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Falcons over/under: Overall defensive rank

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A young collection of skill with some intriguing additions this offseason.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Integral to the highly disappointing 1-7 start to the 2019 season was the abundant amount of defensive woes for the Atlanta Falcons. By the time the Falcons were on the road against the Saints in Week 10, the team had already relinquished five games of 360 or more total yards allowed, registered just seven total sacks, and four total takeaways. Simply put, things were brutal.

A midseason change in defensive play calling made a significant difference over the second half of the season. But the pressure cooker is on high for the Falcons defensive staff. Today, we will set an over/under on the Falcons defense and their project overall rank.

The baseline

The slight improvement in the defense during the latter half of the season resulted in the Falcons ending the season ranked 20th overall. Over the final four games of the season, the defense totaled ten takeaways which was substantial during the team’s four game winning streak to close the season. I do believe we will see some more improvement from the unit overall thanks to some much needed athleticism being infused into the group of defenders this offseason. Let’s set the baseline at 14th, or an improvement of around 6th spots.

The case for the over

Since the beginning of the Dan Quinn era, sacks have been an inconsistent achievement, to say the least. This past season, the defense was 31st in sacks per game at just 1.8. As a matter of fact, the defense registered four consecutive games of no recorded sacks early in the season. All of this is centered around the free agent signing of edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. to a three-year deal.

While he is an enticing acquisition, the team will rely heavily on Fowler to generate a consistent pass rush. Fowler is coming off a career-year in 2019 with 11.5 sacks but in his three seasons prior, he totaled 16 sacks so some view his 2019 campaign as a possible flash in the pan. A lack of sacks will often have an effect on the pass coverage in the secondary. A young Falcons secondary last year struggled at times. The Falcons pass defense as a whole was 26th in yards per pass allowed and pass completions and 21st in passing yards allowed per game. There is plenty of young talent on the Falcons defense but the group is still a large unknown at this point.

Tennessee Titans v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The case for the under

The change of defensive coordinators at the bye week of the season was a noteworthy turning point. Coincidentally, the Falcons were 6-0 in games where the defense held their opponents to 20 points or less. Five of those victories came in the second half of the season when defensive coordinator Raheem Morris took over as the primary play caller. To dig a little deeper, the Falcons held three of the top five scoring offenses to 22 points or less during that portion of the season, all resulting in wins.

Now that Morris has full control of the defense, there are growing expectations to the defense seeing considerable improvement across the board. There was notable effort this offseason with adding much needed talent at every level of the defense. Whether or not it promising production will ensue remains to be seen. But the infusion of Fowler, rookie corner A.J. Terrell, rookie lineman Marlon Davidson, and linebacker/safety Deone Bucannon gives the Falcons a dose of speed and versatility that the unit lacked last season.

What’s your take?

In order for the Falcons to have any kind of postseason success, there needs to be adequate progression. The offseason additions and the full time role for Morris may be the right remedy for a defense that has seen it’s fair share of inconsistency. Will they improve? Or will the defense remain inferior?