As the Falcons look to build off their success from their surprising 2008 season, the unit in need of the biggest improvement is the defense. The team has made some key moves to improve through the draft but what can the fans expect from the defense in the upcoming season?
The Falcons have lost some key parts on defense, most notably long-time Atlanta linebacker Keith Brooking. With his departure, Atlanta lost leadership in the locker room from a veteran player who was also the Falcons leading tackler in 2008. Second year player Curtis Lofton has the potential to pick up the slack but expect some shakiness from the linebacking crew. The only free agency move that the Falcons made in this area was the addition of Mike Peterson, the 33 year old from Jacksonville. Although his play seems to be declining, Peterson brings the leadership and experience needed with the absence of Brooking.
The secondary was a major struggle for the team in 2008 as the falcons gave up 220 yards a game through the air and ranked fifth worst in the NFL in interceptions. Erik Coleman was the only consistent defensive back for the Falcons and while the team seems to have talent, they lack discipline.
Many of the mistakes in the secondary last year came as a result of a breakdown in coverage or a player taking a wrong angle on a tackle. This raises question marks for the coaching staff and their ability to train defensive backs to read the play. If the Falcons are able to get back to the fundamentals of tackling and coverage, the secondary has the talent and speed to make big plays.
On the defensive line, the Falcons were led by defensive end John Abraham, who topped the team with 16.5 sacks. On the inside, Jonathan Babineaux had a team- leading 11 tackles for a loss. Despite the play of Abraham and Babineaux, the Falcons ranked 25th in the league in yards allowed per game. Look for defensive end Jamaal Anderson to have a breakout year as he matures into one of the leaders on the defensive line.
Although the D-line is not brimming with big name players, one strength for Atlanta will be their depth. They have several bench players who are ready to step in and play with confidence at high level, which is key for the players to stay strong through the fourth quarter.
The Falcons took a major step toward building the defense when they selected seven defensive players in the 2009 draft. Their No. 1 choice Peria Jerry is a defensive tackle out of Ole Miss who should be able to start from day one.
The secondary got a big boost when the Falcons selected safety William Moore out of Missouri in the second round and then cornerback Chris Owens out of San Jose St. in round three. The productivity from these two selections will be a key for the Falcons in 2009 as they try to plug the leaks in their defense.
The major concerns for the defense in the upcoming season still remain in the secondary. To compete for a title, they have to be well disciplined on the defensive side of the ball and that starts by them by not giving up the big play through the air.
The main goal of the Falcons on defense in the offseason was to improve by getting younger and faster. They did that through the draft, as they enter camp with several players ready to compete for starting positions at the spots where Atlanta suffered the most last year. Look for the Falcons to become a lot quicker on defense and, while they might not be a powerhouse this year, they have the talent to improve on their performance from 2008.