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Did the Falcons fix their defense enough to save Dan Quinn’s job?

Atlanta had to improve its pass rush (again) and secondary this offseason.

NFL: DEC 29 Falcons at Buccaneers Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Falcons entered the 2019 season as a potential sleeper Super Bowl pick, and ended up with a losing record for the second consecutive year. Hopes were high following an injury-prone season the year prior, but Atlanta looked just as bad despite staying relatively healthy. The Falcons started the year just 1-7. Although they won six of their last eight games, it was too little too late.

Atlanta’s offense, despite being loaded with talent, was wildly inconsistent and finished 25th in red zone scoring percentage. The defense, which is typically head coach Dan Quinn’s specialty, gave up 25 points per game. Atlanta isn’t moving on from Quinn for the 2020 season, so the Falcons won’t have to navigate a coaching change just yet. That means a lot of their problems will need to be addressed this offseason.

Atlanta Falcons (7-9), missed playoffs

While the offense still has Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley, the Falcons could use some use reinforcements on defense. Atlanta only enters the offseason with $4.5 million in cap space, though, and might need to cut a few familiar names.

Before free agency:

  1. Defensive end: The Falcons need to make their pass rush a priority this offseason. They already announced they’re moving on from Vic Beasley, and Takkarist McKinley and Grady Jarrett haven’t been very productive, either. Since pass rushers are pretty pricey on the free agent market, Atlanta might be better off addressing the position with the No. 16 pick in the draft.
  2. Cornerback: The Falcons finished 21st in the league in passing yards allowed per game, and 24th in opponent passer rating. Blidi Wreh-Wilson is a free agent this offseason, and although Desmond Trufant is Atlanta’s best cornerback, the team could save $5 million if releases him.
  3. Running back: Atlanta’s run game has been lacking consistency for two straight seasons. Devonta Freeman averaged just 47 yards per game in 2019 and could be a cap casualty. If they don’t find a cheaper veteran in free agency, the Falcons could turn to the draft again. The Falcons have selected running back in each of the last three years, but general manager Thomas Dimitroff has considered taking another one this April.

What the Falcoholic wants most this offseason: The Falcons need a draft for the ages. The team is broke, they are losing multiple starters, and inexplicably returned all of their top coaches. They desperately need change but can only afford to sign replacement-level players. Short of the coaching staff stumbling upon a shred of competency, Dimitroff needs to have one of the best drafts in team history. There are so many glaring roster holes but fans can only realistically expect them to be filled during the draft. — Matt Chambers

After free agency:

The Falcons ended up releasing Trufant and Freeman, while Austin Hooper went to Cleveland, but they were able to fill the latter two voids. They signed running back Todd Gurley and traded for tight end Hayden Hurst. Atlanta got some much-needed help with the pass rush, thanks to Dante Fowler Jr.

1. Defensive tackle: Drafting a defensive tackle to complement the addition of Fowler Jr. from the Rams would be smart. Aside from Jarrett, the Falcons don’t really have a top-flight player at the position.

2. Cornerback: The Falcons released Trufant after trying to trade him but they couldn’t get a team to take him. While Atlanta re-signed Wreh-Wilson to a one-year deal, cornerback is still a priority in the draft.

3. Linebacker: Atlanta could use some depth at the linebacker position, especially after losing De’Vondre Campbell in free agency. It’s possible the Falcons target the position with the No. 16 overall pick. If not, look for it to happen on Day 2.

After the draft:

The Falcons went defense early in the draft. At No. 16, they picked Clemson’s A.J. Terrell, who isn’t as much of a sure thing as the other cornerbacks in the first round. Still, he has potential. Auburn’s Marlon Davidson, taken in the second round, could be moved all over the defensive line.

Atlanta also used a fifth-round pick on Fresno State linebacker Mykal Walker, a tweener who needs development. The Falcons’ best selection may have been third-round center Matt Hennessy out of Temple.

Dan Kadar’s draft grade: C+