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Is the Falcons’ pass rush historically bad, or just regular bad?

A question no one really wants the answer to.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

We spend so much time talking about how terrible this Falcons pass rush is that it can be easy to lose perspective, and that’s why you get terms like “worst ever” and “oh my god, it burns a whole in my eternal soul to watch these guys rush the passer” thrown around so cavalierly. Is this Falcons pass rush really one of the worst of all time, though?

As you might expect, the answer is no, but it’s uncomfortably close. The team’s 19 sacks in 2015 were, as far as I’m aware, the lowest total in team history, and that extremely anemic pass rush (and the 2014 version, which was equally putrid despite a higher sack total) is already translating into 2016.

You don’t actually have to travel that far in the wayback machine to get to the single most inept single season sack record. That belongs to the ill-fated 2008 Kansas City Chiefs, a team that went 2-14 and didn’t do anything well except getting Herm Edwards fired.

The Falcons haven’t reached that incredible low—though as Matt Chambers noted to me when we discussed this article, the Falcons are currently on pace for zero sacks—but they have been inept for years. Here’s the team sack totals stretching back to magical 2012 season:

2015: 19.0

2014: 22.0

2013: 32.0

2012: 29.0

What you’ll notice is that the Falcons were at least sort of capable in 2012 and 2013, pretty inept in 2014, and really inept in 2015. Those totals don’t really paint a full picture of the team’s inability to get after the quarterback those two seasons, given that the team lead was 4.5 and 4 (Kroy Biermann and Vic Beasley, woohoo) those years. We’re also not looking at pressures and so forth, but we don’t really need to, because the Falcons simply didn’t get a ton of those, either.

You can point the finger in a lot of different directions, here, but there were three primary factors that caused this pass rush to drop off a cliff. The first was obviously John Abraham’s release and the subsequent lack of a replacement. The second was Thomas Dimitroff’s inability to land a pass rusher worth a damn, and/or to target one in the first couple of rounds. And the third was Mike Smith’s curious, endless devotion to finding ways to scheme pressure rather than pushing to acquire those standout pass rushers. The net result is that the cupboard was bare for Dan Quinn, and while he’s hardly done a standout job with Thomas Dimitroff of re-stocking it, it’s also true that rebuilding such a woeful pass rush is inherently a multi-year project.

This team would have to crater pretty hard to touch the two year mark set by the Chiefs, who followed up that disastrous 2008 with a more respectable 22 sacks and genuine pressure from the likes of Tamba Hali and Wallace Gilberry. It’s also true, though, that this pass rush doesn’t look like it’s going to reverse a very bad trend.