Same old story for Falcons pass rush?

The Falcons had an anemic pass rush all season. The team’s coaches said sacks are overrated but they acknowledged that lack of pressure was a problem and vowed to address it. The Falcons didn’t add an edge rusher early in the draft or sign a top-tier rusher during free agency but the coaches insisted the pass rush would improve.

I’m talking about the 2015 season and the subsequent off-season. But I also could be talking about the 2013 season and following off-season. Falcons coaches have changed but the narrative surrounding their pass rush remains pretty much the same.

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In 2013 the Falcons defense ranked last in sacks per pass play. They also ranked last in the Football Outsiders adjusted sack metric, which accounts for down, distance and opponent.

Still, the Falcons didn’t add a proven pass rusher for 2014.

They signed beefy tackles Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson with the idea that they would collapse the middle of the pocket and improve the run defense, leading to better pass-rush situations. The Falcons also were counting on another decent year from Osi Umenyiora and improvement from young players such as Jonathan Massaquoi.

The Falcons said pass rushing would be a collective effort .

"We have pass rushers, but we need to continue to ascend in our craft," Massaquoi said during 2014 training camp. "The pass rush is going to come."

The pass rush didn’t come.

The Falcons ranked 31st in sack percentage in 2014 and 30th in adjusted sack rate. Falcons owner Arthur Blank fired coach Mike Smith after the 2014 season. Thus the seven-year Smith/Thomas Dimitroff era ended with the team never ranking better than 20th in sack percentage and doing better than 23rd in adjusted sack rate just once.

Blank hired Dan Quinn and kept Dimitroff and the pair selected Clemson pass rusher Vic Beasley with their first pick in the 2015 draft. The Falcons also signed free agent defensive end Adrian Clayborn. Beasley had a solid rookie season and Clayborn was OK but the pass rush as a whole didn't improve: the Falcons ranked last in sacks per pass play and last in adjusted sacks.

Still, the Falcons didn't add a proven pass rusher for 2016 .

The Falcons signed edge rusher Derrick Shelby in free agency with the idea that he’s still developing. They are counting on Shelby and Clayborn to be better pass rushers and on improvement from young players such as Beasley and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett.

The Falcons are saying pass rushing will be a collective effort .

"We added Shelby," Quinn said after the draft. "We're moving Clayborn out to end. We're hoping (Brooks) Reed comes alive. He was big-time injured last year. We know he's got pass rush to him, and we'll develop some of the guys to come through.

"It's not just go out (and get somebody), it's also the guys that are here in the building. We'll get them better, too, you can count on that."

We’ve heard this story before from the Falcons. Maybe this time it will have a different ending.

About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010. 
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