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Defensive improvement feels like something we can bank on for the Falcons in 2022

Atlanta’s not going to offer up a great defense in 2022, but there’s really nowhere to go but up.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

I’ve been burned so many times by the Falcons defense, which often feels like it’s a couple of additions and some growth away from being solid. All too often, what we get is a crabwalk sideways—maybe the coverage takes a step forward, but the pass rush takes a step backward—or cratering either minor or major. The last time you were justified in thinking this defense was going to be terrific was from 2016 to 2017, honestly.

This year, though, I’m ready to throw my singed hat back in the ring and say it again: We’re going to see an improved Falcons defense in 2022.

The Falcons allowed the 7th highest number of yards in 2021, and were tied for the 3rd most points allowed. They had a league low number of sacks, the 6th-highest number of rushing yards allowed, and the 3rd highest penalty total in the entire NFL. They were abysmal in basically everything you can be abysmal in except plays over 40 yards—they memorably did not allow one all year—and passing yards allowed, where they were middle of the pack. It was an awful defense scraping bottom on talent outside of the team’s tiny handful of stars and a couple of promising young players, and only the offense’s shakiness rescued them from being the focus of our ire all year long.

Expecting improvement from this defense is more than just wishful thinking, if only because that was a pretty rock bottom effort. The Falcons replaced Steven Means, Deion Jones, Brandon Copeland, and others who didn’t have much luck rushing the passer with promising Lorenzo Carter and two interesting rookies, likely putting the pass rush in a better place than it was a year ago. Carter notably had more sacks for the Giants in the final few games of the season than any one Falcon had in all of last year. The defensive line, while not entirely restocked, will have what I fully expect to be an improved Ta’Quon Graham to go with solid additions like Vincent Taylor.

There’s cause for optimism at inside linebacker and in the secondary, too. Casey Heyward is replacing Fabian Moreau opposite A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Oliver hopefully has a full healthy season in front of him, and the additions at inside linebacker and along the defensive line are all solid enough. Jaylinn Hawkins was not entirely healthy a year ago and Richie Grant hardly played, but it goes without saying that they have more upside than Erik Harris (who is still around as a fallback option) and an older version of Duron Harmon. Couple all of this with Dean Pees entering his second season as defensive coordinator and vowing to implement more of the defense and it’s hard to see how this defense could not take at least a modest step forward.

I’m not counting on an elite defense this year, or in the immediate future. I am counting on real defensive improvement this year for the Falcons, and it’s hard to overstate how much more enjoyable this team will be to watch when we get it.