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NFL Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons: Sean Weatherspoon Must Return to 2011 Form for Thin Defense

Sean Weatherspoon

Josh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports

Among the reasons I believe Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons pass offense didn’t quite peak in 2012 is that the defense looks far worse heading into 2013. The departure of Dunta Robinson bothers me little but other losses like John Abraham — virtually their only source of reliable pass rush in recent years — could really cripple a defense that was already looked poor on paper.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could very well be the best defensive coordinator in the league right now, but even he might not be capable of saving this defense if its personnel doesn’t improve play dramatically. This starts with Sean Weatherspoon and linebacking corps.

Between 2010 and 2011, the Falcons weakside linebacker was developing on his way to becoming the NFL‘s next elite linebacker. As a rookie, Weatherspoon registered a No. 34 ranking in Pro Football Focus grading at his position in 2010 and a No. 5 rank in 2011. However, Weatherspoon would take a major step back in 2012, ranking just 27th in PFF 4-3 outside linebacker grading while dropping stop totals from 63 to 41.

Now Weatherspoon’s dealing with an open wound in training camp, but returned return to practice with his teammates this week, according to The Associated Press. This is especially critical because Weatherspoon is the only player in the Falcons’ current front-seven that has turned in a truly excellent season at the pro level over the past couple years — and Weatherspoon was bordering on elite in 2011. At age 25, it’s quite possible that Weatherspoon could return to that elite track again in 2013.

The Falcons defense needs it.

Thomas Emerick is a Senior Writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasEmerick, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google