A year ago, the Atlanta Falcons finished with the NFL's 29th-worst defense in yards allowed and stood in the middle of the pack in yards allowed.
To begin the 2021 season, much looked the same. The Philadelphia Eagles, who owned a stagnant offense in 2020, produced 434 yards of offense and 32 points against the Falcons in week one. Atlanta currently ranks 27th and 24th in those categories leaguewide, respectively.
Don't be fooled though, proclaim Bruce Arians and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Falcons defense features talent and experienced coaching following Dean Pees' hiring as defensive coordinator this offseason, and the Bucs are preparing for the moment that Atlanta's defense will hit its stride ahead of their week two matchup.
"Coach Pees has been around forever, and he's got every trick in the book," Arians told Bucs media on Tuesday. "So we're going to have to be ready for them."
Pees, 72, has been coaching since the late 1970s and made the jump to the NFL in 2004 - he's since been the defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens (winning the 2013 Super Bowl with the team), the Tennessee Titans, and now the Falcons.
Pees' influence leads Arians to call the Falcons defense "totally different" from what it was under former defensive-minded head coach Dan Quinn. Arthur Smith now mans that role with Pees as his right-hand man.
"Pees is very multiple – every front known to man, every blitz known to man – and I think they’re all still feeling each other out on what they can do and what they can’t do," said Arians. "We have to be ready for everything offensively."
Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady took things a step further when discussing Pees, who spent six years with Brady in New England, this week. When Pees was the Pats' defensive coordinator, New England's defense never finished outside of the top ten in points allowed per season and ranked within the top five three times.
“He’s a really talented coach. I’ve known Dean a long time," Brady said. "[He] really challenges the quarterback. [His teams are] very sound defensively. I don’t think there are a lot of easy plays out there. He makes you earn everything."
The personnel featured across Atlanta's defense is uninspiring as a whole, but there are a handful of playmakers that can create issues for Tampa Bay if the defense is able to heat up. Grady Jarrett is an impactful defensive end who can create opportunities for edge rushers in the new-look 3-4 scheme, such as Dante Fowler Jr. Linebacker Deion Jones has a knack for making big plays as well, turning five turnovers into touchdowns in his career. And cornerback A.J. Terrell was able to break up seven passes during his 2020 rookie season.
Atlanta will need these players to play cohesively, and the rest of their defense to step up, in order to slow down a Buccaneers' offense that put up 431 yards in week one against, arguably, a more talented Cowboys' defense. Outsiders may not believe the Falcons are capable, but Tampa Bay is preparing as if they are.
"It’s a very good defense," Brady remarked. "They’re going to make us earn every yard.”
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