The biggest weakness of the Falcons has been the pass rush, especially recently, totaling just 38 sacks over two seasons coordinated by Dean Pees.
There were seasons where individual players had more sacks than Atlanta’s entire defense. Even with an All-Pro in A.J. Terrell on the backend, the Falcons defense was swiss cheese because quarterbacks were rarely pressured. Atlanta posted 21 sacks in 2022 and 17 the year prior, ranking second to last and dead last, respectively.
Grady Jarrett has been a one-man wrecking crew for much of his career… that’s not the case anymore.
Wherever you look, the Flacons got better along the defensive front. Grady Jarett’s interior running mates of David Onyemata, Calais Campbell, and Ta’Quon Graham are the best of his career. The edge group features Lorenzo Carter, Bud Dupree, Arnold Ebiketie, and DeAngelo Malone.
Carter is a well-rounded player that isn’t elite in any one area but serviceable in all. Dupree is hoping to parlay this one-year deal from the Falcons into another lucrative, long-term free-agent contract; he’s certainly motivated. Ebiketie and Malone need to take the next steps in their respective developments but are capable.
And don’t forget about Kaden Elliss, who will primarily serve as the defense’s off-ball linebacker but also as a pass rusher in certain instances. The Falcons have a respectable front seven, but Bleacher Report still isn’t sold, including Atlanta’s pass rush in position groups that will decide the 2023 season.
The bottom five teams in the league in pressure percentage went a combined 31-54. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers, who went 9-8, were able to have a winning record with a toothless pass rush and that’s probably a product of still having T.J. Watt for 10 games.
Put simply: If you can’t pressure the opposing team’s quarterback, you won’t win many games in the NFL.
The Falcons were last in pressure percentage at 14.6 percent. Their ability to get after the passer has been a weakness for years.
Former Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen is in charge of the defense this season. Hypothetically that should lead to better performance from the guys rushing the passer.
They signed Bud Dupree on the edge and beefed up the interior with Calais Campbell and David Onyemata. The most significant development would be getting more out of 2022 second-round pick Arnold Ebiketie, who had just 2.5 sacks as a rookie.
The pass rush has a chance to make a significant impact because of the wide-open nature of the NFC South. The Falcons offense has a lot of intriguing ingredients in place with Bijan Robinson, Kyle Pitts and Drake London forming a dynamic young nucleus.
If the pass rush can improve under Nielsen, then the Falcons could become major players in the division and earn their first playoff berth since 2017.
Ryan Nielsen is in his first season as a full-time defensive coordinator and has an interesting group to work with. The Falcons have young and veteran talent at all three levels of the defense, but the pass rush has the chance to be the difference-making facet of the entire team.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire