Review of the offense now complete, it’s time to turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball. While the defense made some major strides with a new scheme, new attitude, some new players, one bug-a-boo remained, “PASS RUSH”! Yes, the pass rush, a problem that has been around for the 2 years prior to Quinn taking the reins, still remains a weak spot for the Falcons. Smitty once made the famous quote, “Sacks are overrated”. To a point, I have to agree with him….if the opposition drops back to pass on first down, the QB scrambles, the defense tracks him down a yard short of the line of scrimmage, that’s technically a sack, now its 2nd and 11. Might as well have been an incomplete pass or a run for no gain. The play didn’t really have that much of an effect on the game as a whole. If it’s under 2 minutes to go and the opposition is mounting a drive to tie or win the game, and you get a sack on 4th down ending the game, then that’s a huge play. So sacks CAN BE overrated. And it’s a good thing too, we managed just 19 last season. By comparison JJ Watt had 17.5. In 2014, we managed just 22 sacks, so we’ve actually gotten worse in that department. Incidentally, JJ Watt had 20.5 sacks in 2014.
So in the last 2 seasons, JJ Watt has gotten 38 sacks, the Falcons have gotten 41. Can you trade an entire defense for 1 player? And if so, would the Texans do it? Who would have gotten the better end of the deal? Anyway, enough silliness. Sacks might be overrated, but getting pressure, constant pressure on the QB isn’t overrated, and the Falcons weren’t much better at applying pressure to the QB than they were at actually getting to the QB. And with Quinn’s defense, that all starts up front. Quinn doesn’t like to blitz that much, relying on the front 4 to get pressure. After all, the blitz should be used as a surprise element, and should make an impact more than 50% of the time you use it, if used correctly. But when you have to blitz every down to create pressure, well it’s kinda like coming up to bat against a pitcher who throws 100mph with no movement and no 2nd pitch. You know it’s coming, just get your timing down and sit back and wait (of course I’m referring to a professional hitter, I wouldn’t even see the 100mph fastball and I damn sure wouldn’t dig in to swing at it). Point being, if Quinn doesn’t want to blitz, then we need to find a way to get constant/consistent pressure on opposing QB’s with our front 4. And by the way, I’m not discounting the way our front 4, front 7 played against the run, much better than in years past.
Quinn had 2 sets of dlinemen for most of the 2015 season. One set to rush the passer, one set to stop the run. This also allowed to keep fresh legs throughout the game. However, it doesn’t take opposing HC’s and OC’s very long at all to figure this out. And, if you have a savy QB that is allowed the freedom to audible in and out of plays, it’s advantage offense every play. Switching out 1 or 2 players along the line is one thing, but entire lines just gives all your secrets away. This is a passing league and even against the most balanced offenses, stopping the run is only half the battle, against most teams, it’s only about 1/3 of the battle…….
Part V-Defensive Line
–Vic Beasley, Adrian Clayborn, Kroy Biermann, Tyson Jackson, Mallicah Goodman
Vic Beasley-under contract through the 2018 season, $3,294,370 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$11,859,732 dead money, $8,565,362 cap charge NOT savings
Cut post 6/1-$3,294,370 dead money, $0 cap savings
Trade-$6,601,488 dead money, $3,307,118 cap charge NOT savings
Beasley’s not going anywhere, so the above numbers don’t really mean much. Beasley is an athletic freak. He’s as quick off the line of scrimmage as any defensive end in the league. The problem was, for almost the entire season that was his only move. Not too difficult to block if you know what’s coming (Ah, this is where I should have used my fastball metaphor). But it was true, Beasley would take off at the snap of the ball like a jack rabbit, make his move upfield and get completely pushed off my TV screen. There were stories of a torn labrum that came out with about 3 games to go but I’m not putting much stock in that. Beasley lined up for more snaps than any of our other dlinemen, I’m just not so sure he’s got the body for it. Led the team in sacks (4), probably led the team in hurries (sorry, I’m not digging that deep for stats). I’ve said before, the biggest improvement in a players game is from season 1 to season 2, so hopefully there will be much bigger things from Beasley in the future.
