To say William Moore and Thomas DeCoud feel at home inside Atlanta's defense may be the understatement of the early season. But looking at what they've accomplished so far through three weeks, they certainly appear to be playing as easy as they might be with a joystick in their hands, reclined in the basement.
The safety tandem has combined for five interceptions this year and their play has been a big part of helping create an intimidating Atlanta defense that is holding opponents to 16 points per game, the fourth-best mark in the league.
DeCoud's three interceptions lead the team and he says working on defending the ball in the air was part of his offseason focus. That preparation, combined with the freedom found within defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's system, has allowed the fifth-year safety to be a sparkplug for the D.
"It's a combination of being in the right place in the right time and it's something I tried to get better at in the offseason, finding the ball while it's in the air and making a play on it while it's in the air," DeCoud said. "It's a combination of those two things."
Part of the aggressive approach on defense from Nolan is to create confusion in the opposing offense. DeCoud and the defense attempt to "change the math" by being opportunistic and applying an offensive mentality to the way defense is played. Instead of reacting, Atlanta wants to enforce.
"We have a saying: 'Change the math,' " DeCoud said. "Whether that means our disguise gets them confused or we line up correctly with the right alignment or adjustment to a certain set or look. Even if we don't do that pre-snap, after the snap, we can change the math by playing fast, running to the ball and having good paths to the ball and getting guys on the ground. It's just being offensive and making sure we're making plays on our terms whether that's tricking in pre-snap or playing hard after the snap."
Takeaways, especially interceptions, don't come by accident. Sure, some may on occasion, but it's a mix of scheme and talent that makes a turnover, a demoralizing play to an offense, happen. Atlanta's seven team interceptions lead the league. As a team, their plus-10 takeaway/giveaway statistic leads the league by a wide margin. Washington's plus-6 is the second-best number in the NFL.
While every defense enters a game with the goal of taking the ball from the opponent, Atlanta ensures they have laser focus on that goal by discussing it constantly.
"Always part of the game plan every week is getting the ball back and creating explosive plays," DeCoud said. "That's one of our goals, to get two or three turnovers every game. That's one of our benchmarks so now I think the scheme is allowing us to really capitalize on those opportunities."