Can the Falcons manufacture some semblance of a pass rush?

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The Falcons’ pass rush has long been the butt of jokes in Atlanta, and this comes from an organization that was infamously on the receiving end of the most embarrassing meltdown in professional sports history. For the past decade, the Falcons have ranked near the bottom of the league in total sacks. And last year (we hope) was the defense’s low point.

The team recorded a pathetic 18 sacks, 11 sacks less than the Eagles, who had the second-fewest in the NFL. T.J. Watt and Robert Quinn tallied more individual sacks than the Falcons did as a unit. And three of the four players to total more than one sack from 2021 are on different teams — Dante Fowler, Foye Oluokun, and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, who only played in four games last season. Deion Jones is the other, and his future with the team is in serious doubt after yet another forgettable campaign in 2021.

The Falcons’ edge unit experienced a total overall; only one player from the 2021 roster will return in 2022 — Ade Ogundeji. The 2021 fifth-round pick totaled one sack, two quarterback hits, and five tackles for loss — the second-most of this unit behind Fowler. Ogundeji has incredible length and uses it appropriately. His long-arm pass rush move worked regularly, but he needs to better refine his hand placement and develop a deeper pass rush arsenal, including countermoves. Ogundeji getting bigger, faster, and stronger this offseason should result in exponential improvement; however, to maximize his skill set, he must improve the technical aspects of rushing the passer.

The Falcons went out and signed Norcross native Lorenzo Carter while plucking Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone from the 2022 NFL draft. Carter ended last season’s campaign hot, notching five sacks in the final four contests for the Giants. He’ll surely look to prove that wasn’t a fluke, but his track record suggests otherwise. The former UGA Bulldog has recorded 14.5 career sacks in four seasons with New York; that’s averaging just over 3.5 sacks per year — i.e., not good. Granted, he missed significant time in 2020 after rupturing his Achilles, but I still wouldn’t put my eggs in Carter’s basket to turn the pass rush around.

Ebiketie and Malone are two exciting edge defenders. The former is probably one of the most promising pass rushing prospects the Falcons have acquired in years. The Penn State product will have no shortage of opportunities to pressure opposing quarterbacks because of such a thin position group. It isn’t fair to expect him to put up double-digit sacks in his first season, but the Falcons are certainly hoping for something close to it since they traded up to get him.

Malone doesn’t have the same high expectations among Falcons fans because he was a mid-round pick, but, similarly to Ebiketie, the self-proclaimed Doctor of Pass Rush will undoubtedly have the opportunities to establish himself.

The Falcons also signed Eddie Goldman to accompany Grady Jarrett along the interior, which should prove to be a valuable addition. After averaging nearly six sacks from 2018-2020, Jarrett only recorded a single sack last season. Obviously, that’s not indicative of the player he is but rather shows how poor his supporting cast was.

Dean Pees infamously designs exotic blitz packages to manufacture pressure, sending defensive backs and linebackers regardless of their alignment. The veteran defensive coordinator has talked extensively about how pressuring opposing quarterbacks comes in two facets — coverage and rushing. Since the Falcons went out and signed Casey Hayward, Pees will be afforded certain privileges that he wasn’t with Fabian Moreau, especially after Isaiah Oliver went down with injury.

The Falcons should be better in this area. The personnel was improved, and returning players are that much more familiar with the system. I wouldn’t expect an even average pass rush, but the Falcons shouldn’t be dead last, which isn’t really saying much anyways.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire
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