The Falcons finished last season tied at 19th in the NFL with 33 sacks and the entrance of Mike Nolan at defensive coordinator is one of the key reasons this number could grow in 2012. In his Falcons' hidden treasure's post for ESPN's NFC South blog, Pat Yasinskas thinks the Falcons' pass rush may be one of the under-the-radar elements of Atlanta's attack next season.
In 2011 as the coordinator of the Miami Dolphins, Nolan's defense finished in the top ten in the league with 41 sacks. Yasinskas points out that Nolan wanted three high-quality corners when he came to Atlanta and accomplished this when the franchise added Asante Samuel to work with Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson. Yasinskas writes that the three corners will help improve the pass rush just by proving quality coverage, leading quarterbacks to hold onto the ball longer. John Abraham, the team leader with 9.5 sacks last season, could have a similar season or better if this theory holds up.
"The thinking is that Samuel, Grimes and Robinson will tie up receivers a bit longer and quarterbacks will have to hold onto the ball," he writes. "If that happens, (John) Abraham is a threat to finish with double-digit sacks."
In addition to Abraham, last year's free agent prize, Ray Edwards, hopes to have a bounce-back season more on par with the production he had in Minnesota. Edwards recently said he loves Nolan's aggressive scheme because it allows him to focus on getting after the quarterback. Because of this, he thinks he's going to return to form.
If Edwards and Abraham can produce how they've proven they can and the Falcons can get sack production from Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury consistent with what they got last season, the Falcons pass rush from the defensive ends could be more than solid. Head coach Mike Smith said during the year's minicamp that the defensive line will feature one training camp's biggest battles, specifically at defensive tackle. Whoever wins the battle will give the Falcons the best rotation in the middle of the line.
All of these pass-rushing characteristics combined with Nolan's scheme that will feature versions of 4-3 and 3-4 looks, designed to confuse and slow down offenses could mean the Falcons pass rush won't be hidden for long in 2012.