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49ers-Falcons preview: An improving defense still likely to cost Atlanta in January

We spoke with Dave Choate of The Falcoholic about the strengths and weaknesses of the Falcons defense, and what it might mean in January.

The San Francisco 49ers head into Atlanta facing a Falcons team that is very likely to put up a lot of points on offense. If the 49ers pass rush can build on last week’s six sacks against the New York Jets, great. But if not, any chance at the 49ers remaining competitive will require the offense do some damage against the Falcons defense.

The Falcons hired Dan Quinn following a couple stints as a defensive coach with the Seattle Seahawks. The Falcons defense was ranked at the bottom of the league in 2014, prior to Quinn’s arrival. In 2015, they climbed into the top of the bottom third. This year, they have slipped a little bit. In points allowed, they went from 27th in 2014 to 14th in 2015, back down to 28th this year.

I asked Dave Choate from The Falcoholic about the Falcons defense. He talked about strengths and weaknesses, and the concerns for Falcons fans if they end up in the playoffs next month. Here’s what Dave had to say.

It's the major concern the average Falcons fan has, I think, and with good reason.

While Dan Quinn is a defensive-minded coach and he has a deep, talented staff, the reality is that the Falcons need multiple years to build up the talent and cohesion that great defenses bring to the board. They nailed this draft class, adding three bonafide starters that could be building blocks for this unit going forward, but they're abysmally weak at defensive tackle outside of promising second year pro Grady Jarrett and they still don't have three top-shelf linebackers, to name a couple of weaknesses.

The strengths are in the secondary and the bright stars dotting the roster. The Falcons, even without Desmond Trufant, have some seriously capable cornerbacks, including recently-extended Robert Alford, who has done a great job of filling in for one of the league's elite corners. Ricardo Allen is a solid starting safety who has big play ability, while Keanu Neal has been tremendous in run support and delivers huge hits on a regular basis. Up front, it's second year pass rusher Vic Beasley, who has 13.5 sacks on the season, and rookie Deion Jones, who has three interceptions, including two returned for long touchdowns. There's just a lot of speed and physicality on the roster that wasn't there before, and it's masking a lot of problems.

Those problems, as mentioned, include some weak interior line play, inconsistent linebacker play, and too many missed tackles week after week after week. They're just not consistently able to stop teams, especially good teams, from imposing their will, and they've allowed so many ugly third downs I legitimately stopped keeping track.

There's so much upside here, I believe, that the Falcons should have a good defense in 1-2 years if they just keep acquiring solid talent. There's just not going to be the kind of 2016 transformation that will save them from an early playoff exit, I fear.