Atlanta Falcons 2013 defensive tackle review: What's the next step?

USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons defense was miserable in 2013, but their defensive tackles at least provided a few bright spots here and there. Now three of the five are set to become free agents.

As we continue our position-by-position look back at 2013, you might want to take the occasional break to gently cry in the corner, because now we're getting into the heart of the defense. Luckily one position on this side of the ball actually stepped up at times throughout the past season. Yes, we're talking about the interior of the line.

Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux finished the season rated second on the Falcons defense by Pro Football Focus, only behind rookie Desmond Trufant. These two DTs would receive gold stars if we were giving them out. But unfortunately Peria Jerry ate all the gold stars; he thought they were candy.

Jerry played the most snaps of his career in 2013 and finished with a career-high 3.5 sacks. He was also rated as the third-worst defender on the Falcons by PFF. Just don't think about the fact that he was a first-round pick and it's not so bad.

Uncertainty now lies ahead. Three of the Falcons five defensive tackles could be suiting up for different teams in 2014. This is a position that will require careful deliberation going forward. Until we reach that point, though, let's look back at the past year.

Best game

The season started off well for the Falcons defensive tackles. Week 1's matchup with the Saints was arguably the best performance from the group. Peters and Jerry each finished with a sack and a tackle for a loss. The interior made stops in the run game and helped limit New Orleans to 2.7 yards per carry.

Worst game

The run defense was a travesty in Week 11 at Tampa Bay. Bobby Rainey rushed for 163 yards. BOBBY RAINEY. Every defensive tackle played poorly. The pass rush was poor as well. Not a game we'd like to reminisce about.

Best moment

Pick one of Jerry's three sacks, because any time that guy makes a play it's practically a godsend.

Worst moment

Peters tore his Achilles early in the last game of the year. Because things weren't bad enough. Why, God? WHY?

Final grade: B

PFF rated Peters and Babineaux No. 14 and 16 respectively in run stopping percentage. Were the Falcons awful against the run? Yes, and while their ratings might be a bit overvalued, these two players did perform well against opposing backs more often than not.

Babineaux seemed to struggled with overpursuit, missing 12 tackles in 2013. Peters saw plenty of double teams, which diminished his pass rushing productivity. Yet he still managed a career-high five sacks. Jerry is Jerry, and that's as much as I'd like to say about him. Travian Robertson played sparingly as a situational player. He hasn't showed anything too special so far.

Adding up the totals: two solid performances + one bad + one "meh" = B

Years under contract

Travian Robertson (2): $570,000 base salary, $581,474 cap hit in 2014

Adam Replogle (2): $420,000 base/cap hit

...oh, that's it.

Roster changes

Tough decisions await the front office regarding defensive tackle. It might be time to move on from the USS Babineaux. He'll turn 33 in October, and considering his salary has been among the top of the roster, it seems like an unwise decision to hand him a similar deal.

If Babineaux is willing to take a pay cut, he'd certainly be worth keeping around. Keep in mind he did say this past season he hopes to close out his career in Atlanta. That works in favor of the Falcons.

Corey Peters needs to be retained. While injuries seem to be a recurring theme with him, the 25-year-old played 15 games in 2013, and he is one of the few quality defenders the Falcons possess. Watching him walk would be tough to stomach. His recovery, though, will be monitored closely.

Peria Jerry is awful. Do not re-sign him. Thank you.

If the Falcons follow up with these recommendations (surely Thomas Dimitroff is reading along, always appreciate your support, sir), they're left with work to do on interior of the line. Signing a free agent who can play the 1-tech would allow Peters to line up at the 3-tech, a position that most will agree is better suited for his skill set.

Outlook

Peters is in the recovery process from his Achilles surgery. While everything appears to be going as planned so far, Dr. Robert Anderson was the one who performed the surgery, and given the fact that he's the Panthers' team doctor, there could be a thermal detonator implanted in Peters' body just waiting to explode for all we know.

With Peters working his way back from injury and two defensive tackles potentially walking, the Falcons have to take a hard look at the market.

Potential free agents:

  • Linval Joseph: The Giants are faced with the decision of handing Joseph a hefty pay day or letting him walk. At 25, he's arguably the best defensive tackle ready to hit free agency. He would be a huge addition for the Falcons defensive line.
  • Paul Soliai: Nolan is familiar with him from the time they spent together in Miami. Soliai has the build of a 3-4 nose, but he's been playing well in the Dolphins' 4-3 base.
  • B.J. Raji: He's a top priority for the Packers to re-sign, but think of all the commercials he and Matt Ryan could put together for State Farm.
Atlanta is in a spot where it could benefit from signing a free agent defensive tackle and also bringing another in from the NFL Draft. How do you think this position performed for the Falcons in 2013, and what do you think they should do in the offseason to address DT?
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