The Falcons have a lot of holes to fill going into 2022. The offense was in the bottom third of the league while the defense was one of the absolute worst. Yet, the team still has cap issues and draft picks aren’t going to immediately help turn this ship around.
While the team will obviously want to commit to rebuilding both units, I’m here to argue that they should focus on immediately getting the offense up to snuff. Here’s why.
The league is geared towards offense
The days of the shutdown defense are all but over. Even the best defenses in the league still struggle against top tier offenses, and sometimes defense flies out the window entirely. League rules have slanted more and more towards the offense over the last two decades and that’s not likely to let up. The NFL wants high scoring games and it’s gotten to the point that simply hitting the QB the wrong way can cost you 15 yards and an automatic first.
That’s why teams need to bulk up their offense as much as possible. If you want to win in today’s NFL, you have to score points. That’s not to say defense isn’t important. You should definitely aim to disrupt the opposing QB as much as possible, but Atlanta has been trying to fix the pass rush since John Abraham was cut in 2013. A quick glance at the top 10 scoring offenses of 2021 paints a clear picture. Of those 10 teams, 8 of them went to the playoffs. Only 6 of the top 10 defenses did (by points allowed).
If you want to win and make it to the playoffs, your best path is through your offense.
Protect and prepare
Matt Ryan was hit a league high 130 times in 2021. Atlanta can’t afford to duplicate that effort again in 2022. While the team has spent several first round picks on the offensive line, it can’t simply rest there. Finding a veteran left guard while Jalen Mayfield develops (or you look for other options) is a must. While some teams have found success without a good OL, it’s not a model to follow.
By restocking the offensive line with talent - especially on the interior - you’re also building a foundation for your future QB. Ryan’s successor is likely going to be on the team within the next few years and giving them good protection in the pocket is only going to help their development.
Building an offensive line to protect Ryan now is also a move for tomorrow.
A good offense helps a bad defense
We’ve heard this cliché before, but it’s true. A good offense that can stay on the field and burn down the clock helps to protect your defense. Pairing a rebuilding offense with a rebuilding defense helps no one. However, an offense that can roll with the best in the league can keep your defense off the field and even potentially hand them sizable leads to protect. Putting the other team into pass-only situations can help the defense pin their ears back and attack the passing game instead of defending a complete offense for all four quarters.
None of this is to say the team should postpone rebuilding the defense for an extended period of time. The salary cap will free up dramatically in 2023 and the Falcons can then focus on truly restocking the roster on that side of the ball while developing guys they’ve already drafted.
Going into 2022, though, it makes more sense to focus on maximizing the window you have with Ryan while preparing the offensive side of the ball for his eventual successor. The team should see more immediate success this way, while also laying a foundation for the next decade.