Esteemed colleague Caleb Rutherford kicked off (sports jargon) a discussion at The Falcoholic on whether Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has made up for some rough early performances with a strong run heading into the team's bye. I think so, but who cares what I think?
Two things: any estimation of the job the Falcons defense has done so far has to factor in the gauntlet of offenses they've faced, and any sort of WHERE WE GO FROM HERE has to account for the schedule's relatively easy second half.
I have several HTML tables filled with good news on both counts:
First, let's compare points allowed by the Falcons and the points each opponent's scored against teams besides the Falcons.
As you can see, the Falcons have allowed about one point fewer per game than each foe's average, despite a disastrous showing against the Seahawks. If Atlanta's first seven opponents could be mashed into one team, that team would rank 14th in the NFL in scoring per game -- or 10th, if you could take out the Seahawks' season average.
From here on out, though, Atlanta's remaining opponents would rank 18th. And that includes the Saints' top-ranked offense twice.
Here's the same thing, but for yardage:
Thirty yards per game, y'all. And that damn Seahawks game stands out again. Plus, from a yardage perspective, Atlanta's average opponent ranks No. 8 in the NFL, and No. 7 minus the Seahawks' average. The post-bye Falcons schedule, all piled together, would rank 13th. Tough, but less so. And, again, that's with the Saints twice.
One more ... yards per play, likely the most informative basic stat and the one most trusted by Vegas:
A foot or two shy, even with Seattle somehow turning into the Packers for an afternoon. And that's against a range of offenses that would rank 10th in the league in yards per play. That's a gauntlet. And, again, No. 7 without Seattle's average included. Atlanta's last nine opponents, averaged together, would rank 15th. Just for fun ... take out the Saints, and the other seven would rank No. 18.
With the Colts, Jaguars, Buccaneers, Vikings, and Titans (at least two rookie quarterbacks right there, plus whoever the Colts usher forth) forming most of the remaining Falcons schedule, there's no reason not to hope the level of defense we've seen over the last two weeks can't be sustained more often than not through the end of the regular season. (Then again, based on that Seahawks game, maybe it's the bad offenses we should worry about.)
So, yes, VanGorder's defense is just fine. We'll still need a few strong weeks in a row to be able to say the same about the offense.