The first day of free agency in the National Football League brought many surprises. Many keynote, prominent players were released by their teams. Players such as Lance Moore and Darren Sproles were released by the Saints and the Cowboys released seven-time pro bowl defensive end Demarcus Ware to name a few. Nevertheless, with releasing of players comes the opportunity to improve as well. Well, at least that is the goal of every franchise during free agency.
Unlike some teams, the Atlanta Falcons are using the free agency period to best of their ability, focusing on the most important needs of the team. The new additions thus far on defense along with players selected in the NFL Draft in April will be sure to help the team in the coming year, after finishing last season with a dismal 4-12 record.
It was crucial for the Falcons to first look at improving the defensive side of the ball first, a team that finished 27th in total defense, 21st in pass defense and a disappointing 31st in rush defense last year. Last year, the Falcons gave up 2,173 yards on the ground to their opponents and an average of 135.8 yards per game. Signing Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson are great additions in limiting the running game of opposing teams and improving the run defense for the Falcons.
Soliai, a 2007 fourth round pick by the Miami Dolphins, is no stranger to Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. When Soliai became a starter in 2010 for the Dolphins, Nolan was the defensive coordinator for the Dolphins. Moreover, the 6-foot-4, 340-pound defensive tackle started 15 games last season, accumulating 34 tackles on the season.
In addition, he comes from a 3-4 defensive scheme in which defensive coordinator Mike Nolan plans to build on his 3-4 hybrid defensive schemes in conjunction with the team’s 4-3 defense. Not to mention, according to Pro Football Focus, Soliai scored a plus-11.1 overall rating with a plus-7.9 score at stopping the run.
Soliai’s ability to play as a true 3-4 nose tackle with Falcon defensive tackles Corey Peters, Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry plus his size to clog the running lanes makes him a perfect fit. Therefore, in my opinion, the five-year, $33 million deal is a worthy investment to improve the Falcons terrible run defense from a year ago.
Another 3-4 defensive end added to the team to create havoc and cause disruption in the backfield is Tyson Jackson. A former third overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2009 draft, Jackson brings enormous skill level to Falcons rush defense. The 6-foot-4, 296-pound defensive end recorded a Pro Football Focus grade of +15.5, which further gives us the opportunity to see why he is so dominant in disrupting an opposing team’s running game.
Last season, Jackson helped lead a Chiefs defense, who was tied for fifth in the NFL in scoring defense. He tacked on 33 tackles (24 solo), a career-high four sacks, three passes defensed and three quarterback pressures. Despite Jackson’s career high in sacks, he is limited in terms of pass defense as he is mostly known to stopping the run by using his side-to-side quickness to pursue running backs in the backfield.
All in all, Soliai and Jackson will give the Falcons much needed help along the front line of the defense. With the improvement on the defensive line, this should take pressure of a young Falcons secondary who not to mention released veteran defensive Thomas DeCoud, the sixth leading tackler on the team a year ago.