Is it the pass rush, the shaky offensive line, or something else entirely?
There isn’t just one priority for the Falcons this offseason. It would be easier to talk about things that aren’t priorities, which would probably just be returner. Atlanta has needs everywhere, and that knowledge is going to make for an interesting offseason.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t priorities that are higher than others, given that it’s difficult to fix everything in one offseason. Today, we pulled our writers together to try to pick one priority that has to come above all others, one that will either make this team more successful in 2022 or at least get them moving swiftly in the right direction. Here were our answers, and once you’ve checked them out, let’s get yours.
The pass rush
I know that in a good, thorough argument someone could readily convince me this team has bigger needs. The pass rush being garbage is almost a Falcons pathology at this point, though, and the way this team fails to even put mild pressure on quarterbacks for weeks on end allows passers both great and mediocre to have their way with this defense. Given that the secondary is suddenly full of interesting young players and even modest improvements in coaching and talent seem likely to turn the offense into something less than a tire fire, it’s really down to whether you prioritize improving the line or the defensive front in my eyes, ideally with capable pass rushers who are not slouches against the run.
I’m tired of this team being way behind its peers in terms of pass rush, though, so I’m putting it on the top of my priority list. It’s only been there for about two decades. — Dave Choate
The offensive line
If it’s not the pass rush (which I think is issue 1b) then it has to be protecting your QB. Matt Ryan was sacked 40 times this year and was hit a league high 130 times, which is 16 more than the next highest team (Chicago).
Total QB Hits Allowed In 2021:
LAR, SF: 80
DET, HOU: 92
BUF, LV: 93
LAC, MIN: 97
NYJ, SEA: 101
CAR, CIN, IND: 109
— Johnny Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) January 10, 2022
There is no scheme that can compensate for this and until this dreadful pass protection is fixed, this offense will always be inhibited by it. The primary reason I think this supersedes the pass rush is because the offense is closer to being a strength than the defense is. You could argue that every position on the defense needs to be upgraded outside of the spot occupied by A.J. Terrell. If you can fix the pass protection, you stand a better chance of fielding a top-10 offense in 2022 and at least being competitive on one side of the ball. Plus, a good offense will help out a rebuilding defense by keeping them off the field and potentially forcing your opponents into pass-first situations. If you go into 2022 with this same pass protection, the Falcons could be staring at an injured QB and another trip to drafting inside of the top-5. – David Walker
That awful offensive line
There is more value to the Falcons, and seemingly any team, in the offensive line over the defensive line. Make no mistake that both are putrid for this team. Just aggressively bad. The difference is a great offensive line can control the game and the time of possession in ways the defensive line cannot. Giving Matt Ryan more time should be a priority (both for success and ensuring he is not in a wheelchair by midseason) to let the team score more points. The deep game was limited because Ryan was regularly hit on quick three-step drops. Any long-developing play was out the window. More problematic is the Falcons have not been able to run the ball with the lead. Atlanta needs the ability to ice out games, burn up clock, and give its bad defense a break. That starts with fixing the offensive line. – Matt Chambers