Dante Fowler is an obvious candidate to bounce back for the Falcons in 2021 after his abysmal 2020 season. He had career lows in every major pass rushing statistic — one forced fumble, three sacks, four TFL — and a career-low in games played. The former third-overall pick is by far the most talented and proven pass-rusher the Falcons have on the roster, and Ted Monachino has high hopes for what Fowler can do in Dean Pees defense.
Two seasons ago, with the Rams under Wade Phillips, he racked up 58 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 16 TFL, and 16 QB hits — all career-highs. Pressures are a good indicator of inflated sack totals, and in 2019, Fowler posted abnormal numbers. The former Florida Gator produced pressure on 13.2% of snaps with the Rams, but his 9.8% pressure rate last year is much closer to his 2015-2018 pressure rates (9.9%). Pressures are the most indicative statistic of a pass rusher consistently affecting the quarterback, but the Falcons — as a team — struggled to convert pressures into sacks; in fact, ESPN ranked Atlanta as the team with the fourth-best pass rush win rate in the league at 49%. Clearly, initial wins off the line of scrimmage weren’t the issue, but turning them into pressures and, subsequently, sacks was a problem.
Sacks where pass rushers win a 1-on-1 (or 1-on-2) over a blocker due to the rusher’s skill, move(s), and/or athletic ability is much more impressive than a sack coming as a result of being unblocked or because of scheme, such as a twist or a stunt, in which no special skill was required. Unfortunately, Fowler proved most effective in a system that schemes pressure best — playing next to Aaron Donald also helped. Monachino doesn’t have a single player at the position who can win 1-on-1’s consistently, so the task will be on Dean Pees to schematically free his pass rushers up.
Atlanta’s personnel dictates twists, stunts, off-ball linebackers, and defensive backs pressuring. The second level of the defense — Deion Jones, Foyesade Oluokun, and Mykal Walker — will aid the pass rush of the Falcons thanks to the unit’s athleticism. Grady Jarrett, John Cominsky, Steven Means, and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner are all athletic enough to twist and stunt with anyone coming off the edge. So for Fowler to succeed, he needs those around him to help. Atlanta’s pass rush will depend on Pees scheming pressure because he surely doesn’t have the personnel he did when he was a part of a Super Bowl winner in Baltimore.