The Falcons’ lack of success since 2016 has been mainly due to the defense’s insufficiencies and an inability to do the little things right. Before Dan Quinn was fired, Atlanta’s defense was one of the league’s worst, constantly finishing in the bottom ten of points per game given up. In 2019, Atlanta ranked 23rd in defensive points per game, and in 2018, Quinn’s unit finished 25th in the same category. The obvious shortcomings could be directed towards that side of the ball.
Fast forward through free agency and the draft, Terry Fontenot used more resources on the offensive side of the ball. Two of the Falcons’ first three draft picks were offensive players — Kyle Pitts and Jalen Mayfield. The team’s draft board clearly didn’t have a defensive player even closely graded to Pitts and obviously didn’t receive a trade offer worthy of moving back to take a defensive prospect. Not that Matt Ryan needed another weapon, but Pitts is just adding to a strength. Mayfield’s addition is actually much-needed, unlike Pitts, as the interior offensive line is shaky at best. Safety Richie Grant was the only defensive prospect taken in the first three rounds.
The offseason acquisitions outside of the draft resulted in the four most expensive contracts being spent on offensive players — Matt Gono (tendered), Mike Davis (free agent), Cordarrelle Patterson (free agent), and Lee Smith (trade). That is mildly concerning. I will say the addition of Duron Harmon for the veteran minimum is a home run singing and much more palatable than Erik Harris for $1.35 million. The fact remains that more draft capital was spent on offensive players, and more cap space was spent on the offensive side of the ball.
How it stands now, the defense still has questions that need answering at cornerback and on the defensive line — both at edge and next to Grady Jarrett on the inside. The personnel afforded to Dean Pees would result in a bad defense for any normal coordinator; the talent is just not there on that side of the ball. There is hope, though. Pees has found success in deploying multiple defenses that cater to what his players do well while constantly adjusting week to week to the different offenses. The defense will go as far as Pees takes them, which could be an average unit by the end of the season. An average defense will give Arthur Smith and Matt Ryan enough support to challenge the Saints and Buccaneers in the division.