As mentioned in our last article, Osi Umenyiora is the number one defensive end on the depth chart heading into the 2013 season. The rest of the DE and DT positions will be filled by a mix of incumbents from last season, and potentially new draft picks from the 2013 NFL draft.
It's no secret how poor the Falcons defensive line has been over the years in terms of getting pressure on the quarterback. Last season, the Falcons finished 28th out of 32 teams in the NFL with only 29.0 sacks, 10 of which came by way of the departed John Abraham.
The Falcons weren't much better when it came to run defense either. They ranked 21st in run defense, giving up an average of 123.2 yards per game and a total of 1971 yards on the season.
Poor run defense hasn't been as much of an issue for Atlanta as poor pass defense has. Today's NFL is so reliant on the vertical passing game, meaning the emphasis on run defense isn't nearly as important as it once was even 10 years ago. While a good run defense can't be discounted, a good pass defense is more important.
Sacks aren't the complete story when it comes to the defensive line, but getting pressure on the quarterback is paramount. In addition to sacks, QB pressure can lead to opportunities for the quarterback to rush their throw. This can lead to incompletions, interceptions and defensive stops.
Falcons fans know that this simply doesn't happen enough with the defensive line, and with the loss of John Abraham, there are some big shoes to fill.
Here is a look at the state of the defensive line. Our position battles series will examine two players an article. One playing DE, and one playing DT.
Biermann is something of a Swiss army knife for the Falcons as he has the ability to drop back into pass coverage and rush the quarterback. He is also a valuable special teams player. Having a player like this is important for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Dropping a DE back that has the ability to cover the flats in zone coverage can be quite confusing for an opposing QB.
Biermann has three pass defenses and two interceptions in his career and averages 3.3 sacks a season. He's not going to be the answer as a full time DE, and never has been. But Biermann's versatility will allow Nolan to pick and choose situations in which he can deploy Biermann effectively.
Expect Biermann to continue his part time role and retain his position as a full time special teams player. In addition to playing opposite Umenyiora, he may spell him at times when the 31- year-old needs a series or play off.
Jonathan Babineaux is the longest tenured Falcon on the D-line, having played his entire career here since 2005.
Babineaux's peak years were during a 2008-2010 where he was a force stopping the run, and put some pressure on the quarterback. He averaged eight tackles for loss, 29.3 solo tackles, and 4.5 sacks a season. Very nice numbers for a DT, especially in the run stopping department.
In 2011 he was hampered by an injury resulting in career lows in solo tackles and tackles for loss. 2012 saw a resurgence due to a more healthy Babineaux as he played in all 16 games. He set a career high in passes defended with five, had eight tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and a career high 27 tackles for loss yards.
As a run defender, a healthy Babineaux is a key cog in the Falcons run defense. He too has begun to drop back into pass coverage at times, allowing Mike Nolan to utilize his enigmatic pass coverage schemes with DTs and DEs. This methodology has proven to be effective at times against pocket passers during his first season in Atlanta, and should continue this year.
Expect Baineaux to retain his top spot as the Falcons number one defensive tackle. None of the other DTs on the roster come close to his veteran leadership, nor his output.
Both of these players have been quality contributors over the years, and will see a lot of action this year. However, these two will need those around them to play more elevated roles. Biermann cannot be expected to carry the load, as he has never been a full time player. Babineaux is a full time player, but will need help from the other DT position as well. He's now a nine year veteran, so signs of wear and tear playing one of the NFL's toughest positions is always something to be mindful of.
Who will join Babineaux at DT? Who will platoon with Biermann or maybe play the other DE position on a near or full time basis?
Check back later as we continue of D-line position battles series. Let us know your thoughts on the D Line in the comments section.
Tags: Atlanta, Atlanta Falcons, Football, John Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux, Kroy Biermann, Mike Nolan, NFL, Osi Umenyiora
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