The star power on offense for the Falcons is hard to ignore, so much so that the defense sometimes gets lost in the huge shadow those offensive stars cast. The difference between the two sides of the ball are striking when it comes to notoriety.
On offense, it starts with Matt Ryan, the first quarterback selected in the 2008 NFL Draft, tasked with putting the Falcons back on the winning track. Not long after, Michael Turner came in and started crushing Falcons records. A trade was made to bring future Hall-of-Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez — arguably the best to ever play the position — into the fold in Atlanta. Last year, wide receiver Julio Jones was gained by trading a slew of picks in the 2011 NFL Draft. And Roddy White, the Falcons mainstay, ties everything together with his electric style of play.
On the defensive side of the ball, there's huge talent. No doubt about that. But the group has been younger, just starting to prove its mettle with a hard-nosed, get-to-work attitude.
And the group has certainly done its fair share of work.
Since Mike Smith took over the Falcons in 2008, the Falcons are one of the top teams in the NFC in terms of points allowed average and point differential. Over the span, San Francisco and Green Bay are the only two NFC teams that come in above the Falcons. The 49ers top the category, allowing 19.3 points per game. The Packers allowed 19.9. Not far behind are the Falcons, with 20.1 points allowed per game.
And that's not all that Smith's defenses have accomplished since he took over. The Falcons have won 34 games when they've scored first, 36 games when they've led at halftime and 33 when leading in the fourth quarter. The defense has held opponents to less than 300 total yards of offense 20 times and has won the turnover battle 30 in 30 games.
On top of all that, the Falcons' overshadowed bunch has been nothing short of clutch when it matters most. In two-minute situations, the Falcons have faced 53 possessions since 2009 and have allowed only 17 points off them, ranked second behind St. Louis in that category for the entire league.
Last season, the Falcons allowed just three points with two minutes remaining, which came during a Week 13 win over Minnesota. Those allowed points were the first the Falcons had let in since Week 13 of 2010 in two-minute situations.
The growth of the defense, while arguably overshadowed by the star power on offense, is certainly evident through what the unit has been able to accomplish since Smith took over.
Enter Mike Nolan, the Falcons' new defensive coordinator who has a reputation for getting the most out of the defenses he coaches and 2012 could be a year of defensive star power for the Falcons.