If the Atlanta Falcons want to unlock the puzzle that will finally get them to their ultimate goal, the key will be to find not one, but two great pass rushers. Whether it be through free agency or the draft, Atlanta has to figure out how to get some pressure on opposing quarterbacks to push themselves over the hump they’ve been fighting for the last few seasons.
Like any team, the Falcons have a few strong areas and a few weaker areas, but if you look over what the Falcons have been able to do, creating a consistent pass rush is the one area where they have regularly failed. Every other area of play you’d have to give Atlanta either an A or B grade, and the rushing attack just got a boost to that level with the signing of RB Steven Jackson. But getting pressure on the quarterback is one area that is woefully below the grade.
Atlanta was basically dependent on DE John Abraham, who had been their lone source of any real pressure, but now Abraham is gone, at least for the time being. It’s still not out of the question for the Falcons to bring Abraham back on another one-year deal, but it’s probably not the team’s first option. Abraham is out shopping himself around to other contenders trying to find the team that can milk another year of productivity out of his 34-year-old body, and pay him top dollar to do it.
Atlanta can probably find other free agents at the end position that will be younger and just as–if not more–productive than Abraham at equal or less than he’d have to be paid.
Right now the available free agent defensive ends that might suit Atlanta’s needs are Elvis Dumervil, Osi Umenyiora, Dwight Freeney, Darryl Tapp, Israel Idonije, Lawrence Jackson and Juqua Parker.
Of that list, you can probably cross off Dumervil and Freeney right away for price and/or age reasons, while Tapp, Parker and Jackson aren’t really the impact players that the Falcons are looking for. That leaves Umenyiora and Idonije, and I say, why not go get both?
If Atlanta could add those two pieces to their defensive line, it would give them a rotation of Umenyiora and Idonije coming in and out with Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi (who I think is a potential 10+ sack player as he progresses). Those four could be lethal and interchangeable, not to mention distributing the sack numbers between them all much like the New York Giants have done with their foursome of sack artists that has included Umenyiora.
That’s not to say the Falcons should ignore the defensive ends in this year’s draft, but if they can get immediate help via free agency at end, then they can focus their higher draft picks on a center to replace the retiring Todd McClure and a tight end to spend one year learning under Tony Gonzalez before he calls it quits in 2014.
The pass rush is the key for Atlanta. Get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and take them out of their game, and take some pressure off the linebackers. If the Falcons can do that, and continue with the things they did well in 2012, they can basically write their own ticket to New York and Super Bowl XLVIII.