- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
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The Falcons need John Abraham in a bad way this year if they are to keep up with the Saints.
Abraham is an exceptional pass-rusher, but his sack totals fell to 5½ in 2009 after he registered a whopping 16½ the year prior. This is a defensive end who has notched double-digit sack totals five times in his career, but he just turned 32 and there is reason for concern that his play might be dropping off. Simply put, Atlanta cannot afford for that to be the case.
Heading into the offseason, the Falcons had two major needs: cornerback and a defensive end to complement and possibly succeed Abraham. Atlanta was aggressive at cornerback and paid big money to Dunta Robinson. But little was done to address the DE need.
On draft day, it was widely thought that the Falcons' first-round pick would address this need. But the draft didn't work out that way for Atlanta. The Eagles traded up to select Brandon Graham, and the other top ends fell off the board before the Falcons could address the need with reasonable value.
There is some promise with the other ends on the roster, but no one is in Abraham's class. Although he was a top-10 selection, it appears as though Jamaal Anderson is never going to live up to expectations as a pass-rusher. He is an underrated run defender, though, and has the makeup of an adequate base end, but Anderson just isn't threatening enough off the edge.
Kroy Biermann is a player few know about, but he is also more effective than many realize. He is young and should only improve. He is someone to be rather excited about. Lawrence Sidbury was underwhelming in his first season, but a large learning curve was expected from this youngster from Richmond. Chauncey Davis also will factor in, but he does little to excite.
The pass rush from the defensive tackle position is sure to be improved as last year's first-round pick, Peria Jerry, hopefully will return back to health and provide an upfield push from the interior. Like Biermann, Jonathan Babineaux is not a household name but is a very productive player. He can be a real handful for opposing guards. And the Falcons used their third-round pick this year on Corey Peters. So there is promise at defensive tackle -- and surely the coverage on the back end will be improved, as will the linebacker play with the addition of first-rounder Sean Weatherspoon.
But Abraham is getting up in age and doesn't have the best track record for durability. Obviously, the biggest competition in the division is New Orleans, which is very capable of throwing the ball and protecting its quarterback. Abraham does not have to match his 2008 output, and the Falcons would be very wise to cut down on his snaps a bit to prolong his career and keep him fresh for a playoff run, but there is still a lot of pressure on this veteran pass-rusher. Atlanta needs him to be a top competitor in the NFC.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
The Falcons' ability to challenge New Orleans in the NFC South hinges greatly on John Abraham's ability to apply consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, writes Matt Williamson.