One can make the argument that safety William Moore is now the top player on the Atlanta Falcons defense. With injuries constantly sidelining linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, it’s Moore that is often tasked with being the vocal, veteran leader of the unit.
Moore is entering his sixth season in Atlanta and will take on a different leadership role thanks in part to the departure of Thomas DeCoud. Moore and DeCoud had been steady starters for the Falcons at the safety position since 2010. But now DeCoud is gone, and presumably replaced with Dwight Lowery, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
While cornerback Desmond Trufant had a very strong rookie season a year ago, he still is a young player that is still learning. He’ll be joined by fellow second-year cornerback Robert Alford in the starting lineup, making Moore the only starting defensive back with more than a year’s worth of experience in Atlanta. Besides nickel cornerback Robert McClain, Moore is the only player in the Falcons secondary that has played in Mike Nolan’s scheme since the defensive coordinator’s arrival in 2012.
All those things put greater pressure on Moore to be a key piece in the puzzle as the Falcons look to improve their defense in 2014.
Moore is coming off a down year, particularly when measured against his Pro Bowl performance in 2012. But he was by no means bad in 2013, instead there were just a couple of plays he left on the field last year. And it will go a long way to improve the defensive play if those become plays he makes in 2014.
Notably there were a couple of dropped interceptions last season that Moore left on the field. One of the hallmarks of Moore stemming from his days at Missouri is his opportunistic nature: the ability to take advantage of mistakes by the offense and turn them into turnovers for the Falcons.
Over four years as a starter in 56 total appearances, Moore has 14 interceptions and 8 forced fumbles. That works out to be Moore potentially creating a turnover in every 10 quarters of play, a fairly high rate. Only four defensive backs have created more turnovers over the past four seasons: Charles Tillman (35), Jairus Byrd (24), Richard Sherman (24) and DeAngelo Hall (23).
But again, there were a couple of those potential turnovers left on the field in 2013. Notably one came in the season-opener against the New Orleans Saints where Moore dropped in an interception midway through the third quarter. He had a clean break on the throw, but just couldn’t reel it in. At that time, the Falcons had four-point lead against the Saints, but that missed opportunity gave the Saints another chance to score a touchdown, which they did. And it would be the final points scored of the game, ultimately leading to a Falcons loss.
That potential play could have helped seal the win for the Falcons, and had the team opened up the season with a win over their hated division rivals, it’s possible the team’s 2013 season would have been a completely different track than the one that led to a 4-12 finish.
The positive for Moore is that there are plenty of reasons to believe a rebound season in 2014 is inevitable.
Unlike DeCoud, Moore’s “breakout” 2012 campaign wasn’t significantly better than previous years as a starter. Moore’s baseline is and was much higher than DeCoud’s, which made DeCoud’s strong play in 2012 on his way to the Pro Bowl alongisde Moore seem more like an outlier. Thus when the metaphorical rubber band snapped back, we got the abysmal performance of DeCoud that came this past season, leading to his release.
On the other hand, in the case of Moore, his erratic play in 2013 seems more like the outlier in the equation and thus there’s every reason to think that if/when the band snaps back it will lead to a better 2014 season.
It’s also promising to hear that Moore is seeking other things to motivate him to have a stronger 2014. One of them is using the monster contract signed by incoming Saint safety Jairus Byrd as motivation. Moore is fresh off his own extension, but the total amount of his contract ($29.5 million) is roughly the same as the guaranteed portion of Byrd’s deal ($26 million), and roughly half of the total ($54 million)
Moore has also been working on improving his tackling, as he’s coming off a year where he was uncharacteristically inconsistent in that department.
According to premium website Pro Football Focus, Moore missed 17 tackles last season, more than his combined totals from 2011 and 2012 (16). My own Moneyball reviews had similar findings, with Moore missing a total of 11 tackles that led to either first downs or touchdowns, tied with DeCoud for the most on the Falcons last season. That was more than his combine totals from the previous two years (8.5).
The team is trying to take strides to improve the tackling in practices and mini-camps before the start of the regular season, and it seems that Moore is immersing himself there.
The ability to improve starts with self-evaluation, and it appears that Moore is ready and willing to take on the personal responsibility in stepping up his play in 2014.
Once again, there’s multiple reasons to believe that his hard work will pay off and he’ll return not only as one of the team’s top defenders, but also one of the top safeties in the league this season.