Rookie 2nd Rd Pick Deion Jones is a starter, and his athleticism allows him to consistently play sideline to sideline for #Falcons pic.twitter.com/b8zKHKsOu2 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 11, 2016
Jones, a second-round pick out of LSU, is a bit undersized at 6-1, 222 pounds, but he makes up for it with his range and ability to play sideline to sideline. He's not a thumper. He's not a forceful tackler downhill, but you can see his natural athleticism and ability to eat up ground quickly. Jones took over the starting job as the middle linebacker and plays in the Falcons' nickel defense as well, where he's hauled in a number of interceptions already in his young career.
A fourth-round selection out of Minnesota, Campbell stood out at the East-West Shrine Game this past January. The former Gopher is built much differently than Jones at 6-4, 232 pounds, but he is nearly as athletic and brings more pop as a tackler. Campbell was a versatile chess piece in college. He now lines up primarily as a stacked linebacker in Quinn's scheme. Like Jones, Campbell stays on the field in nickel subpackages where his athleticism allows him to run down the seam with tight ends and play horizontally against the run and pass game.
At safety, I mentioned Allen and the impact he has as the high safety in Atlanta's Cover 3 scheme, but first-round pick, strong safety Keanu Neal, will be in the Eagles' scouting report this week. Neal plays down in the box, much in the role of Seattle's Kam Chancellor, and his instincts and physicality are apparent every time I watch the Falcons' defense. Neal flies downhill in the run game, is decisive attacking the quick passing game and he's as hard a hitter in the secondary as the Eagles have faced so far in 2016. Neal is going to be a strong player on this team for a long time. There are plenty of talented players on this Atlanta defense, and they will certainly present a challenge for the Eagles on Sunday afternoon.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.