Falcons cornerback Robert Alford leads the team in interceptions and total takeaways despite playing significantly less than other Atlanta defenders. (Reuters)
FLOWERY BRANCH — Robert Alford’s fearlessness has allowed him to play above his small-school pedigree and lead the Falcons in takeaways in spite of his part-time role.
Alford straddled the line between daring and foolishness when he recovered a fumble against Buffalo in overtime Sunday. Alford subsequently lateraled the ball to fellow rookie Desmond Trufant, a sequence that drew the ire of coach Mike Smith.
But the play allowed Trufant to run for 18 more yards to set up Matt Bryant’s 36-yard field goal to win the game.
“Alford took a chance right there, but you’ve got to do that sometimes,” Falcons cornerback Robert McClain said. “We’ve got five games left (before the game) and we need a spark, and that gave our offense a spark to get on the plus-50 (yard line) side and get points to win the game.
“I’m happy he did make that play. He’s young. He’s learning. He’s going to be a good player in the future.”
Alford has been pretty good for the Falcons now, too. It’s one sign of the Falcons’ sorry season that a rookie part-time cornerback leads the team in interceptions (two) and total takeaways (three) and ranks second in passes defended (seven). But Alford’s play gives the team hope can take on a bigger role in the future.
Alford (332 snaps) has played less than half the time of cornerback Desmond Trufant (763) and safeties William Moore (805) and Thomas DeCoud (775). Even Asante Samuel, who has missed three games because of injuries, has played nearly 200 more snaps than Alford, at 510.
Yet it’s Alford who has come up with the ball more often than anyone on the Falcons’ defense. Against the Bills, Alford chased down the loose ball at the Falcons’ 40-yard line after Moore poked it away from Scott Chandler, then pitched it to Trufant as Buffalo’s Robert Woods chopped down on Alford’s right arm.
Trufant took the ball and ran to Buffalo’s 47-yard line. Five plays later the game was over.
“We don’t coach that in that situation,” Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “That ball is on the ground, and (if) they get it and they kick the field goal, they win the game. I am sure Robert will learn from it.
“He’s an exciting young player, and he’s coming up with the football. He’s made some takeaways for us on the year. That’s pretty great. That’s good as a rookie.”
The Falcons selected Alford in the second round out of Southeastern Louisiana based in part on his strong showing against top prospects at the Senior Bowl.
Alford had a strong debut at New Orleans in Week 1, when he cut in front of wide receiver Marques Colston to intercept Drew Brees’ pass. But the Rams went at Alford in Week 2 and, according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed five catches for 68 yards and a touchdown in six targets. Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate beat Alford for a 6-yard touchdown in Week 10.
“The beginning of the year I started off a little slow,” Alford said. “But I have gained more and more improvement as the year went on. It’s (gaining) experience and focusing on my techniques and the things that I can improve on.”