Adrian Clayborn-contract expired, unrestricted free agent
The first 4 games or so (anyone else noticing a pattern here?), it looked like we had made the FA steal of all time. Clayborn was constantly harassing the opponents QB and playing pretty stout against the run. Then Smith, Quinn, hell I don’t know, Artie himself, decided to switch things up a bit in an effort to get more pressure and had Clayborn almost exclusively rushing from the DT position. Well that experiment failed, and it only took the coaching staff around 10 weeks to figure out it wasn’t going to work. Clayborn’s numbers and production fell way off to the point where I’m not sure if the Falcons try and re-sign him or not.
Kroy Biermann-contract expired, unrestricted free agent
Kroy, Kroy, Kroy, what are we going to do with you, or without you. Last off-season, you could actually hear a groaning sound coming from Atlanta when the Falcons decided to bring back Kroy for 1 more season. Pre-season didn’t look to good, still bouncing back and forth between DE and OLB, still missing tackles, still getting pushed around by TE’s, still arriving in the vicinity of the opposing QB a step and a half late. But then something happened….the season started, Kroy was planted at DE and left there. And I will admit, he wasn’t terrible. No, he didn’t get to the QB often (but that strip/sack against Eli and the Giants turned that entire game around). Yes, he still missed some wide open big plays. Yes, he still got pushed around every now and then by an opposing TE. However, if Kroy would have played like this last season, I wouldn’t have been so shocked when they decided to re-sign him.
Tyson Jackson-signed through the 2018 season, $6,350,000 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$4,800,000 dead money, $1,550,000 cap savings
Cut post 6/1-$1,600,000 dead money, $4,750,000 cap savings
Trade-same as pre 6/1
Oh Lordy look at that cap charge!!!!! Tyson was signed at the behest of Asst GM Pioli in 2014 and showed absolutely no reason to have ever invested so much money in him. 2015 rolls around, new HC, new DC, new scheme, new Tyson around 15lbs lighter. Same results, sort of. Tyson proved himself more than capable against the run. One of the reasons our run defense was vastly improved from 2014. However, as was stated earlier, stopping the run is, at best, half the battle. Tyson was on Quinn’s “elephant” line, the line sent in with the primary objective of stopping running plays. And the “elephant” line did a really good job on those plays. But we need dlinemen who can stop the run AND rush the passer. $6+million is a lot to pay someone who will only be on the field less than half the time.
Mallicah Goodman-under contract through the 2016 season, $774,252 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$99,272 dead money, $674,980 cap savings
Cut post 6/1-same
I’ve been waiting for 3 seasons for Mallicah to do something…..anything, but it just isn’t happening. Blessed with good size, 6’4”, 275lbs. Strength. And reach, my goodness those arms reach around to yesterday. Fun fact, did you know Mallicah and I have the same number of career sacks in the NFL? Mallicah wasn’t done any favors under Smitty and the old regime. Gain weight so you can be a 3-4 DE. Psyche! We are actually running a 4-2-5, we don’t know what it is either but it adds up to 11 and that’s all that counts. Quinn comes in with his new scheme, lose weight, you’re too heavy, we’re going to try you out at this LEO position. “And with the 8th pick in the NFL draft, the Falcons select Vic Beasley”. Yay, another Clemson guy! Crap, there goes my shot at playing time. Mallicah only dressed for 4 games last season. It’s tough being the 9th man in an 8 man rotation. Mallicah may still show me something, I just don’t think it’s going to be with Atlanta.
Analysis: With only 3 DE’s under contract, something has got to be added here. Quinn did a rotation of dlines in 2015 out of necessity, but if he really wants his defense to work at an upper echelon level, he’s going to need 3-down DE’s. And playmakers at that. Through draft, FA, undrafted, out of retirement, under a rock, bag boy at the Quick-e-Mart, he’s got to find at least 1 somewhere. We did a good job against the run, we now need to figure out how to do better against the pass, applying pressure, without losing much of anything against the run.
