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Analysis: Why Falcons red-zone defense in Week 12 win should be the standard moving forward

The Falcons defense limited the Saints offense to 0-for-5 in the red zone last Sunday to win their Week 12 matchup.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Week 12 saw the Atlanta Falcons' best red-zone defensive performance so far this season.

Sure, it was the third time the Falcons shut out an opponent in the red zone. But last Sunday was the first time the Falcons actually benefited from an opponent reaching the red zone. Yes, benefited. Hold on to that claim.

New Orleans made it within the Atlanta 20-yard line five times. Three of those visits turned into Saints field goals. The other two were turnovers. Both came courtesy of Falcons safety Jessie Bates III and both ultimately led to points for the Falcons.

Bates had an interception he returned 92 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Then, in the third quarter, he forced a fumble that defensive lineman Albert Huggins recovered and the offense used the resulting possession to score another touchdown.

"Any time offenses get in that red zone, you can bend ... but you have to stand up," Bates said. "I think that's what we did. … That's what really good defenses do."

For those keeping count, the Saints totaled nine points off their field goals from failed red-zone attempts. The Falcons had 14 off red-zone takeaways. That means the Falcons finished with a five-point advantage out of the Saints' red-zone trips. There's the unorthodox benefit that should be a goal each and every week.

It's no shock the Falcons won then, by nine points.

The same can't really be said about the other two games in which the Falcons consistently stopped their opponents within the red zone. They're split, with the Week 4 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Week 7 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Jaguars went 0-for-1. They lost the ball on downs, missing out on seven points had they scored a touchdown, but still won by 16 points.

The Buccaneers were 0-for-2. They had two field goals, missing out on an additional eight points had they scored touchdowns. They lost by three points.

Table inside Article
Outcome Opp Red Zone What Happened
Week 1 ATL 24, CAR 10 1/2 DWNS, TD
Week 2 ATL 25, GRB 24 2/3 TD, FG, TD
Week 3 DET 20, ATL 6 1/4 FG, FG, TD, END
Week 4 JAX 23, ATL 6 0/1 DWNS
Week 5 ATL 21, HOU 19 1/3 FG, FG, TD
Week 6 WAS 24, ATL 16 2/3 FG, TD, TD
Week 7 ATL 16, TAM 13 0/2 FG, FG
Week 8 TEN 28, ATL 23 1/1 TD
Week 9 MIN 31, ATL 28 3/6 FG, TD, FG, TD, FG, TD
Week 10 ARI 25, ATL 23 2/4 FG, TD, TD, FG
Week 12 ATL 24, NOR 15 0/5 FG, INT, FG, FUM, FG

Red-zone defense, obviously, matters. However, it's not all that matters. The loss to the Jaguars proves that. As does the fact eight touchdowns have been scored against the Falcons beyond the 20-yard line.

"The motto always is, 'If they don't score, they don't win,'" Falcons outside linebacker Arnold Ebiketie said. "So, I think we try to lean on that and hold them from scoring."

In theory, it ought to be easier for an opponent to score when closer to the end zone. There's a shorter distance to travel and whatnot. But the Falcons have the third-best red-zone defense in the NFL, having given up 13 touchdowns in 34 red-zone defenses, which breaks down to a 38.2% conversion rate.

Solely for comparison: No. 1 are the Baltimore Ravens at 37.5%. Second are the Buccaneers at 37.8%.

The Falcons travel to play the New York Jets this Sunday (1 p.m. ET, FOX) for their Week 13 matchup. The Jets are the worst — literally 32nd — in the league when it comes to their offensive red-zone efficiency. Their offense has converted on seven of the 25 attempts, for a 28% success rate.

Looking at those numbers alone, the Falcons defense should have no problem limiting the Jets offense. Atlanta just needs to execute.

"We don't feel like anyone can beat us consistently," Falcons linebacker Kaden Elliss said, "when we do our job."


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