Why is Atlanta's defense struggling?

Last year, as the Falcons became the "Cinderella Story" of the NFL going from 4-12 to an 11-5 playoff team, rookie QB Matt Ryan got the most hype because cool-under-pressure demeanor. While Ryan was a key to their success, it was the defense that helped return them to postseason play and this year it's the reason they are going to be watching from home in January...

Injuries to players like Ryan and RB Michael Turner haven't helped matters and their offensive line has been a patchwork most of the season, but the defense has struggled this season ranking 30th against the pass and 23rd against the run.

Last season, the Falcons could count on consistent pressure from DE John Abraham who posted a career-high 16.5 sacks, but this season he's only managed 3.5 sacks and offensive coordinators have appeared to figure out how to neutralize his pass-rushing ability.

At times the Falcons have gotten pressure from other sources as more DT Jonathan Babineaux, who is facing legal troubles with his recent arrest for marijuana possession, has five sacks and DE Kroy Biermann has also chipped in with five as well.

Jamaal Anderson, who was already marked with the dreaded 'Bust' tag last year, has been woeful in his bid to be effective on the strongside. With his lack of productivity, teams have been able to focus their attentions on Abraham.

Third-year cornback Chris Houston leads Atlanta with nine passes defensed, but teams have thrown away from his side more choosing to work the middle of the field where the Falcons have struggled with their safety and linebacker play.

LB Curtis Lofton has put up solid statistics, posting 118 tackles, but he only has three tackles for loss and is a liability in coverage and that is where offenses attack when they need yardage.

Obviously, this team needs to stay healthy, like every other team in the NFL, in order to be successful, but with a more consistent pass-rush and better play out of their front seven the Falcons would probably have won this past week against New Orleans and likely would have beaten Carolina back on November 16th and the New York Giants the week after that.

Could this season have turned out differently?

It appears the answer is yes, provided the defense was playing better.

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