In previous years, head coach Mike Smith’s defensive line rotation was nearly famous for rendering the traditional view of “starter” up front obsolete. It really didn’t matter who made up the front four on the first defensive snap of the game because it would constantly change throughout a game.
To start the 2013 season, the Falcons had to go away from that strategy a bit, for two very big reasons: Injuries and youth.
Going back to last season, the Falcons would platoon starters with replacements from series to series, sometimes play to play. The experience the Falcons had at defensive end and defensive tackle allowed them to do that.
Then, the team parted ways with John Abraham and saw Vance Walker leave in free agency, and the Falcons were then left to try to bulk the numbers up through the draft. Enter Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga.
The rookies, Smith said Monday, earned their snaps from Sunday’s game. Goodman played 42 percent of the defensive snaps while Maponga earned 25 percent in his first action of the season, making Sunday’s win the first time all season the Falcons have truly been able to implement the defensive line rotation we’ve seen from Smith’s teams in the past.
“I think it does a lot of things,” Smith said Monday. “It keeps our guys fresher. We’re all about competition. I think it’s very important there is a very competitive situation each and every week. I think we have that right now; I think we’re creating that right now in the defensive front. Yes, it will definitely help us down the long road in terms of the older players, the wear and tear on their body, as we get into the second half of this season.”
A season-ending injury to Kroy Biermann thrust Jonathan Massaquoi into the starting role, which also threw the ability to rotate into flux. Maponga, who missed OTAs and minicamps with a foot injury, didn’t participate in his first action with the Falcons until training camp, putting him behind the curve mentally and physically.
The Falcons needed to use some of the season to get him up to speed and into playing shape before kicking the tires on him in game action, which also delayed the implementation of the rotation.
“We felt like by the time we got to our bye week, we would have him ready to roll,” Smith said. “He did a nice job in the game (Sunday), and I thought Malliciah had some pressure on the quarterback, as well. It’s good to see those young guys stepping up.”
The rotation worked as well as it could have against Tampa Bay. The Falcons finished with three sacks and, depending on who you get your stats from, five hurries. Smith was pleased with the output from a defensive line that was, for the first time this year, able to remain fresh by using all the resources available to it.
While situations may merit changes from here on to the rotation, Smith said it was a predetermined decision made as a coaching staff on who to play in the rotation in what series against Tampa Bay. It’s a good bet, after the success of Sunday, those decisions will continue to be predetermined and tailored to each gameas the season goes on.
“We took a different approach — an approach I have done in the past, in terms of predetermining who was going to play what series,” Smith said. “That in turn allows you to get more guys in there, instead of just going on feel. Sometimes you get in there and you don’t want to put a young guy in there when they are on the plus side of the 50, but for young guys to get experience you have to go out there and get plays.”