FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons gave up 80 yards over a 16-play drive that took 8 minutes, 8 seconds off the clock.
Dean Pees was thrilled at the end of it.
Why? It didn't result in a single point. The 49ers turned the ball over on downs and remained two scores back in the fourth quarter of a game the Falcons would comfortably win 28-14.
Scan the box score and you'll see the 49ers gained 346 yards, at 6.1 yards per play.
To paraphrase the Falcons defensive coordinator, so what?
The Falcons pitched a second-half shutout.
"They got 131 yards on the last two drives with no points and chewing the clock off," Pees said in a Thursday press conference. "So, you know, God bless you."
This provides an opportunity to reiterate something Pees preaches all the time.
Yards don't matter. Points do.
"As long as we've got one more than they've got," Pees said, "we win."
This isn't a long rant against analytics old and new, or stats in general. It's simply a way to showcase a fundamental fact about this Falcons defense.
Do whatever you have to do to keep them off the scoreboard.
Pees has been very good at doing that for a long, long time. He has had a top 10 scoring defense in eight of his 14 seasons as a defensive coordinator, and has only been outside the top 12 three times in that span. Can't say the same thing about yards, which is how defenses are often ranked.
The Falcons are No. 26 in total defense after six weeks. Pees doesn't care if they stay there, as long as the Falcons are winning.
That's not to say that all metrics don't matter. Many of them do, and are indicators that you're doing well keeping teams off the board.
"I could really care less about where we end up in total yardage at the end of the year," Pees said. "Could care less. What I want to be is good in the red zone, good on third down, good in takeaways, good in scoring. Those are the important factors.
"If you're good in the red zone, you're probably good on the scoring. If you're good in scoring, you're probably going to win a lot of games. Third down is key, too, because you get off the field. Those things are way more important that total yardage."
In Week 6, the 49ers were 2-for-3 in the red zone and 3-for-8 on third down. That helps the bottom line.
Are the Falcons top tier in those areas overall this season? They are not. That's also not surprising considering they're a young defense with more new pieces that not. They are striving for improvement, unwilling to accept mediocrity and pushing to consistently win games.
One important area where they are ranked high: takeaways. The Falcons have 10 in six games, in a tie for fifth best in the league.
Reaching that number, creating takeaways, often requires efforts that don't get a stat. Jaylinn Hawkins and Isaiah Oliver get credit for interceptions against the 49ers. But Arnold Ebiketie's pressure caused one pick. Dee Alford's tip helped another.
"It's the little things," inside linebacker Rashaan Evans said. "Things that don't get noticed in the stats play a big role. It could be a pressure. It could be someone being in the way and that makes the quarterback overthrow it and get picked. When you see that on film and how it does good things for your team, you're going to try and do that every time. When you do it consistently, it can result in a big stat like a sack or pick or forced fumble."
This defense is focused on finding ways to win the game. That's it.
They've done that well at times. They've not done well at others.
"The difference sometimes is playing smart, going 100 miles an hour and giving effort," Pees said. "Sometimes the ball bounces funny, but that's usually the difference. One of the things I like about our team is that we play hard and try to do the right thing. That's all I can ask of them. Sometimes the other guy's better, sometimes he's not."
The goal is to scratch and claw and play good situational football in an effort to allow one less than you score.
"There are so many ways you can impact a game that don't show up in the box score," Evans said. "What doesn't show up on the stat line can make a difference in the game."
Take a look as the team puts in the work in Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.