Falcons: Can Carl Lawson help rush the passer in Dean Pees’ defense?

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The Falcons will be rushing the passer a little differently in 2021 than they did last season. The 2020 defense was built off generating pressure with four rushers, and while the 2021 defense might still rush four, Dean Pees will scheme those four rushers and loves bringing more than the offensive line can block, something Atlanta is more used to seeing from opponents.

The Falcons don’t need to spend anything crazy in free agency to bring talent to the front seven for Pees. The system is meant to scheme pressure to make up for the lack of talent. However, if talent is present, Pees’ defense can be one of the best in the league. With even an average defense, Arthur Smith’s offense will take the Falcons back to the playoffs. Carl Lawson could be the one substantial free-agent signing this offseason needed to transform this unit.

Strengths

Lawson was incredible for the Bengals this past year as he totaled six sacks, 24 QB hits, and 34 hurries. Coming out of Auburn, he measured as an elite athlete at the combine with excellent size, strength, and explosiveness while having below-average arm length and lateral ability. Lawson’s most notable attribute is his power.

At the point of attack, Lawson controls tackles and bull-rushes his way to the quarterback. That power is also useful when stifled initially by tackles; his hands are strong enough to break the grip of a tackle, allowing him to maneuver around them.

All that power is great, but without the flexibility to bend around the edge, NFL tackles will figure out your pass rush moves quickly. Lawson doesn’t have that problem; he isn’t as stiff as other power rushers in the NFL.

The guy just has a plethora of ways to win. Look at this long arm; watch the tackle jump on one foot cause he’s so off-balanced.

Weaknesses

There are worries Lawson isn’t effective when defending against the run. This could be a huge problem for an Atlanta defense that already lacks the personnel to stop the ground game. He is an absolute game wrecker in pass-rushing situations but is well-below average in running situations. If the Falcons see his upside as a pass-rusher outweighs his inability to defend against the run, I see no problem giving him a three-year deal.

Team Fit

The Falcons would likely ask Lawson to play the stand-up outside linebacker then kick into the defensive end position on passing downs. As the outside linebacker, he wouldn’t be tasked with the tougher matchups in the running game. It would be fullbacks and tight ends blocking him.

In Dean Pees’ system, it doesn’t matter what position you play. On third downs, he puts his best pass-rushers on the field. Imagine a third and eight where Dante Fowler, Carl Lawson, Grady Jarrett, Mykal Walker, Deion Jones, and Foyesade Oluokon are all walking around the line of scrimmage. That is a scary athletic bunch rushing the passer. Lawson’s $8,800,000 (APY) projected by Spotrac is reasonable on a three-year deal. Back-loading the contract similar to Dante Fowler’s would effectively lower Lawson’s 2021 cap hit. Atlanta could certainly do much worse than Carl Lawson.

Photo: Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire

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