One of the more interesting developments I was hoping to see this year was whether or not the Falcons would incorporate more dime subpackages into their defense. The dime differs from the nickel subpackage due to the fact that it features six defensive backs rather than five. The Falcons made limited use of the dime a year ago, but at least for the preseason appear willing to experiment. Falcons head coach Mike Smith had these comments following Wednesday’s practice:
When you start talking safeties and corners, those are guys that usually contribute on all four special teams. It’ll be fun to watch those guys. I think we’ve got a number of guys that will work and you’ll see play the dime position. Again, this is what the preseason is all about. It’s about evaluating your roster.
The Falcons did make more usage of dime at the end of the regular season last year when injuries hurt their secondary, particularly with William Moore and Chris Owens out of the lineup. In that subpackage, Dominique Franks worked his way on the field, often lining up as a safety on the back-end.
In fact, the dime subpackage might represent Franks best opportunity to retain his hold on a roster spot in 2013. The expectation are that both rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will surpass him on the depth chart at cornerback, leaving him as the fifth corner. The fifth corner is often used as a special teams-only player, particularly when it comes to coverage units. The only reason why Franks was active last season on Sundays was because of his role as the team’s punt returner, but that appears to be very much in jeopardy heading into 2013.
In reality, if the Falcons do use more dime this year, it may mean greater opportunities for the loser of the battle between Trufant and Alford at right cornerback, as the Falcons will likely field four corners and two safeties in the dime.
One of the benefits of dime is potentially to help the Falcons better match up with some of the top-level tight ends they will see this year. It was a strategy the Houston Texans tried to employ to only limited success last year against the New England Patriots in 2012. While it did not work in terms of execution, the idea behind it is sound. Given that the best cover men on a defense are its corners and if a team is going to try and match up man to man against quality receivers and tight ends, it makes sense to maximize the number cornerbacks on the field as opposed to linebackers, who are notably weaker there. Given the fact that all of the Falcons linebackers struggled in coverage in 2012, and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan frankly had to throw the entire kitchen sink at Jimmy Graham to try and contain him last year, it makes sense to find a more permanent solution.
Two offenses the Falcons are set to face in 2013 that make ample use of the two-tight end set are New England and San Francisco. Given New England’s issues however, it doesn’t appear that installing a dime subpackage will need to be a priority heading into the season. But as Smith indicated it makes sense to see how things fare during the preseason where the wins and losses don’t count, and roster evaluation is the priority.