Falcons must upgrade defense if they want to compete with Kirk Cousins

NFL: SEP 10 Panthers at Falcons

The Falcons signaled to their fans and the rest of the league that their window to compete had officially opened when they inked Kirk Cousins to a four-year deal worth $180 million, but as the roster currently stands, it’s not ready to seriously do so in the postseason.

Sure, the club is heavy betting favorites to win a weak NFC South, but winning the division is no longer the goal after Terry Fontenot and Raheem Morris acquired the best quarterback on the market. The expectations have shifted to postseason success now.

The offense is probably close to being set, but the defense needs some major TLC. It is not just about the personnel either. The jury is still out on Jimmy Lake, but he has big shoes to fill in Ryan Nielsen. The Falcons improved statistically in seven major categories from 2022 to 2023, with the most significant jump coming in sacks from 21 to 42. Moreover, Atlanta was also third in third-down defense (33.8%) and fourth in red zone defense (45.3%).

For Kirk Cousins, his teams have always been carried by the offense. According to the Athletic, his teams have ranked 13th out of 36 in EPA per start, per TruMedia, even with his defense/special teams ranking 28th of 36.

The Falcons went out and filled their two biggest roster holes on the first day of the legal tampering period, agreeing to deals with Kirk Cousins and Darnell Mooney. However, the defense has yet to be touched.

Adding a proven EDGE rusher must be a priority

The Falcons can’t go into the draft with an EDGE unit of Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone and Lorenzo Carter. That might be the worst group in the league. Ebiketie could reach 7-9 sacks if he experiences a significant jump in his development. Zach Harrison could contribute as well, but he’ll be moved up and down the line of scrimmage. Carter is more of a rotational player, and Malone has yet to garner any serious playing time.

It’s not for a lack of trying. Terry Fontenot has been in on Montez Sweat, Brian Burns, Danielle Hunter, and maybe more that we don’t know about, but drafting one of the top prospects shouldn’t be the only plan. Dallas Turner, Jared Verse, and Laiatu Latu are enticing options; however, they should complement the room, not be depended upon.

The Falcons have to add a proven commodity like Haason Reddick or Jadeveon Clowney before the NFL draft.

Cornerback isn’t as pressing but needs addressing as well

We all like Dee Alford and Clark Phillips, but let’s not pretend that’s an ideal starting duo with A.J. Terrell. The group doesn’t need an impact player like the EDGE position, but the Falcons need a starting-caliber addition, someone who can at least compete with Phillips for the starting role. Xavien Howard, Steven Nelson, and Stephon Gilmore are the type of targets I’m talking about. NFL teams need three starters, which means they need two depth pieces they can rely on.

Maybe another defensive back as well

Richie Grant and DeMarcco Hellams aren’t locked into starting roles next to Jessie Bates, and the safety market is robust with options. It’s certainly down the totem pole compared to EDGE and corner, but an upgrade is more than welcome.

Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire


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