The free-agent signings of defensive end Tyson Jackson, who’s better at stopping the run than rushing the passer, and tackle Paul Soliai, who can play as a nose man, have heightened the already-burning speculation that the Atlanta Falcons are moving from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4. The Falcons keep trying to act as if such a shift would be no big deal, but it would. It would be an admission that coach Mike Smith, who oversaw the 4-3 when he was a defensive coordinator, has come to believe there’s a better way than his way.
It could also be a big deal come the NFL draft. It has long been believed that the Falcons were interested in trading up for the right to pick Jadeveon Clowney. But, as Vaughn McClure of ESPN notes, Clowney isn’t “an ideal fit for the 3-4 scheme.” So those of us — that’s my hand you see raised — who held out hope of seeing Clowney in Flowery Branch might need to recalibrate.
Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, in a post for ESPN Insider, calls the Falcons’ hiring of Jackson one of the five free-agent signings that, ahem, makes no sense. Monson’s rationale: Given that the NFL isn’t a realm where running the ball matters much anymore, why spend $25 million ($11 million guaranteed) on a defensive end who cannot rush the passer? Writes Monson of Jackson:
He might as well be a tackling dummy on passing downs. Eleven 3-4 defensive ends got more pressure in 2013 than Jackson has generated in five years in Kansas City. He has posted just 38 pressures in his pro career. To put that into some perspective, (Houston’s) J.J. Watt notched 85 last season alone, more than twice as many.
I’m pretty sure the Falcons’ rebuttal would go like this: “As bad as we were at sacking the quarterback (tied for 29th in a 32-team league) last season, we were even worse (31st overall) in rushing yards allowed. So there.”