FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees looked at over 900 plays during the bye week, evaluating how his defense has played throughout the first 14 weeks of the season.
"It takes a lot," he said. "A bye week is not really a bye week."
Specifically, an area that he evaluated was first, second and third down calls made.
"If there's a lot of third-and-ones, that means first and second down calls weren't as good because you want to get them in third and long," Pees said. "If you're in third-and-one a lot, that percentage is not going to be good."
Pees noted that it's not so much about what a defense has ran on third-and-one but, more so, what calls were made before that to allow the offense to be in that position.
"You break it down into third and short, third and medium, third and long and how you do compared to the rest of the league and look at your calls," he said. "If it's a section where it's not very good, well why? Is it a certain call, was it a certain coverage? You can look at people. Does the same guys show up all the time? You look at all those kinds of things. It's a lot of things. Third down is not just in itself not just the problem. The problem is if they get to third-and-one, most teams are going to convert third-and-one."
Atlanta ranks 30th in third-down conversion percentage at 47 percent. For the Falcons, who are competing for a playoff spot, limiting the amount of third down conversions will be vital heading into this final stretch. Atlanta's defense also ranks 27th in passing yards per game and 25th in rushing yards allowed this season.
And while looking at film and doing evaluations, Pees also looked at personnel changes that could potentially be made, though he didn't pinpoint any specific areas on defense.
"You evaluate all those things," he said. "Some guys can play man [coverage] better than they play zone and some guys play zone better than they do man. Some guys can play the run better than pass. You take all those things into consideration. It's a big process to do that."
The Falcons defense has seen lots of changes this year with several young players thrust into extended roles and, with four regular season games remaining, there could be some changes made. Let's take a look a position groups that could possibly see changes:
The cornerbacks room has a ton of talent in A.J. Terrell, Dee Alford, Darren Hall, Rashad Fenton, Isaiah Oliver and Cornell Armstrong. Could we see a player like Alford having an expanded role at the cornerback spot? That's something we won't know until Sunday against the Saints and moving forward, but he's is ready either way.
"Whether it's one rep, five reps, 10 reps, I'm just going to try to do my job when I'm on the field," Alford said. "That's the mindset that I got, you know, even if it's limited reps or a lot of reps. I'm still going to try to be me."
Though veterans Rashaan Evans and Mykal Walker have locked as the starting inside linebackers when healthy, Troy Andersen has been a key contributor to this position group and could see more significant reps moving forward. Andersen currently has a total of 274 snap counts this season, with the fifth most tackles on defense so far this season. He's fast and agile and could be asset in coverage and defending the run if he makes the right reads, takes the right angles and tackles well.
Pees said on Dec. 1 that rookies Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone have progressed in the fact that "they're playing faster because they're understanding more."
Ebiketie has been a force on the edge, sitting in the top 10 for rookie sack leaders. He currently has 432 snap counts and could potentially see more reps in these last four games. Malone is another player that possibly have an extended role late into the season behind either second-year edge rusher Ade Ogundeji or veteran Lorenzo Carter.
"The longer you're around, the more you understand, the faster you're going to play," Pees said. "When you're sitting there thinking all of the time because you're not really sure, you usually don't play too fast. I think they're progressing very well for rookies."
The guys put in the work in Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the New Orleans Saints.