When the 2018 season ended for the Atlanta Falcons, the team’s biggest needs heading into the offseason were glaring ones: the offensive and defensive lines.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn acknowledged as much and made it very clear on what needed to change.
“Let’s make sure we get nastier,” Quinn said on Falcons Audible podcast.
“It might be big and nasty. It might be fast and nasty. Let’s make sure there’s no doubt.”
The Falcons had trouble protecting their franchise quarterback – Matt Ryan was sacked 42 times – and they struggled to run the ball consistently. Atlanta averaged 98.3 rushing yards per game, ranking 27th in the league. During a five-game losing streak down the stretch, they scored no more than 20 points.
The defense was inconsistent as well.
|Points allowed/game||8 (19.7)||25 (26.4)|
|Yards allowed/game||9 (318.4)||28 (384.5)|
|Pass yards allowed/game||12 (214.3)||27 (259.6)|
|Rush yards allowed/game||9 (104.1)||25 (124.9)|
|Sacks||Tied-13 (39)||Tied-22 (37)|
|Third-down conv. % allowed||18 (38.3%)||31 (48.7%)|
|Red zone TD %||5 (45.8%)||28 (70.4%)|
Change has ensued. Lots of it.
And, slowly, the Falcons are getting bigger, nastier and faster.
Since that two-point win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back on Dec. 30 to slam the door on 2018, the Falcons have been extremely aggressive in addressing both of those areas, especially the offensive line.
Just look at what they’ve done so far in free agency and in Day 1 of the NFL Draft, which kicked off Thursday night.
In the first round, the Falcons selected not one, but two offensive linemen.
With the 14th overall pick, they drafted former Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom before trading back into the first round to take former Washington offensive tackle Kaleb McGary. Both of those draft picks are similar to other offseason additions when it comes to size.
Remember what Quinn said about “big and nasty” players?
Lindstrom is 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds and McGary is 6-foot-7 and 317 pounds.
And don’t forget what Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said on what sold him on Lindstrom as a fit for the Falcons.
“We were looking for a tough, gritty, nasty, edgy guy that was going to get out and around really well,” Dimitroff said.
When McGary was asked questions about what kind of player he is, his response was somewhat revealing, too.
“I want (defenders) to be afraid," McGary said. "I want the quarterback and tailback to never worry about a thing.”
So, here’s a quick recap of the four other offensive linemen they’ve signed in free agency:
- G/T John Wetzel (6-foot-7, 315 pounds)
- G James Carpenter (6-5, 321)
- G Jamon Brown (6-6, 340)
- G Adam Gettis (6-3, 315)
It’s worth noting that the Falcons also signed Ty Sambrailo (6-5, 311) to a three-year extension. He has served as the team's primary backup swing tackle over the last two seasons.
It’s safe to say the Falcons have made a concerted effort to fortify the offensive line, to make it bigger and, well, nastier.
And don't forget what Falcons owner Arthur Blank said during the league meetings back in late March.
"This is my 19th year as an owner and one of the things I've learned is that Matt (Ryan) plays much better vertically than horizontally," Blank said. "I don't think we're complete in terms of the offensive line. I think it'll be an area of great scrutiny and activity during the draft."
It’s a good thing the Falcons have seven more draft picks over the next two days, because there’s still plenty of work to be done, especially when it comes to addressing the defensive side of the ball.
The Falcons did bring back a familiar face in defensive end Adrian Clayborn and signed others who should make some significant contributions and provide depth at very least, including defensive tackle Tyeler Davison and defensive end Chris Odom.
But the Falcons are still extremely thin at defensive end and cornerback, and no one is more aware of that than Quinn, who will be calling the defense this year.
“We're going to take advantage of these picks,” Quinn said Thursday night. “Man, we're pumped to get rolling. ... We've got much work to do and lots to add, and we couldn't be more excited about that.”
And let's not forget what Quinn told me after the season on that same podcast.
“I love tough-ass, hard-nosed defensive play,” he said. “I think to be championship-caliber teams, you better have an edge to you. The best defenses I have been a part of have had a good ball-hawking mindset. And that part of the game, if you can do that and eliminate explosive plays, you got a really good chance to do well.”
And make sure there’s no doubt.
Quinn’s words, not mine.