In Dean Pees' first season as defensive coordinator in Atlanta, the Falcons ranked near the bottom in most categories.
The Falcons allowed 27 points per game (tied for 29th), 364.4 yards per game (26th), allowed 131.9 rush yards (27th), gave up 48.4 opponent third down percent (30th) and ranked last in the NFL in sacks with 18.
Pees noted that the entire defense wasn't installed in the first year of the switch to the 3-4 system.
"I just didn't feel like there were some things last year that we were probably going to be able to digest and be able to do," Pees said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "The good thing is that we didn't give up a lot of big plays last year. We did a great job of keeping the ball inside in the perimeter and not giving up big plays."
The Falcons didn't allow a pass play of 40-plus yards (No. 1 in NFL) and gave up 51 pass plays of 20-plus yards (15th).
Entering the second campaign under the 72-year-old DC, Pees thinks his players are ready to run the full playbook.
"I kind of know (that) the guys that are back kind of know what to expect," Pees said. "You know what we're really looking for. Last year, I'd say we put in, at the end of the year, maybe 60% of the defense that we really want to run. This year, it's going to be 100%."
Pees noted that utilizing 60% of the defense was a calculated approach in Arthur Smith's first season at the helm.
"Part of that was because we didn't overload them," Pees said. "Well, I think we've learned enough now that we can kind of not overload them, but we can add a lot more to it to be a little more aggressive than maybe we were last year."
With the offense in flux following the trade of Matt Ryan, Atlanta will need the defense to take a step forward to avoid cratering from their 7-10 record in 2021.
There are some building blocks to work with. Corner A.J. Terrell remains underrated as one of the stickiest cover men in the NFL. Grady Jarrett, who signed a three-year extension, can be a disruptor on the inside. Deion Jones is a rangy linebacker with star potential when healthy. And ATL added the likes of veteran CB Casey Hayward, linebacker Rashaan Evans, NT Eddie Goldman, and second-round linebacker Arnold Ebiketie. Still, there are glaring holes at edge rusher that Pees will have to answer if the Falcons D is to take a big leap forward in 2022.