My Conclusion: it’s not going to happen, but Beasley needs to be taught how to play OLB now. I said it before the draft last season, I said it when he was drafted, I said it in the pre-season, I said it during the regular season and I’m saying it now. Vic Beasley is not a 3-down DE. He’s too small, and if he gains the requisite 20-25 lbs to be one, he will lose some of his quickness. You need to play to a man’s strengths, and for Vic, it’s his quickness. Most defenses are in nickel and dime sets for about 60% of the game anyway, so line him up at OLB in the base set, move him down to pass rush DE in nickel and dime sets. We’ve got to cut Tyson lose. There is only one 1-dimensional position along the dline and that’s NT. We can’t afford to spend $6+ million on a DE that offers nothing against the pass. Cut him post June 1st, where the dead money($1.6 million) isn’t as bad and the cap savings($4.75 million) are greater. I let Mallicah come to camp, but hopefully I’ve got much better prospects which makes Mallicah obsolete. Clayborn is a tricky one. For 7 games of the season, he looked like the real deal. Problem with that is, it’s a 16 game season. He made it through healthy which was a plus. He played for $3 million last season. If he wants to come aboard for another 1 year, same amount, I’ll take him as he is the closest thing we have to a 3-down DE. And I don’t flop him back and forth between DE and DT. Yes, there are some situations where maybe you line him up at DT, but not to the extent they did last year. Kroy, Kroy, Kroy. Believe it or not I’m torn on this one. He did play better than he has in a long time even though the stats weren’t really there to show it. Last season, he played for $1.925 million with $500,000 guaranteed. If he wants to sign up for $1.5 million, no guaranteed money, I welcome him back with open arms, anything more, good luck on the open road. There are some good quality DE’s available in the first round of the draft this year. Depending how FA works out, this is probably my target in round #1, definitely by round #2. Maybe grab another in round #4. Will need to bring in an UFA or 2. And of course, there will be 1 or 2 UDFA’s in the mix.
Prediction: Beasley stays at DE. Clayborn comes back. Biermann comes back. Mallicah is gone as is Tyson(post 6/1 if the FO has any sense). We make a play for Bruce Irvin, who is more of what I want Beasley to be, so what would be the point in having 2 of them? I doubt Irvin leaves Seattle. So more than likely, we go for a spot player, probably someone Quinn is real familiar with. Former UGA and current Seattle Seahawk Demarcus Dobbs is an UFA, I could see that happening. Pick up a DE somewhere in the draft, but maybe not the top draft priority that some want it to be, probably first 3 rounds.
-Jonathan Babineaux, Ra’Shede Hageman, Paul Soliai, Grady Jarrett, Joey Mbu
Jonathan Babineaux-Under contract through 2016 season, $2,666,668 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$666,668 dead money, $2,000,000 cap savings
Cut post 6/1-same
We can get 1 more good year out of Babs, can’t we? Babs found a bit of a fountain of youth in Quinn’s system with the heavy rotation. Once again, effective against the run as well as the pass. I wish Babs could have played his entire career in such a system rather than being miscast first as a NT then as a DE.
Ra’Shede Hageman-under contract through the 2017 season, $1,455,229 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$1,100,306 dead money, $354,923 cap savings
Cut post 6/1-$550,153 dead money, $905,076 cap savings
Trade-same as pre 6/1
Baby Hageman is the most physically imposing player we have along the dline. The most frustrating thing about ‘Shede is you only catch glimpses of what his potential says he should be. The second game against Carolina, Cam Newton made the mistake of pissing Hageman off. I’ve never seen Hageman play a more complete game. Disrupting plays, making tackles, harassing Cam, it was really exciting to watch. But, we rarely get to see that side of Hageman for even a series, nevermind an entire game. 2016 has got to be the season ‘Shede makes a name for himself or he could be looking for work elsewhere when we open the new stadium in 2017.
Paul Soliai-under contract through the 2018 season, $6,837,500 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$4,200,000 dead money, $2,637,500 cap savings
Cut post 6/1-$1,400,000 dead money, $5,437,500 cap savings
Trade-same as pre 6/1
Soliai was a complete waste of space when we signed him in 2014, much like Tyson Jackson. And, much like Jackson, a new scheme, new coach, lost some weight and his contributions were much greater in 2015. Big space eaters in the middle of the dline aren’t supposed to get a lot of numbers. As a matter of fact, You’re not even really supposed to know they are there if they are doing their job correctly. Well, Soliai managed to do his job and get the occasional “wow” hit by shooting a gap and catching an opposing RB in the backfield. But, also much like Tyson Jackson, that is a monster of a contract to be shelling out to someone you are relying on less than 50% of the game.
