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Bair Mail: Exploring Falcons defensive potential under Dean Pees

Your questions also answered about receiver depth, edge rusher issues and Matty Ice in Monday's mailbag

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees looks on during the second practice of Atlanta Falcons rookie minicamp on May 15, 2021.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees looks on during the second practice of Atlanta Falcons rookie minicamp on May 15, 2021.

Welcome back to Bair Mail which, as I'm sure you can probably tell, is coming at you on the regular. That delivery schedule should hold at three times per week, so keep the good questions coming.

It's so nice to be able to shift focus from what we will/might see from these Falcons to what our eyes and ears tell us about this team this year.

We've been through four practices thus far, with the first padded workout scheduled for Tuesday. That's one of my favorite days on the preseason calendar, outranked only by inter-squad practices.

It feels like the first day of real football. Hard contact will be made even though the guys won't go live, and we'll get an even greater sense of where the Falcons stand.

That starts on Tuesday. Let's focus now on your questions:

Gabe Adams from Laramie, Wyo.

What do you think of the Falcons' defensive potential with Dean Pees calling the shots?

Bair: Gabe, I'm letting you speak for several in the mailbag, who asked similar questions about the new defensive coordinator.

Let's answer it directly: It'll go up.

That's, you know, pretty freaking good. He led two of them to Super Bowl victories and has a steady track record of success.

Let's be honest and admit that some of the defenses he led in New England, Baltimore and Tennessee had more talent than this one. The Falcons remain a work-in-progress there, with real question marks about the defensive line and some secondary spots.

Pees' scheme should be able to help out there. He's known for creative blitzes, quarterback confusion and unpredictability within games and from week to week. That constitutes an advantage that could put players in position to make big plays. Will the Falcons be a top-10 scoring defense after ranking 19th in the category last year? Probably not.

A marked improvement could be in the cards if the players master the scheme and their roles within it. There's enough talent here to execute what's called, with smart, veteran leadership at every level to execute the system well.


D. Stephens from Stapleton, Ga.

Do you think the Falcons should add an edge rusher before the season starts?

Bair: It would certainly help adding another talent with a successful track record there, especially after Barkevious Mingo was cut. They have some cap space to make that happen and some options on the open market, but there's no real rush. There's time to evaluate the talent currently on the roster, especially after the pads come on, before looking hard at outside help.

We'll also get a better idea about the pass rush after Dante Fowler returns from the COVID-19 list.

It doesn't have to be a name you know to be an effective member of the rotation. They need several to bring the heat off the edge.

Fady Falcon from Pittsburgh, Pa.

What are your thoughts on what the final receiver depth chart will look like?

Bair: Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage will be at the top. You can write that in permanent ink.

Bair: While we haven't seen Ridley in team drills yet – the Falcons are bringing him back slowly after offseason surgery – he has looked great running routes in individual drills. He's also supremely motivated to be a team leader on the field and in the locker room. Those are all great signs for the Falcons offense. Gage has also looked strong, a smooth route runner with good hands. Expect a big year from him.

The real question is who takes the No. 3 spot. Olamide Zaccheaus has proved dependable, per head coach Arthur Smith, and is a big play threat in the pattern. We've seen a few receivers flash in the early going, including Austin Trammell. Chris Rowland had one of the best catches this camp. Tajae Sharpe has good size and experience working in Smith's system, which could help him here. Let's slow the Frank Darby hype train a smidge. I think he's going to have to earn his spot with a solid all-around summer.

It's hard to imagine the Falcons keeping more than six receivers, quite possibly five, considering both Kyle Pitts and Hayden Hurst can play out wide or in the slot. Competition will be fierce for those final spots rounding out the position group.

Joe Jobs from Dalton, Ga.

Do you think the Falcons can contend with Matt Ryan?

Bair: This is an easy one: Heck yes.

Man. Feels like I have to answer one of these each week. Each time I have to remind people it takes a whole depth chart to win the ultimate team game. I cut most of the question about insight received from a YouTube video saying Matt Ryan hasn't performed well in the clutch, or the opinion that he hasn't been good under pressure since the Super Bowl loss.

Hogwash. Ryan has six fourth-quarter comebacks and as many game-winning drives since 2016. Nobody was good down the stretch of games last year, on offense or defense, which lead to a disastrous 4-12 record and a 3-7 mark in one-score games. Let's consider that an outlier. Let's also admit he deserves some benefit of the doubt considering his track record and some breathing room now that he's running a new system.

Tight end Kyle Pitts is locked in as he works through his first training camp. Take a look at the best images from Day 4 of 2021 AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drake London #5 during team practice at Atlanta Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

2022 Atlanta Falcons: First Look Open Practice

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