Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Paul Soliai (96) on the field during practice during Falcons Friday Night Lights at Archer High School. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Falcons season preview 2014: Defensive line

The 2014 NFL season is almost here, and it is time to preview this season’s edition of the Atlanta Falcons. In part one, we took a deep dive into the defensive line.

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First things first, the Atlanta Falcons absolutely needed an upgrade on the defensive line from the 2013 season. As a defensive unit, the Falcons combined for only 32 sacks during the 16-game season, but more than that, their defensive line was simply unable to generate any sort of consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and they were equally deficient against the run, where the team was just 31st in the NFL in allowing more than 135 yards per game on the ground.

However, Thomas Dimitroff and company made significant acquisitions to stabilize the group as this season approaches, and in all honesty, it will be quite nice to see a passable unit on the field. It is important to note that the Falcons are switching to a predominantly 3-4 scheme for the upcoming year, and while much of the personnel is the same, that is something to monitor from an aspect of expectations.

Defensive Ends

Tyson Jackson, Jonathan Babineaux, Osi Umenyiora, Malliciah Goodman, Ra’Shede Hageman

This is an interesting group. Jackson and Babineaux are certainly not prototypical pass-rushers from the “defensive end” position, but each are very solid players when understanding their role. Tyson Jackson was acquired via free agency from the Chiefs in the off-season, and while he is probably overpaid, he is excellent against the run despite a lack of explosiveness. Babineaux is a bit better at getting into opposing backfields, but he is getting up in age (32 years old), and there are concerns that he has lost a step in recent seasons.

Umenyiora is the lone member of this group that is a pure pass-rusher, but he doesn’t quite fit into the scheme as a rush linebacker in a 3-4. I would expect that his use will vary based on situation, and despite rumors of his demise, the former Giants defensive end did lead the team in sacks with 7.5 in 2013.

Goodman and Hageman are both rotational players, at least for this season, although Hageman has considerable upside if he can fight through early injury concerns and a “raw” pedigree.

Defensive Tackles

Paul Soliai, Corey Peters

Soliai was perhaps the biggest acquisition of the off-season for Atlanta, and he has a monster up front. At 6-foot-4 and 345 pounds, the former Miami Dolphin will be called upon to eat up double teams on virtually every play, and while his numbers aren’t impressive (34 tackles, 1 sack in 2013), that is simply not his game. Barring injury (he has missed only one game in the past four seasons), he will be a mainstay in the middle and that is a great thing.

Unfortunately, old pal Corey Peters isn’t quite as safe. The 25-year-old Peters was actually quite effective during the 2013 season, and honestly, he was one of the few bright spots on the entire defense. Unfortunately, he sustained a torn achilles at the very end of the campaign, and though he is back on a one-year deal, it is tough to gauge where he will be physically. On the bright side, Atlanta won’t necessarily be relying on a swift return from Peters with Soliai in the fold, but he could be a difference maker from a depth perspective if all is right, and it is impossible not to root for Corey Peters.

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Overall, this is an improved unit, but one that should still have a hint of modesty from a perspective of expectations. Run defense should be a strength of this group, but the pure pass rusher is still nowhere to be found, and even if Mike Nolan can patch together a productive season from Umenyiora or even Hageman, I’m not positive that the explosiveness is there.

Improvement is good, but the next step will be to take some of the pressure off of the young group of defensive backs.

Tags: Atlanta Falcons

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