As the Falcons approach their Week 18 matchup hosting the Saints, the focus inside the building is squarely on ruining their most hated rival’s playoff hopes. Even though they’re out of postseason contention, the Falcons coaches and players are as motivated as ever, says Arthur Smith; however, the same can’t be said for Terry Fontenot, whose primary responsibilities come off the field.
For fans and most of the front office, the offseason has already begun. The evaluation process of collegiate and professional prospects is a never-ending cycle that only gets media attention in the offseason. The Falcons will have many holes to fill this spring with an unreal amount of turnover on the defensive side of the ball, but the offense is also not without attrition.
The Falcons’ defense leads the entire league in snaps coming from impending free agents, so Dean Pees’ unit will likely look much different in 2022 than it did this season. Heading into the offseason, the Falcons probably have many goals they want to reach before the start of the 2022 season. The offensive line could use upgrading; after all, no quarterback gets hit more than Matt Ryan. The development of the line is directly linked to that.
Jalen Mayfield, Kaleb McGary, Drew Dalman, and Matt Hennessy could make this offense look much different if they take the next step in their respective development. Ryan and Smith will likely get together to refine the scheme, but there is much more to do on the defensive side of the ball.
Dean Pees’ unit has only notched 17 sacks, which is by far the lowest total around the league; in fact, there are several players — T.J. Watt and Robert Quinn — with more individual sacks than the Falcons have as a team. If you can’t protect your quarterback or get after the opposing quarterback, there will never be a sustainable formula for victory.
In his press conference on Thursday, Pees illustrated precisely where the Falcons need to improve and his group’s specific goals before the start of the 2022 season.
“The thing that we just really got to develop in the offseason and before next year is the ability to rush the passer, and not always have to pressure to do it. And number two is to be able to play man coverage better on the backend. And it’s kind of a two-fold thing. If you don’t get to the quarterback, that means the secondary is hung out there forever, and that’s not good. On the other hand, if you can’t play man coverage at some point in time in this league, I mean you’re just going to have to. So it’s those two things to me that we really have to develop before next year.”
The Falcons pass rush is the worst unit in the league by a large margin. As Pees points out, good defenses can get after the quarterback without bringing pressure. And to do that, you have to be able to lock it up on the backend. It is the ultimate team game, and pressuring opposing quarterbacks is a yin and yang dynamic with the secondary and front.
In a follow-up question, a member of the Falcons media asked Pees how does one develop those things — with experience or personnel? He answered with one word.
Pees then gave an example of Terrell Suggs, who is one of the league’s best pass rushers, and how he could do things that coaches can’t teach. Some players are just that good. With one year in the system under their belts, the Falcons defenders that are under contract in 2022 will surely take another step forward. But they must also infuse new top-end talent. As he points out, the Falcons will have to bolster the cornerback and edge rooms, but they’ll need current players to develop and step up.
Below is the full interview, which includes some incredibly insightful career advice for any field.