Will Falcons lack of a premier pass rusher plague sack numbers?

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The Falcons have had an anemic pass rush under the new regime. Since Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot have taken over in Atlanta, the defense has totaled 38 sacks over two seasons coordinated by Dean Pees.

Atlanta posted 21 sacks in 2022 and 17 the year prior, ranking second to last and dead last, respectively. It’s been a lack of pressure and coverage; the rush couldn’t get home, while the backend couldn’t hold up.

It’s why the team spent a majority of their cap space on the defensive side of the ball, allocating big money to all three levels. Jessie Bates III was the prize of the free agent class, inking a lucrative four-year deal. On that same day, the Falcons announced long-term deals with former Saints David Onyemata and Kaden Elliss.

That doesn’t include the bevy of other less notable but solid acquisitions — Jeff Okudah, Mike Hughes, Bud Dupree, Lorenzo Carter, and Eddie Goldman — who will all have the opportunity to contribute significantly.

A welcome surprise was Calais Campbell choosing Atlanta over a number of other playoff contenders. It gives the Falcons the most well-rounded roster in what feels like a lifetime. The defense has several worthwhile players littered all over the defense, but will their platoon pass rush approach net better results?

The secondary and coverage as a whole should be better with the addition of Bates and the development of Richie Grant. The other two cornerback positions will be up for grabs, and Fontenot has done an excellent job constructing a fierce position battle there. But the front seven doesn’t have the guy.

Nobody should be surprised if the Falcons don’t have one pass rusher with double-digit sacks.┬áThe last time Calais Campbell posted double-digit sacks was in 2018, Bud Dupree hasn’t since 2019, and the rest of the Falcons have never done it in their careers, including Grady Jarrett.

However, there’s reason to be optimistic. No, this group isn’t going to lead the league in sacks, but it should be much improved from the worst in the league.

It might not feature a game wrecker like Nick Bosa, Myles Garrett, or Micah Parsons, but the front seven and secondary are much improved from 2021 and 2022; it’s night and day.

Moreover, there are internal upgrades to think about. Arnold Ebiketie was a second-round pick a year ago for a reason; he possesses legit pass rush ability but, like every prospect, needed some refining.

In addition, affecting the quarterback is just as important as getting him to the ground. That’s why teams track pressure. And if you add the Falcons offseason acquisitions to the group’s 2022 total, it paints a much different picture.

  • Calais Campbell (5.5 sacks, 15 pressures), Ta’Quon Graham (0 sacks, 6 pressures), David Onyemata (5.0 sacks, 13 pressures), Eddie Goldman (0.5 sacks, 4 pressures), Grady Jarrett (6.0 sacks, 22 pressures)
  • Lorenzo Carter (4.0 sacks, 15 pressures), Ade Ogundeji (2.0 sacks, 3 pressures), Bud Dupree (4.0 sacks, 17 pressures), Arnold Ebiketie (2.5 sacks, 15 pressures), DeAngelo Malone (1.0 sack, 4 pressures)
  • LB Kaden Elliss (7.0 sacks, 11 pressures), Troy Andersen (0 sacks, 3 pressures)
  • New Total: 37.5 sacks, 165.5 pressures (hurries, knockdowns, sacks)
  • 2022 Total: 21 sacks (31st), 91 pressures
  • 2021 Total: 17 sacks (32nd), 105 pressures

That is a vast improvement from last and second to last.

Even still, there are a couple of defenders that could push for double-digit sacks, like Grady Jarrett, Kaden Elliss, and Arnold Ebiketie. Jarrett has never been surrounded by this much talent in his career; Elliss put up seven sacks in a part-time role last year, and Ebiketie has the potential to reach that mark. Now, whether all of that comes to fruition isn’t something I’m willing to bet on, but it’s possible.

The point is the Falcons should be a much improved pass rushing team, regardless of if they don’t have a premier guy to rely on.

Photographer: Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

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