Since the Falcons traded for defensive end John Abraham in 2006, he’s pretty much been the only threat on the Falcons’ defensive line. When the trade was made, the idea was to pair Abraham with Patrick Kerney, the Falcons’ defensive end on the left side at the time. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as intended.
In Abraham’s first game as a Falcon, he wreaked havoc on the Carolina Panthers. However, he suffered a groin injury with less than two minutes to go in the game. Kerney was injured on the Falcons’ first defensive play. Abraham ended up missing three games before returning to face the New York Giants in Week 6. He went down again and missed the next five games. Kerney was able to return after going down against the Panthers, but suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in Week 10 against the Cleveland Browns.
After the season was over, Kerney opted out of the last two years of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent and signed with the Seattle Seahawks. We were never able to witness the kind of the destruction the two were capable of together.
To fill the void left by Kerney, the Falcons drafted defensive end Jamaal Anderson out of Arkansas. In Anderson’s last year at Arkansas, he notched 13.5 sacks and looked like he’d be a terror coming off the edge.
Or so the Falcons thought.
Anderson failed to get one sack his first year after starting all 16 games. His first NFL sack came in 2008 versus the Chicago Bears in Week 6. Anderson finished the 2008 season with two total sacks after starting 15 games. The next two seasons, Anderson totaled just two and a half acks.
When you’re drafted eighth overall to be a pass-rushing defensive end and you manage to sack the quarterback a total of four and a half times after starting 47 games, you’re the definition of a bust. The Falcons did the right thing and parted ways with Anderson in 2011.
Next up was Kroy Biermann, the slightly undersized defensive end out of Montana. The Falcons selected Biermann in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft, and he immediately became a fan favorite. His name was certainly a factor in him becoming a favorite among Falcons fans (BEER MAN!), but the tenacity he displayed when rotated in contributed as well.
Over the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Biermann managed to sack the quarterback seven times despite starting only two games. In 2010, the Falcons made Biermann the full-time starter opposite of Abraham; Biermann responded by posting just three sacks. He did have an insane interception return, though. Also to Biermann’s credit, he generated a lot of pressure; he just couldn’t seal the deal and get the sack. Biermann’s 2010 season was similar to Abraham’s 2009 season.
The Falcons like Biermann, as evident by them re-signing him this offseason; he’s a good rotational player.
Ray Edwards is the Falcons’ latest and current attempt to take some of the load off Abraham. There were rumors of the Falcons being interested in Edwards in 2010, and the Falcons showed that interest was legitimate by signing him to a five-year deal last year. Edwards had posted 16.5 sacks over the course of the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the Falcons had a need at left defensive end, so the move made sense.
In Edwards’ first year as a Falcon, he sacked the quarterback just three and a half times – definitely not the production the Falcons were looking for when they signed him. He didn’t just fail to sack the quarterback, either. He also failed to generate any type of pressure. On the flip side, he was a monster at stopping the run.
I’m willing to give Edwards another chance, though. For starters, he wasn’t completely healthy, which would explain why the Falcons were able to sign him for the price they did. Secondly, Brian VanGorder, the former defensive coordinator of the Falcons, liked to move guys around on the defensive line based upon match-ups. When Edwards was with the Minnesota Vikings, he played almost exclusively on the left side. Therefore, it makes sense for Edwards to not be comfortable in VanGorder’s scheme.
It remains to be seen whether Edwards was merely a product of arguably the best defensive end in the league in Jared Allen and the Williams Wall that was composed of Kevin Williams and Pat Williams.
Abraham has totaled 58.5 sacks since he’s been with the Falcons; he is currently tied with Chuck Smith for the franchise sack record. He’ll undoubtedly break that record this upcoming season. In 2008, Abraham broke the Falcons’ single-season sack record with 16.5 (and mysteriously wasn’t voted to the Pro Bowl).
It’s amazing how effective Abraham has been despite having no legitimate help opposite of him on the defensive line; it’s just testament to how good Abraham is.
At the NFL owners meeting earlier this month, head coach Mike Smith outlines exactly how they’re planning to help John Abraham this season:
“You don’t want to have just one guy that’s getting all the production,’’ Smith said. “You want other defensive linemen and linebackers being productive pass-rushers. If you look at Coach Nolan’s 14 years as a defensive coordinator, he’s been one of the most productive on third down. You want to have a scheme that puts added pressure on the quarterback on third downs.”