The Falcons pass rush has been horrific for over a decade, but there was hope that those issues would be a thing of the past after the team allocated significant funds to their defensive line this offseason.
David Onyemata, Calais Campbell, and Bud Dupree headlined the free agent class, as far as the pass rush is concerned, but so far, the new-look defensive front hasn’t netted much better results in the sack department. The Falcons only have three sacks through three weeks, putting them on pace for 17 this season, which is less than they had last season (21), which ranked 31st in the league, ahead of only the Chicago Bears (20).
That’s not a promising sign, but as Alex pointed out, the underlying metrics in regard to pressure tell an entirely different story.
Atlanta ranks tied for 9th in quarterback hurry rate, forcing opposing signal callers to get rid of the ball early 11.7% of the time. The Falcons are tied with the Saints in that metric, which is a defense heralded for their pass rush presence. Even more impressive, the Falcons defense ranks 2nd, behind only the Bills, in quarterback knockdown rate (15.6%).
Pressures account for hurries, knockdowns, and sacks. Atlanta ranks tied for 4th in pressure rate, producing one of those three results on 29.1% of dropbacks. So while the sacks are among the fewest in the league, it’s not because of a lack of pressure. The Falcons just haven’t converted those hurries and knockdowns into sacks.
I’ve seen some fans complain about the lack of production when it comes to the defensive line. If you’re strictly box score watching, that may be the case, but as far as what’s happening on the field, the difference is night and day from a year ago. The Falcons are getting after the quarterback early and often. Eventually, that’s going to lead to sacks in bunches, and Atlanta’s new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen knows that.
Falcons DC Ryan Nielsen: The pressure numbers have been pretty good. "The sacks will come."
— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) September 28, 2023
The Falcons are inside the top eight in scoring defense and yards allowed per game. The days of allowing quarterbacks to sit in the pocket for hours are over, and the results as a whole are showing that improvement across the defensive line. The sack numbers are all many people are going to observe at the end of the day, but the difference has been obvious, and it’s a primary reason for the Falcons turnaround defensively.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire