In spite of Thursday night's final score in New Orleans, the Falcons continued a positive (and extremely important) trend on defense.
By surrendering just 81 total rushing yards to the Saints, Atlanta prevented its opponent from gaining double-digits on the ground for the fifth time in six matchups this year. Heading into Sunday the Falcons rank first in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game with 78.8—quite a change from last year, when they finished 21st in that category (118.4).
The Falcons are heavily emphasizing this area, and right now, it's paying major dividends.
"When you play an eight-man front style that you do a bunch, we expect to have good results in the run game," said Dan Quinn. "That's a byproduct of how we want to play our system. For us, the next part of it is the turnovers and the tackling. We just want to be the best fundamental team that we can.
"That part of the game, we're pleased with where we're at."
2014 free agent additions Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai have been particularly solid against the run in Atlanta's base package. Although last year was challenging for both, Dan Quinn and Bryan Cox have found a way to utilize their skill sets in a way that creates a lot of disruption between the tackles.
"On any team that Tyson and Paul have played on, they've always had that reputation of being really stout, tough run defenders," Quinn said. "So it's no surprise for us. It's something we were totally counting on from them, as well."
Jonathan Babineaux, Ra'Shede Hageman, Grady Jarrett and Adrian Clayborn have been able to stop interior runs, too, and thanks to his wealth of options, Quinn has been able to keep fresh, effective DTs on the field at all times.
The Falcons have done a good job thwarting outside runs, as well. According to NFL Game Stats and Information, they currently rank first and seventh in rush D on plays to the left end and right end, respectively—thanks in large part to O'Brien Schofield and Kroy Biermann.
Schofield on Thursday improved his run stop percentage to 16, tops among 4-3 defensive ends on Pro Football Focus; Biermann is second in this stat (11.8 percent) among 4-3 outside linebackers. Not far behind Biermann are Joplo Bartu (11.5 percent), Nathan Stupar (9.1 percent) and Justin Durant (8.5 percent), each of whom is in the top 16 at the position. No other team has more than two players in that group.
Certainly this has been a collective effort. By getting the most out of returning Falcons and properly deploying their newcomers, Quinn and his staff have quickly built one of football's best run defenses. And it's a big reason why Atlanta is off to such a promising start.