What's The Rush? Falcons Need To Upgrade D-Line Quickly
The new year has come and gone and I get a strong sense that fans of the Atlanta Falcons are sick and tired of failed expectations. One of the main areas that needs help heading into the offseason will be the anemic defensive line.
Considering the Falcons are in a division with two opposing quarterbacks that can fling the ball down the field at will, as well as dynamic running backs on each team, Atlanta's defensive line must improve its pass rush and run stopping ability. The team was ranked 29th in sacks (recording only 32) in 2013. To put that dismal production into perspective, Indianapolis Colts OLB Robert Mathis alone had 19.5 sacks, more than half of the Falcons sack total this year. DE Osi Umenyiora led the Falcons defensive squad with 7.5 sacks.
Meanwhile, Atlanta was second to last in stopping the run, giving up 135.8 yards per game. A porous front four and lack of a pass rush is a deadly combination to have in the NFC South, especially when the top two teams (New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers) are well balanced on the offensive side of the ball. Those factors will kill the Falcons come playoff time next year (assuming they make it), when they face off against combinations such as San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick & Frank Gore and Seattle's Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch.
Solution: Atlanta must make this year’s draft and free agent classes its best friends. Since the Falcons are picking sixth overall, they can focus on finding a defensive end with the ability to rush the passer on the first day. They might have to pray that South Carolina specimen Jadeveon Clowney falls to them at that spot, but there is always Missouri's Kony Ealy just in case Clowney is selected prior. At the same time, the Falcons could try to land a run-stopping DT who can play in a 4-3 scheme first. Ra'Shede Hageman of Minnesota may be a good fit.
If Atlanta does go with Hageman first, they can always find gems at the DE position on the second day of the draft.
Additionally, there are plenty of free agents to choose from. If the Falcons are looking for immediate results in the pass rush department, why not sign Jared Allen or Antonio Smith? Otherwise, I would hope that Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff would look for long-term solutions to the pass rushing problem by signing younger talent like Robert Ayers, Michael Bennett or and Lamarr Houston. Carolina's Greg Hardy would be a steal, should the Panthers allow him to test the free agent market.
At any rate, Atlanta must make big acquisitions during the offseason if the Falcons want to get better with their ability to stuff the run and rush the passer.
Otherwise, the defense will continue to get torched.