The Atlanta Falcons' run defense was horrid in 2014. And that's a problem, because we have to play well against the run, or there won't be a defensive turnaround. It's not the sexiest of tasks, with sacks, quarterback hurries, and interceptions highlighting SportsCenter every Sunday. But it's an essential task nonetheless.
Before I point fingers, a quick disclaimer: I'm going to place a healthy amount of the blame on the shoulders of two established veterans. Jonathan Babineaux and Tyson Jackson are talented football players. In the right situation, both men are undoubtedly worth their contracts. That caveat in mind, we need them to play better run defense in 2015. There's just no getting around that fact.
Last season, Babineaux participated in 244 run plays. He had only had 8 stops, a stop percentage of 3.3 percent. Jackson participated in 281 run plays. He had had 9 stops, a stop percentage of 3.2 percent. If you're keeping score, those were the 2nd and 3rd worst interior DL stop percentages in the NFL last season.
For what it's worth, stop percentage isn't a stand alone performance indicator. A combination of bad luck and opponent preferences can unfairly affect an individual player's stop percentage. So let's take it a step further. Babineaux was the 28th rated DL in the NFL last season; not bad given his age. He played poor run defense for the first six games and then played replacement-level run defense in the second half. But he, unlike Jackson, played respectably in pass defense, earning a +6.3 rating, tied for 18th best in the NFL last season. Jackson had a -3.1 rating against the run, with particularly bad performances against Cleveland and Green Bay.
In short, Babineaux took a while to heat up and Jackson utterly flopped. The result? A 21st ranked run defense that gave up almost 1,900 rushing yards and 4.2 yards/carry. That's just not good enough.
Going forward, Dan Quinn and his merry band of coaching misfits have to make this a priority. Some combination of schematic tweaks, an infusion of youth, and hysterical screaming can probably get it done. Your thoughts?