Yesterday, we looked over the offense. Today, I tackle the defense.
To be clear, this is the unit that needs less work overall, assuming the Falcons don't blow it up by refusing to re-sign any of their free agents. I say that knowing that they are still an inconsistent unit with a couple of glaring flaws. I also say that as a huge believer in the talent assembled, especially if they're all allowed to do what they do best.
As I did yesterday, I'm going to limit myself to three facets of the D I would change regardless of the coordinator coming in. If you're take the jump with me, you can check them out. Afterwards, add to the list.
1) A better pass rush. I'd give up my kingdom for this.
The talent is here. If the Falcons bring back John Abraham, they have one elite pass rusher, albeit an aging one. Lawrence Sidbury is growing as a player. Ray Edwards has the talent, even if he was ultimately a disappointment as a pass rusher in 2011. Kroy Biermann (if he returns) and promising Cliff Matthews can contribute in a rotation, and the Falcons have enough speed in the linebacking corps to get it done there.
No matter who the coordinator is, they have to get more out of this unit. Even if Thomas Dimitroff brings in new veteran and rookie pass rushers, the entire system needs to be overhauled. This was the major weakness of every Brian Van Gorder Falcons' defense. They could get into the backfield, but getting sustained pressure was rare, and actual sacks were even more rare.
So the new scheme needs to be more aggressive. It needs to do away with that soft zone, which let quarterbacks get out of trouble when the rush is coming. It needs to emphasize the Falcons' best pass rushers and put them in a position to succeed. And it needs to be sustained over a 16 game season, not crop up for stretches.
If the Falcons can get after the quarterback successfully, a lot of other problems fade away.
2) Kill the soft zone. I'm not saying you can't play zone, period. A good zone defense can cover the field well and take advantage of mistakes.
But it's become increasingly clear that the Falcons' personnel does not thrive in a soft zone, excepting the talented Brent Grimes. Dunta Robinson is a physical corner who has spent the last two seasons in a system that is mostly a poor fit for his talents. Chris Owens has the speed to keep up with anyone, and Dominique Franks is a nice mix of the two. You could make the reasonable argument that all three would be better off in a man coverage scheme, or at least a tight zone. I would.
At the very least, it buys you another split second to rush the passer. The Falcons could definitely use that.
So it's time to start letting those guys play the way they want to, and let Thomas DeCoud and William Moore worry less about catching up and more about sticking to other teams' tight ends and delivering hits. That assumes DeCoud is back, of course. It's time to stop giving up plays underneath and letting them turn into big plays because the Falcons miss a tackle. Speaking of which...
3) Emphasize sound tackling and good angles. This is Football 101, yes, but it's necessary.
The Falcons range from average to horrendous at tackling. They've struggled to bring down quarterbacks. They've bounced off of running backs. They've half-heartedly wrapped an arm around the shoulders of many a wide receiver and then fallen down. It's completely and totally inexcusable. I'm willing to bet they could have saved a few hundred yards and a few scores if they got after the guy holding the ball and actually, you know, hit him.
And the angles. The angles. Thomas DeCoud has gotten such a terrible rap primarily because he never seems to take the right angle to the ball carrier. He's a very talented player and he was among the team leaders in a lot of categories, but that doesn't seem to matter when you're taking a parabola to a guy ten yards away. It really helps to explain why so many Falcons fans are ambivalent.
These are all smart, quality dudes who have been playing football their whole lives. They know the deal. Sometimes even the best need to be reminded that the basics matter, though, and these Falcons just need a refresher on the small stuff. If they play mistake-free football, it'll improve the defense dramatically.
So those are my three. Add yours to the list.