Terry Fontenot addressed holes in the Falcons roster over the course of the offseason by signing a handful of veterans to one-year deals (Mike Davis is the only free agent signing to get a multi-year deal) that are very team-friendly. This allowed Fontenot to approach the draft with a best player available strategy, but only addressing the EDGE position by signing Barkevious Mingo made the need for drafting one paramount. Eventually, in the fifth round, the Falcons selected Adetokunbo Ogundeji out of Notre Dame. The two minimal additions could be cause for concern, but there is one major difference between last season and this season’s defense, Dean Pees.
Pees has been adamant about how the matchup and personnel will dictate the scheme. Falcons fans should expect the front to switch between an even and odd-man throughout the seasons. The defensive front can really be separated into two groups: interior and EDGE defenders. The EDGEs can be players who stand up in three-man fronts (odd) or play with their hands in the dirt in four-man fronts (even). Dante Fowler Jr., Steven Means, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Barkevious Mingo, Adetokunbo Ogundeji, and John Cominsky round out the EDGE group.
Fowler is the only pure standup pass rusher of the group, which isn’t saying much after his performance last season. He’s in a contract year and took a pay cut to stay in Atlanta. Means, Tuioti-Mariner, and Cominksy all flashed last year in rotational roles and have the size to kick inside in nickel or dime packages. Mingo is a reliable veteran, but conjectures about what he’ll provide should be realistic as he’s never shown the ability to be a team’s go-to pass rusher. Rookie fifth-round pick, Ogundeji, has the potential to develop into something special in Pees’ defense given his positional flexibility, but expectations should be managed properly for a first-year player.
The fact of the matter is Dean Pees will have to scheme pressure because the Falcons won’t have an elite pass rusher coming off the edge this year. There are infinite ways to scheme pressure, but what I think Atlanta’s personnel dictates is twists, stunts, and off-ball linebacker pressures. I say that because of the athleticism on the first and second levels of the defense. Deion Jones, Foyesade Oluokun, and Mykal Walker are some of the most athletic off-ball linebackers in the NFL. Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson, Cominksy, Tuioti-Mariner, and Means can execute twists and stunts with each other or the linebackers from the interior. Below is Dean Pees explaining schemed pressure during the 2018 season.
Jurrell Casey‘s role is perfect for Jarrett, whose lateral quickness and intelligence will enable him to take advantage of slower offensive linemen. The linebacker blitzing could be any of the aforementioned off-ball linebackers, the interior defender inside the guard could be Davidson or Tyeler Davison, and the edge defender with his hand in the dirt could be Fowler, which all sets up the read around after the protection slides to Jarrett (Casey in the video).
Pees will send defensive backs, linebackers, and anyone else on the field to pressure the quarterback. He’ll play cover 1 man, cover 2, cover 3, quarters, and all kinds of varieties on the backend. This gives the defense the flexibility to defend different kinds of offenses. Still, if Pees can’t disguise pressure like he has been able to do in Tennessee, Baltimore, and New England, the EDGE position will be scrutinized throughout the season.
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