Grady Jarrett-under contract through the 2018 season, $586,963 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$185,889 dead money, $401,074 cap savings
Cut post 6/1-$61,963 dead money, $525,000 cap savings
Trade-same as pre 6/1
See those contract numbers? Enjoy them while you can because if Grady keeps progressing like he did in year 1, it’s going to cost a lot to keep this guy around. Grady is a prime example of how the NFL draft has gotten so screwed up. When I was a kid, the early rounds of the draft were filled with players who produced in college, pretty much regardless of their size. The later rounds were for players who had potential, but didn’t have the game to game production. Now it’s the complete opposite, a player like Grady is viewed as a hidden gem in the fifth round while a player like Hageman is considered a steal in the 2nd round. 25-30 years ago, Grady would have been the 2nd round pick and Hageman would be living on peanuts trying to prove his worth. Anyway, there is absolutely nothing to not like about Grady Jarrett and I’m really excited to see the strides he makes from year 1 to year 2. Just wish we would have played him more last year.
Joey Mbu-under contract through the 2016 season, $525,000 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$0 dead money, $525,000 cap savings
Cut post 6/1-same
I can see why Joey was kept around. First on the practice squad, then promoted to the 53 man roster when Soliai went down. He showed flashes in his limited playing time, but also showed his inexperience and lack of “professional” strength at times. This guy needs to hit the weight room hard all off-season to get stronger in his upper and lower body so he doesn’t get pushed around when he’s caught out of position. Aside from that, I really liked what I saw from Mbu. Depending on what the Falcons do here with the roster, I could see Mbu playing the role that Grady played last season.
Analysis: Aside from getting to the QB or collapsing the pocket, the overall play from our DT’s was pretty solid in 2015. You couldn’t really ask for much more, and in Quinn’s defense, a little more QB pressure is all that is required. A good mix of young and old (2 veterans, 3 youngsters), this position looks solid heading into the 2016 season.
My conclusion: let’s start with the easy ones…Grady, ‘Shede and Mbu all make the club. Now, what to do with our “rocking chair” duo? Babs is a favorite of mine as he is a lot of Falcons fans. He used to be the “rock” you could count on, and in a lot of ways, he still is. But this may come down to money and how much we feel Babs still has to offer. Releasing Babineaux would save $2 million in cap space, and there’s always the chance he might just decide to retire. Afterall, he’ll be 35 next year and heading into his 12th season(doesn’t seem that long ago when he was a pudgy 2nd rounder out of Iowa). Let’s revisit this in a minute. The other veteran to deal with is Paul Soliai. Soliai is a main cog in our ability to stop the run, and that big space eater is a staple of Quinn’s defense. Right now, we don’t have anybody on the roster who could fill this spot. So, if Soliai goes, we either need to draft a replacement or find one in the FA market. I’m not getting rid of both, as we need some veteran leadership at least one more year for our young bucks. So, I’m cutting Soliai, after June 1st of course, which will save us around $5.5 million in cap space. There are some older, tried and true NT’s on the market this season(Terrance Knighton, Kevin Williams, BJ Raji, Haloti Ngata to name a few), surely 1 of them can come cheaper than Soliai’s almost $7 million cap charge. What I would really like is for Dimwit (or whomever Flo) to trade down and acquire some extra picks, because there are a few NT’s that will be available in the first 3 rounds of this year’s draft. In either case, Babs is here to be the steadying force, while our young DT’s gain another year of experience. Of course, if Babs retires, I keep Soliai and rest comfortably knowing that Jarrett and Mbu can fill the void left by Babineaux.
Prediction: With so many other holes to fill, and not a lot of means with which to do it, plus our aversion to moving backwards in the draft, the Falcons stay with the status quo, bring in a couple of UDFA’s and address replacing Soliai in 2017.