A year ago, an anemic Falcons pass rush managed to pile up just 19 sacks, and while sacks don’t tell the whole story, they certainly successfully conveyed just how lousy Atlanta was at chasing down opposing quarterbacks in 2015.
Fast forward a year ago and a funny thing has happened: The defense is still struggling with covering tight ends and handling the middle of the field, they’re still missing tackles, and there are still question marks dotting the roster. For all that, though, Atlanta’s starting to get a pass rush going.
It starts with Vic Beasley, who has 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in his age 24 season. I thought Beasley would be better with more experience but thought his arrival would be coming next year, particularly after he started off this season so slowly, but it looks like he’ll blow right by my projected eight sacks. He’s not consistently wreaking havoc, but he’s so fast off the edge that he’s a legitimate threat.
Dwight Freeney has three sacks and is as effective as ever, while Adrian Clayborn has 1.5 sacks and looked particularly sharp against San Diego. Desmond Trufant, bizarrely, has added two. The net effect is that the Falcons already have 15 sacks, just four off from last year’s total, and they’re getting pressure on quarterbacks where none existed before. It isn’t always making the difference we’d like—Philip Rivers was largely unfazed—but it’s an encouraging step. Atlanta is not going to have a good defense until they deliver consistently in that arena.
It’s not a great pass rush yet, obviously, and it’s not clear who is going to step up beyond Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett, especially if Dwight Freeney walks away next year. The fact that the team has at least two young players with considerable upside is a fine start, though, and that’s more than we’ve been able to say for a long, long time.