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Tight Ends Stir Up Concern In Atlanta

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This is a rare photo of a Falcons defender tackling an opposing tight end in a big game. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images.
This is a rare photo of a Falcons defender tackling an opposing tight end in a big game. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images.

Last week, the Atlanta Falcons held their "State of the Franchise" meeting for season ticket holders at the Georgia Dome. Similar to a stockholders meeting, the fans who have invested in the team were permitted to participate in a question and answer session with key Falcons management and coaches.

Atlanta coach Mike Smith discussed how his staff has spent the offseason fixing the issues that challenged the team in 2012. In a telling moment, a fan sitting in the crowd yelled out, "Cover the tight end!" Smith comically replied, "I hear you!"

One of the lingering perceptions of the 2012 Falcons season is the belief that the defense struggled to cover tight ends throughout the year. Since the team has failed to draft or sign a cover linebacker this offseason, Falcons fans have felt the organization has ignored an issue that helped end their Super Bowl run last season.

Falcons fans are right to believe this. Seattle Seahawks tight ends accounted for eight catches and 142 yards against the Falcons defense in the divisional round while scoring one touchdown. In the NFC title game, 49ers tight ends racked up six catches for 126 yards and a touchdown. Take a look at the numbers during the regular season and you get a different story.

Over the 16-game regular season, the Falcons defense allowed only one team's tight ends to reach the 100-yard performance mark. That was their first loss of the season in New Orleans as Jimmy Graham went for 146 yards on seven catches and scored two touchdowns.

Despite that performance, the Falcons gave up a combined 72 catches for 898 yards during the 2012 regular season to opposing tight ends. That works to an average of 4.5 catches and 56 yards a game. The Falcons defense also only gave up four touchdown catches to opposing tight ends in 2012.

There are legitimate concerns when it comes to the Falcons defense and the tight ends in 2013. During the NFC playoffs last season, Seattle and San Francisco each took advantage of the fact that the Falcons gave up a higher percentage of completed passes to tight ends. During the 2012 regular season, the defense yielded a completion percentage of 71 percent on passes to TEs.

Fans may only recall how the season ended and the team's inability to handle the position. The Falcons staff may choose to look at a mostly successful year covering TEs.

For 2013, reality will probably end up somewhere in the middle.