The lack of pass rush other than John Abraham has been beaten to a pulp by fans and critics alike for years and years, and rightly so. This defense has been downright pitiful in getting to the quarterback. Sure, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, but the failure to develop ANY pass rush from the defensive ends spot, or any defensive end prospect for that matter over a 5 year period is just criminal. They tried to move Kroy Biermann to a full-time DE in the 4-3, even though he was unanimously projected as an OLB at the next level. They re-signed Chauncey Davis to a starter level contract and he did absolutely nothing. They signed Ray Edwards and we all know how that turned out. Lawrence Sidbury must have kicked Mike Smith’s dog, because he’s nowhere to be found, even though he earned 4 sacks in very limited chances in 2011. Cliff Matthews and Jonathan Massaquoi showed some potential, but they didn’t see the field until Ray Edwards got himself cut.
This position, like several others, needs a complete overhaul. Will they be able to go out and get an elite defensive end? No, and they shouldn’t even try. First of all, they’re going to have to make some very painful decisions to build this defense for the long haul, not even mentioning that they will have to clear cap space somehow. Abraham might be on the block to get cut since he’ll be 35 in May and has shown signs of slowing. As mentioned before, a move to the 3-4 seems to be the best way to go. The move would allow the Falcons to try Biermann, Massaquoi, Matthews, Sidbury (if they keep him), and maybe even Nicholas to a standup outside linebacker, for none of them seem ready to lift off at DE in the 4-3.
Even if Abraham is somehow kept, he could prolong his career by standing up as OLB, not having to take a beating every single play with his hand in the dirt. Given all the resources over a span of 5 years, it’s time to overhaul this position and it’s best described by Albert Einstein’s famous quote: “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.” Assessment — Implosion
This position has been one of the most underperforming since Smith and Dimitroff took over. It’s not even out of the realm to say that the Falcons did better with the likes of Rod Coleman and big Grady Jackson. Jonathan Babineaux has been the only consistency at defensive tackle and, like Abraham, he hasn’t had much of any help on the other side. Corey Peters was a nice surprise, but his injury limited his production in 2012. Vance Walker is excellent as a rotation tackle. Who knows about Travian Robertson because he was placed firmly in Smith’s “Witness Protection Program.” Peria Jerry is without a doubt Dimitroff’s worst pick and really is not worth keeping around at this point, regardless of how little he costs towards the salary cap. Micanor Regis is on the practice squad and is extremely athletic for someone his size (6’3, 307) and could make the leap if he continues to progress.
It may not make any sense to clean house to an extent, but if you keep going back to the fact that what’s been done previously just has not worked in hardly any capacity, than it’s easier to remember that changes are needed. As mentioned before, Jerry’s time has come and gone and cutting him wouldn’t alter very much going forward and would even save $1 million towards the cap. If they move to a 3-4, Walker, Peters, and Robertson could move to a 5-technique defensive end, and Peters could backup at Nose Tackle in a pinch. That would clear two spots for the draft, where they could double dip at nose tackle, or take a nose tackle and a player for 5 technique. If they can figure out a way to keep Jonathan Babineaux, it will be fantastic. But the consummate Falcon is one of the few candidates that could save the Falcons major money towards the cap and wouldn’t create any dead money, almost $5 million. No fan wants to lose any player that’s been so productive and so loyal for so long, but it’s a business and it may be an unfortunate reality. Going back to the underlying point, the past hasn’t worked and it’s time for a change, especially at defensive tackle. Assessment — Implosion
Once a group with so much promise, the Atlanta Falcons LB corps wasn’t the strength many thought it may be in 2012. The position got off to a bad start when Lofa Tatupu was injured in the weight room during his comeback attempt before the season even started. He may not have won the starting job anyway, but at least he would have provided competition and may could have helped in coverage. Akeem Dent didn’t see the field much, but had major issues in the beginning, particularly in coverage, but did show some improvement towards the end of the season. His future as a long-time starter is still in doubt, though.
Stephen Nicholas was thought to possibly blossom after getting a fairly large contract and being placed in Mike Nolan’s more aggressive scheme. He maybe didn’t have a “terrible” year, notching almost 100 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble. But he looked particularly poor in the playoffs trying to cover in space. Some think that Nicholas could be on the dock to be cut, but his he’s owed $3 million in signing bonus money and it doesn’t make any sense. Mike Peterson has been a stalwart in the locker room for his leadership and toughness, but it’s time to move on. Robert James has had plenty of chances to make a move after 5 years, so it’s time to give someone else a chance. Pat Schiller is hanging around the practice squad and showed some major promise, so perhaps he could make the jump.
