Falcons' Robert Alford turning around early season struggles
The 5-0 Atlanta Falcons are one of six unbeaten squads as they head into their Thursday night showdown against division rival New Orleans. We’ve chronicled how a vastly improved offensive line has helped lead the Falcons early on this season. Not to be ignored, though, is the progress on the defensive side of the ball under new head coach Dan Quinn.
A unit that consistently ranked towards the bottom of the NFL, the Falcons now owns PFF’s 11th-ranked pass coverage defense. The Falcons, as whole, have gone from 27th in points-per-game allowed in 2014, to 15th (22.4 points-per-game) this season, with many of the same personnel from previous years. One player benefitting from the coaching and scheme change is 2013 second-round-pick, cornerback Robert Alford.
Last week, ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure, who covers the Atlanta Falcons, wrote about Alford’s progress and improvement in technique, and now he comes off two of the better performances of his young career. Against the Houston Texans, Alford posted a +3.4 grade, and then two interceptions—including a walk-off pick-six—against the Washington Redskins one week later.
The third-year CB from Southeastern Louisiana has certainly struggled in the early going of his career, with a -5.2 and -6.2 overall grade his first two years. This season looked to be much of the same through the first two weeks.
After allowing two receptions for 31 yards on three targets in Week 1 against the Eagles (-0.2 pass coverage grade), Alford was heavily attacked by the New York Giants and Odell Beckham Jr. Alford allowed seven receptions for 128 yards and two touchdowns, with one pass interference penalty on 12 targets, for an NFL QB rating of 134.7.
In Week 3, against the Tony Romo-less Cowboys, he wasn’t targeted outside of committing a penalty in coverage on the first drive, as Dallas employed a game plan of underneath throws and check-downs in Brandon Weeden’s first start of the season.
However, Alford stepped up in Week 4 and produced at a PFF grade level eclipsed only by his 2014 Week 3 performance (+4.3 grade) when the Falcons blew out the Buccaneers on a Thursday night. Against the Texans, Alford only allowed two catches for 21 yards on six targets, including two pass deflections, for an NFL QB rating of 44.4. Then, this past week against the Redskins, Alford allowed only one catch for 19 yards on six targets for an NFL rating of 0.7 to go along with his two interceptions.
With elite corner Desmond Trufant (+5.7 grade with zero missed tackles and currently PFF’s eighth overall CB) on the other side only seeing one target for every 10 snaps in coverage, and being second in the NFL allowing one reception every 23 snaps in coverage, Alford (overall +1.1 grade) will continue to see teams attacking him.
The Falcons and Dan Quinn hope this is just the beginning for Alford, as he’s demonstrated the physical ability and characteristics needed to excel, but that hasn’t consistently translated to week-to-week performances.