It seems most everyone can agree that a major area of weakness for the Falcons team and defense is their pass rush. The Falcons inability to provide adequate pressure on Aaron Rodgers was a big reason why the Falcons defense was embarrassed in its poorest showing of the year, giving up 48 points in a postseason loss.
John Abraham had a resurgent year, going from 5.5 sacks in 2009 to 13 in 2010. But I would argue that overall, while Abe’s production improved in the sack department, his ability to get to the quarterback wasn’t significantly better. As many may have noticed by looking at the final regular season stats for Moneyball, Abraham was credited with 6.5 quarterback pressures and 5.5 quarterback hits in addition to his 12 sacks (one of his official sacks was credited as a hit under Moneyball rules). A year ago, he had 3.5 Moneyball-credited sacks along with 18 pressures and 3 hits. For those unfamiliar with the Moneyball concept, a QB pressure is considered when a defender’s pressure on a QB results in an incomplete pass. So if one were to add up sacks, pressures, and hits all as positive pass rushes (PPRs), then in 2009, Abe had 24.5 and this past year 24 PPRs.
Now I’m not quite sure how to quantify the net difference between having 7.5 more sacks in one year and 9 less pressures/hits. I’d certainly argue that a sack should count a bit more because it results in a loss of yardage, which is probably better for a defense than an incompletion. But I don’t know quite how much better, and figuring that out might be best left to other experts.
But the bigger story from 2009 to 2010 may not be how much or little Abraham improved, but the significant dropoff from other members of the Falcons front. Most notably Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Babineaux. Biermann went from 27 PPRs in 2009 to 14 this past year. Babineaux dropped from 26 PPRs last year to 15.5. The combination of Thomas Johnson, Peria Jerry, and Vance Walker a year ago combined for 10 PPRs. This year with Jerry, Walker, and Corey Peters running the show that number was roughly the same at 10.5. But Jamaal Anderson, Chauncey Davis, and Lawrence Sidbury combined for 21.5 PPRs in 2009. But this year, the Falcons only got 11 from those same players, including no production from Sidbury.
It’s clear that the Falcons probably need to work on getting more pressure from the outside for next year. Who knows what sort of changes could occur with Abraham being a year older. Will Biermann and Babineaux bounce back to their previous 2009 form? How much improvement can Jerry and Peters show? All questions that won’t be answered until the 2011 season begins. But in the meantime the Falcons would be smart to try and improve the area so that there isn’t even more decline next season.
Now getting to free agency, who knows if there will be free agency this off-season. Most signs seem to point to a protracted lockout this off-season, which will preclude any form of free agency from occurring. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume (although it might be more along the lines of pretending) that free agency does occur this off-season. But we still won’t be even sure what type of free agency occurs. Will it be the free agency of a year ago where only players with six or more years of experience were allowed to test the open market as unrestricted free agents? Or will it feature like it has for most of the past with fourth-year players allowed to hit the market? I don’t know, but I present two possible options in either case.