Bill Shanks

Bill Shanks: It’s all about defense for Falcons, Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets

There’s so much focus on how football teams score points these days.

It’s not a surprise, since teams have to score to win. But along the way, the mantra “defense wins championships” seems to have gotten lost a bit.

It’s safe to believe, for example, that the Atlanta Falcons, Georgia Bulldogs and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will score plenty of points this season. That’s not really too much of a worry. Even though the Falcons have an issue at running back, the Bulldogs don’t have a quarterback yet and the Yellow Jackets have brand new running backs and receivers, the prevailing thought is the three teams will score plenty of points.

But how will they keep teams from scoring? That is the question. All three are likely to be better on defense, but just how much better? The answer likely will define the season for each team.

The Falcons gave up 26.1 points per game last season, the sixth-worst mark in the NFL. The new head coach, Dan Quinn, coached the defense with the best scoring defense last season. Seattle allowed just 15.9 points per game on its way to a second straight Super Bowl appearance.

Of course, Richard Sherman, Seattle’s cornerback and perhaps the best defensive player in the NFL right now, is not walking through that door with a Falcons jersey on any time soon.

Adrian Clayborn, Justin Durant and Brooks Reed were brought in through free agency, while Vic Beasley was Atlanta’s top pick. All four are new starters on defense, with the focus on physically destroying the opposing quarterback. The early returns have been positive, with Clayborn and Beasley standing out so far.

When was the last time the Falcons won a game with defense? They haven’t won many games at all the past two years (only 10), and they’ve been pretty good at simply outscoring teams. You would have to go back to 2012, the season the Falcons made it all the way to the NFC championship game, to find a win for the defense. They shut out the New York Giants 34-0 at the Georgia Dome in Week 15. The past two years, the Falcons simply have not been able to stop anyone.

Georgia’s defense was better last season under first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, but it was inconsistent. Georgia beat Missouri 34-0 on the road in October, but three weeks later, Florida ran all over the Bulldogs. Georgia then held Auburn to just seven points two weeks later, only to let Georgia Tech run all over the field for 399 yards in the final regular-season game.

So the consistency in Georgia’s defense needs to get better. The Bulldogs can’t have a great game and then turn around and look like they’ve regressed. And obviously, with Florida and Georgia Tech showing Georgia’s weakness, the Bulldogs must do better stopping the run.

This season, the buzz is on freshman Trent Thompson, who is evidently “moving bodies around” in practice. Thompson must get help, however, from his defensive ends, like Sterling Bailey, Josh Dawson and James DeLoach. If Thompson is special, the talented linebackers could be freed up to do more damage to limit the running attack.

And Georgia Tech has what looks like its best defensive depth in the Paul Johnson era. Jabari Hunt-Days is back and is now at nose, with talented Adam Gotsis right next to him on the defensive line. And the leaky pass coverage from last year should be shored up with four seniors in the secondary.

Again, we know these three teams will score points, at times even in bunches. But can they stop anybody? If they do, we could see special seasons for the three main football teams in the state of Georgia.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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