After a very good start, even Sean Weatherspoon wasn’t the same after his injury. A move to the 3-4 would obviously change the complexion of the position, and Biermann should get consideration of a move to outside linebacker regardless of what scheme they run. They obviously won’t be looking to add any linebackers in free agency, mainly because they don’t have any money to do so, but also due to the fact that there’s not much there anyway. Linebacker should get a long look as an early pick in this year’s draft. Considering that both backup spots should be open and that Spoon is really the only true linebacker to build around, this needs a big change as well. Assessment – Dynamite, bordering on Implosion
One of the few bright spots for the Falcons on defense this year. Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson formed a good and solid duo, if not dominant. This is also considering that they planned on rolling with 3 starting caliber corners, choosing to give $10+ million on Brent Grimes and losing him in the first game of the season. Robert McClain was a nice surprise and played extremely well in the nickel role. The former practice squad player even played well on the outside when called upon. Chris Owens showed the form he had back as a rookie and he looks to be kept in free agency for depth and continued development. Dominique Franks appears to be on his way out again after only getting the nod after Brent Grimes was put on IR and offering absolutely nothing as a punt returner.
Some think that Dunta Robinson might be on the cap casualty block. But his contract seems to be that the Falcons would have to pay around $3 million just to cut him, which would create yet another hole to fill on an already weak defense. Others think that the Falcons will cut Robinson and keep Grimes. It’s surely a possibility, but a major risk with Grimes coming off a major Achilles heel injury. The secondary wasn’t the problem nearly as much as the front seven, and really played quite well considering the pitiful pass rush.
Robert McClain looks set solid as the nickel back after doing a fantastic job this past season. He will definitely be kept and could maybe even be groomed to take over full-time after Robinson or Samuel either retire or decline. Chris Owens is a free agent this season, but should also be kept. After a few years of seeming regression, he seemed to have somewhat of a small rebirth under Nolan and his new defense. Injuries plagued him late in the year, but overall he provides excellent depth as the #4 cornerback and has experience of starting as well. Dominique Franks is technically under contract for 2013, but looks to likely be on his way out. Franks either has regressed from his initial potential or just isn’t suited for Nolan’s defense. A few young cornerbacks in the draft might be a good spot for a #5 CB to groom and develop. Assessment — Firecrackers
This is one of the few strengths of the defense and both safeties, Thomas DeCoud and William Moore, were promoted to the Pro Bowl when the 49ers duo went to the Super Bowl. They aren’t perfect and must work on their consistency from week to week, but at times they look like the best safety tandem in the league. DeCoud is mostly good on coverage skills, but the image of trying to arm tackle Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship Game will long linger. William Moore is set to become a free agent, but it’s hard to imagine Dimitroff not doing everything he can to keep Moore a Falcon. There was a recent report that Moore wants to test the free agent market, but it’s not the best year for him to do it. Superb safeties Jarius Byrd, Kenny Phillips, and Dashon Goldson are also set to become free agents and Moore missing extensive time due to injury doesn’t help his case either. Expect Dimitroff to keep one of his young stars in red and black, but if not, there are other free agent options available.
Charles Mitchell seems to have a future as not only a backup safety, but could eventually work himself into something more. The backup positions have essentially been turnstiles since Dimitroff took over, whether being low draft picks that eventually lose their job such as Shann Schillinger, undrafted free agents, or journeymen who never stick. Dimitroff usually reserves the other spot for a good veteran safety that can come in and perform well in case injuries are an issue, mainly William Moore. James Sanders filled that role last year and Chris Hope did a very good job this year. Assuming Hope doesn’t ask for the moon, it’s very reasonable to see him sticking around for another year. If the Falcons can keep Moore, this is the most stable of positions not only on defense, but also on the entire team. Assessment — Firecrackers.
Nothing too much to elaborate here, but is there anything bigger than an implosion? Franks showed a tiny glimpse in preseason only to use fair catches the entire season. The punt return game literally added no threat or offensive help whatsoever. Harry Douglas got a late season chance at returner, but couldn’t get it together or find his groove either. The Falcons need to add a major infusion of talent and competition both at punt returner and relieve Jacquizz Rodgers on kick return. Assessment — Massive Implosion
1) Quick INT – How much work does defense need: minor, medium, or major repairs?
2) What should happen to the defensive end position?
3) Any free agents to look at DE or purely draft?
4) What should happen to the defensive tackle position?
5) Free agents, draft, or both at DT?
6) Who’s your 5 or 6 DTs on opening day?
7) Implode the linebacker corps if you must: what’s your plan?
8.) Who would be your 5-6 LBs on opening day?
9) What’s your plan @ cornerback?
10) What should Falcons do if William Moore maxes out somewhere else?