Injuries and personnel decisions have tested the Falcons’ defense this season, and it has allowed the team’s depth to shine through, including Thursday night in their win over the Saints.
The Falcons have been without the recipient of their franchise tag (CB Brent Grimes) for all but the first game of the season, and their top addition of the offseason (CB Asante Samuel) missed all but the first three defensive snaps Thursday night after aggravating a shoulder injury in their biggest game of the season thus far. It thrust CBs Robert McClain and Chris Owens into basically full-time duty, and the Falcons still managed to become the first team ever to intercept Saints QB Drew Brees five times in one game and also ended his record streak of games with at least one touchdown pass at 54.
Atlanta has gone three consecutive games without allowing a passing touchdown.
“I am extremely happy with the way our defense played, more specifically, our secondary,” said SS William Moore, who made two interceptions. “I feel like our depth gets overlooked. When Brent Grimes went down, and also Asante (Samuel) this game, guys like Christopher Owens and Robert McClain were ready and prepared to fill in those shoes.”
Brees was sacked only once, but the Falcons provided steady pressure on him. DE Kroy Biermann has played a larger role since the Falcons demoted and then cut loose disappointing DE Ray Edwards after they lost to the Saints in Week 10, and it was Biermann who pressured Brees late in the fourth quarter on the play where he threw his fourth pick of the night.
The Saints had chances to keep Brees’ streak alive — Lance Moore dropped a would-be touchdown and an interference penalty on TE Jimmy Graham nullified a Darren Sproles score late in the first half. Brees didn’t manage the clock well at the end of the half when the Saints were in scoring range but came up empty on the drive.
However, Atlanta clamped down when it needed to when it was not picking off Brees.
The Falcons’ defense has endured. It went the first six games of the season without one of its top players from last season, DT Corey Peters, and also was without OLB Sean Weatherspoon — one the most talented defenders on the roster — for three games in the middle of the season.
Backups have responded when their number has been called, and it’s a big reason why the Falcons are in line to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.