There are usually a few reasons why teams cannot generate a pass rush. Ranging from poor coverage in the secondary, giving the QB quick, easy throws or just simply a lack of talent on the Defensive line to be able to get off blocks and pressure the QB. While one area is usually pointed out as being the problem, to have a good or even great pass rush, it takes a lot of factors to be working well and in harmony to be successful.
In the Falcons’ case, there is no simple solution to the problems they have been having. Despite the Falcons having a defensive group that are excelling against the run (2nd in the NFL). Through 10 games, the Falcons have only managed to sack the quarterback 16 times, which puts them 27th in the NFL.
Why are the Falcons struggling? Why is it that such a good Defensive Line against the run, are unable to pressure the Quarterback consistently?
I will look to answer these questions and give my recommendations on what the Falcons can do to resolve these issues.
One thing to note at this stage is that no two sacks are ever the same. A quarterback sack can happen as a result of many different scenarios. Quick pressure, blitzing, mismatch on the line, coverage sack.
I looked at each sack of the 16 sacks from the Falcons this year and I have the listed main cause for why that sack occurred. Here are the findings.
Quick Pressure – 9
Coverage Sack – 3
Blitzing – 3
There was also one other sack, where the reason for it was Jay Cutler sliding behind the line of scrimmage on a roll out late in the game, to avoid injury.
Quick pressure in a 4-3 is what all teams would like to have (as it is the most sustainable source for generating sacks) as it means your front 4 are getting off the ball quickly and beating their respective blocker on the O-Line and getting to the quarterback before he is able to get the throw off. The Giants, Eagles, Cowboys and Ravens to name a few all do this well, because they have speed on the outside of the line, whilst also having a strong inside presence.
The Falcons struggle desperately to create quick pressure from their front 4 and is the main reason for the Falcons’ ineffectiveness when rushing the quarterback. Having only 9 sacks in 10 games due to quick pressure is not good enough. The question needs to be asked why are the Falcons struggling in this area?
Looking at each sack, aside from a few which were caused by a good individual play (e.g. Peters sack against Green Bay). There has always been solid pressure from the inside of the line pushing the quarterback back and preventing him from stepping up in the pocket. The reason why this so important for the Falcons in particular is the style of defensive ends we have on this team. Ray Edwards and John Abraham are both known for their bull rush move and because of age and/ or lack of speed struggle to get around the edge of an offensive tackle using speed, instead favoring on most occasions to bull rush them backwards towards to the quarterback using their power.
When you have speed on the edges in a 4-3, such as the Eagles or Giants do you are able to force pressure quicker by that talent alone. With a power orientated defensive lineman, you generally need more time to get to the QB. As mentioned before when defensive tackles Babineaux and Peters are pushing the O-Line back into the QB, the distance the defensive end has to cover is reduced and the angle is also favorable for our power based pass rushers DE. This was the reason Ray Edwards was so effective in Minnesota playing alongside the Williams wall that gave him pressure from the inside, making it easier for him to get to the QB, despite his speed.
When the DT’s are not getting pressure in our defense, it is allowing the QB to sit comfortably in the pocket until he throws the ball, as it is taking our DE’s longer to beat the respective blocker. This was clearly evident in the Saints game, where no pressure from the inside on passing downs, made it very difficult for the DE’s to get to Brees in time.
In previous years, we have been able to get by was the elite play of John Abraham and his ability to create a sack by himself. Unfortunately, time seems to be catching up on him and he is unable to create as many sacks by himself. This means that to create sacks, the Falcons need to work together as a unit to get to the QB.
For the Falcons, to be successful it begins with DT Jonathon Babineaux, our best pass rushing DT. When he creates pressure (it doesn’t have to be beating his man, simply pushing him back is good enough), that prevents the QB from stepping up taking our DE’s out of that play.
The long and the short of it, the Falcons DE’s are unable to create pressure quickly by themselves for the majority of snaps on Defense, because of their lack of speed on the edges allowing them to turn the corner. For the Falcons quick pressure pass rushing to improve, the play from the defensive tackle spots has to exceptional.
Although establishing quick pressure from the front 4 has been a problem, but the Falcons aren’t creating pressure from blitzing either. 2 out of the 3 sacks caused whilst blitzing this season were delivered by OLB Sean Weatherspoon and were due to missed assignments by the offense that let Spoon run free and make an athletic play. Given the amount of times we blitz with our nickel backs and linebackers we struggle to create pressure. That is mainly due to a lack of creativity with the play design as the offense rarely seem surprised by our blitzes.
Analyzing the pass rush as a whole, here are a list of things the Falcons need to do in order for the pass rush to improve in the short term and the long term.
1. More Creative Blitzes – The Falcons are fortunate, that we have some really good man to man corners that are able to be left on an island a few times a game. We can afford to send more people on blitzes several times in the game. We also need to blitz more creatively using safeties and linebackers at surprising times in the game, to catch the offense off guard.
2. Get Babineaux healthy and playing well – As outlined earlier, Babineaux is the key to the rest of Falcons D-Line to create sacks for them. When he gets pressure, the chances of a sack go up sharply. If he can get back to last years form we should be OK.
3. Get More Talent on the Defensive Line – This is obviously the long term objective. When there is an elite player on the line, that can create sacks by himself, it makes the job so much easier for everyone else. The Falcons may look to invest in a speed orientated pass rusher early in April’s NFL Draft.
The lack of pass rush has been a concern for many years now, hopefully the Falcons have some ideas in the pipeline to help the Falcons become a force to be reckoned with.