The Falcons made massive investments in their pass rush this offseason.
It was necessary. It was the single biggest weakness of the club over the last several seasons. The defense totaled 38 sacks over the last two seasons, posting 21 sacks in 2022 and 17 the year prior, ranking second to last and dead last, respectively.
There are two components to a consistent and effective pass rush — pressure and coverage. Both of which were addressed this offseason. A.J. Terrell was joined by Jessie Bates in the secondary, while Grady Jarrett was joined by David Onyemata, Calais Campbell, Bud Dupree, and Kaden Elliss along the trenches.
However, through three games, the Falcons have only totaled three sacks, which ranks third to last in the league. It looks like nothing has improved, and I see fans complaining.
Well, you’re wrong if you’re griping about the lack of a pass rush. The sack numbers aren’t indicative of the pressure the Falcons have forced upon opposing quarterbacks.
Atlanta ranks tied for 9th in quarterback hurry rate, forcing opposing signal callers to get rid of the ball early 11.7% of the time. The Falcons are tied with the Saints in that metric, which is a defense heralded for their pass rush presence. Even more impressive, the Falcons defense ranks 2nd, behind only the Bills, in quarterback knockdown rate (15.6%).
Pressures account for hurries, knockdowns, and sacks. Atlanta ranks tied for 4th in pressure rate, producing one of those three results on 29.1% of dropbacks. So while the sacks are among the fewest in the league, it’s not because of a lack of pressure. The Falcons just haven’t converted those hurries and knockdowns into sacks.
Some might suggest blitzing more to improve that conversion rate. Well, the Falcons rank 16th in blitz percentage, which means bringing five or more pass rushers. Ryan Nielsen does so 26.2% of the time on dropbacks.
Meanwhile, the Bills blitz less than 28 other teams (16.7%), yet have put up 12 sacks this season, which is more than 28 other teams. Blitzing more doesn’t necessarily produce more sacks. Depending on personnel and scheme, defenses vary when they bring more than four rushers.
The investment in the pass rush hasn’t produced sacks, but it has undoubtedly improved.
Individually, the Falcons have received most of their production from the interior. I’ve seen some people point to Bud Dupree as the culprit for the lack of a pass rush. Once again, that’s wrong. Here is how the pressures break down for Atlanta’s defenders.
- Grady Jarrett: 1 hurry, 5 QB knockdowns, 0.5 sacks — 7 pressures
- David Onyemata: 2 hurries, 4 QB knockdowns, 0.0 sacks — 6 pressures
- Bud Dupree: 3 hurries, 1 QB knockdown, 0.0 sacks — 4 pressures
- Arnold Ebiketie: 1 hurry, 2 QB knockdowns, 0.0 sacks — 3 pressures
- Kaden Elliss: 1 hurry, 0 QB knockdowns, 1.0 sacks — 2 pressures
- Richie Grant: 0 hurries, 2 QB knockdowns, 0.0 sacks — 2 pressures
- Calais Campbell: 1 hurry, 1 QB knockdown, 0.0 sacks, 2 pressures
- Lorenzo Carter: 1 hurry, 0 QB knockdowns, 1.0 sacks — 2 pressures
- Zach Harrison: 0 hurry, 2 QB knockdowns, 0.0 sacks — 2 pressures
- Troy Andersen: 0 hurry, 0 QB knockdowns, 0.5 sacks — 1 pressure
The Falcons need more production out of their edge unit; there’s no arguing that. But on a per dropback basis, the Falcons are getting more pressure through three weeks than they have in the past two years.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire