I know what you’re thinking.
Where in the world has this Falcons defense been all season?
It didn’t take long after the Falcons flattened the heavily favored Saints down in New Orleans a week ago for some to start asking that question. And if you weren’t thinking it then, you probably are now after the Falcons whipped the Panthers 29-3 in Charlotte.
But this – this defense in particular – is what I expected to see all along when Dan Quinn took over as defensive coordinator. That's what I am thinking now.
And if it continues, it could very well change the way we all view this team, this season and this coach.
But let's back up a bit. Some thought the performance in New Orleans was a fluke. Others simply chalked it up to “just another rivalry game.”
Sure, why not. According to ESPN Stats & Information, it was the first time since 2003 that a team with a record of 7-1 or better lost to a team with a record of 1-7 or worse. The Falcons not only snapped a six-game losing streak, but the 26-9 win snapped the Saints' streak of 110 home games in which they reached double-digits scoring. It was also the first time since 2005 that a team held the Saints under 10 points in the Superdome, which dates back to before Drew Brees and Sean Payton arrived in New Orleans.
That’s a crazy, eye-opening performance by a team that had won just its second game in nine tries. And we were all waiting to see if that performance was indeed a fluke or if there was something more to it.
And, as crazy as this may have sounded a couple of weeks ago, these Falcons are proving to be much more than one-game wonders. And while they’re playing what many like to refer to as “complementary football” (strong in all three phases of the game), it’s the much-maligned Falcons defense that is leading the charge.
Going back to the second half of the Falcons’ loss to the Seahawks on Oct. 27, Atlanta’s defense has now gone 10 straight quarters without surrendering a touchdown. Someone needs to ask Dan Quinn what was said during halftime of that game because, clearly, something changed.
“For us, we saw a little bit of shift in our second half against Seattle,” Quinn said after the Panthers game.
I’d call it a shift, alright. A seismic one.
It gets better.
The Falcons entered the Saints game with just seven sacks all season long. They sacked Brees six times and, on Sunday, they brought down Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen five times.
I know we can all add, but I just want to type that one more time: 11 sacks in two games.
The Falcons had only forced four turnovers heading into Charlotte. They doubled that total against the Panthers – all interceptions (three coming in the first half). Speaking of those interceptions, the Falcons had only two all season long – both courtesy of Desmond Trufant in the 24-20 win over Philly way back on Sept. 15.
And just in case you thought what the Falcons did to the Saints was impressive, chew on this nugget: The Panthers went scoreless for the first three quarters against the Falcons on Sunday. According to Bill Voth of Panthers.com, it was only the second time Carolina has been shut out after three quarters in the Ron Rivera era.
“I think over the last two games, two-and-a-half games, we felt more of the style and identity we’d like to be in all three phases,” Quinn said. “Defensively we have to create takeaways – that makes your chances of winning go up a ton.”
Look, here’s the reality: The Falcons are still 3-7 overall but 2-0 in the NFC South after outscoring the Saints and Panthers 55-12 the last two weeks. To say they’ve got an uphill battle just to finish with a .500 record or better is a massive understatement.
And make what you want of Quinn’s decision to reshuffle his coaching staff midseason, but one thing you can’t say about it at this point is that it’s not working. It is, in a big way.
Will it continue? That’s the big question moving forward.
But right now this team, specifically Quinn’s defense, is playing as good as any unit in the league.
And, just like that Falcons’ 1-7 start to the season, no one saw that coming.