Once upon a time, the Atlanta Falcons got by on defensive guile rather than talent. Atlanta under Mike Smith had one great pass rusher (John Abraham), some above average defensive tackles (Jonathan Babineaux was legitimately great some of that time), and a typically strong secondary. Otherwise, the Falcons did much with little, until the wheels really came off in 2013 and 2014 and Smith got swept out of town.
Since Dan Quinn took over, he has steadily rebuilt the defense to the point where it’s regularly talked about as one of the NFL’s best young units, even if they’re not quite there yet from a production standpoint. That doesn’t mean the Falcons don’t still use a little trickery to make things hum, and in fact, they were among the best teams in the NFL at stunting a year ago.
The Falcons have been successful at doing this in large part due to the talent and savviness of their front seven. If Vic Beasley is making his way outside and Grady Jarrett crashes into the tackle and pushes far enough forward that he demands the attention of multiple linemen, Beasley is fast enough to take advantage by darting by the occupied lineman. When the Falcons execute them well, they’re very hard to stop, because they have a lot of big, fast defenders to work with.
This bodes well for 2018 because the Falcons still have plenty of players who can generate pressure and are fleet of foot enough to make stunts work, even with the likes of Adrian Clayborn and Dontari Poe headed elsewhere. Even if they’re not quite as efficient and effective as they were in 2017 at running stunts, the defense looks so good—and the pass rush quietly strong enough in general—that they should be one of the league’s tougher units to contend with again.