FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons don't go overboard with defensive line stunts, but they're among the most effective at employing the tactic when they choose to.
According to Pro Football Focus, which tracked stunts for every passing play in the NFL last year, the Falcons pressured opposing quarterbacks on 46.3 percent of their stunts last season, which was the third-highest rate in the league behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (50.9 percent) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (49.4 percent).
For those wondering what exactly a stunt is, it's a technique in which a defensive lineman loops around another in an effort to confuse the offensive line and create a lapse in protection. On the play shown below, Grady Jarrett pushes up-field and creates space for Courtney Upshaw to execute a stunt and sack Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
With a defensive tackle like Jarrett, it's no surprise the Falcons are effective at running stunts. As Pro Football Focus explains, stunts require good penetration, and Jarrett is one of the very best at doing just that.
"The key to a good stunt is the first defensive lineman to fire off, a.k.a., the penetrator," Pro Football Focus' Mike Renner writes. "His goal is implied in the name: penetrate. The farther he can get upfield, the more he can draw the attention of multiple linemen. Whether it's a tackle-end stunt (tackle is penetrator and end is looper) or end-tackle stunt, the penetrator wants to attack his gap so ferociously that either the initial offensive lineman is late to pass off or the receiving offensive lineman is in a bad position to pick him up."