Nolan shaping up Atlanta defense

Associated Press  |  Last updated July 28, 2012
Atlanta coach Mike Smith is looking for new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to help the Falcons increase their third-down stops. In a 25-year NFL head coaching career that has included stops as a defensive coordinator with the Giants, Redskins, Jets, Ravens, Broncos and Dolphins, Nolan has built a reputation for scheming to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks - and receivers - by making them have to guess. Some of the Falcons' defensive statistics were good last season. They ranked No. 6 in the league against the run while allowing 97 rushing yards per game, but getting off the field was a big problem at times. Atlanta allowed a third-down conversion rate of 44.1 percent, 29th in the NFL. Nolan's defense in Miami was No. 7 on third downs (33.8 percent allowed), arguably with weaker personnel than the Falcons have. Atlanta also was No. 30 in the NFL in third-down sack rate (6.02 percent, with 10 third-down sacks) while Miami was No. 2 (12.2 percent, with 21). ''Mike lives for third down,'' Smith said. ''He's been one of the best third-down coaches in the 14 years that he's been a coordinator. I think you're going to see multiplicity in our defense. There will be some things that will run through the defense that we've done in the past, but there's going to be more multiplicity in what we do.'' Before former Falcons defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder left to take the same job at Auburn after last season, Atlanta fans frequently lit up sports talk radio switchboards to complain that the team too often played it simple on that side of the ball. Nolan, in fact, has seen remnants of that through the first third days of training camp. That's why he and his staff are asking defensive backs to get up in the faces of receivers, so the coaches can see who can and cannot play aggressively. Once they get a feel for that, some DBs - newcomer Asante Samuel, for example - are likely to be given the option of picking their own method of defense. The more they show in practice, the more often they will be allowed to choose, like a speedy baserunner who gets the green light to steal on his own. ''That's exactly right,'' Nolan said. ''We play off, or press, press where they get their hands on them, and press where we bail. We call those, `tools.' A player has different tools that he can use so that he doesn't just have one way of doing it. (A defensive back) can be a little more offensive in what he does ... so that receivers can't just come out and say, `I know what you're doing.' ''That's why we're telling them to get up so much because they've been used to being off so much that we want to get them up and see what they can do. If we have a couple tools and execute them properly, it puts more strain on the offensive players.'' Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson is pleased with the prospect of freedom. ''It allows us to be more aggressive,'' he said. ''And I get to go inside and play nickel, where I'm able to roam a little bit and make some tackles. It's a very versatile defense . . . not showing your blitzes (ahead of the snap), just showing a bunch of different things. It's kind of a cat-and-mouse game.'' Where the Falcons' blitzes were at times easy to pick up, they are less likely to be that way under Nolan. He's been a frequent practitioner of the 3-4 alignment in the past, but with so much personnel back from last year's 4-3 scheme (Samuel is the only prominent newcomer, although the Falcons have to find a new middle linebacker after Curtis Lofton joined the Saints as a free agent), Nolan said he will blend both alignments into game plans to help prevent the Falcons from being predictable. Atlanta will overload the line of scrimmage at times, and move defenders around before the snap. The Dolphins had 41 sacks last year to the Falcons' 33, and linemen had 21 1/2 of them. Look for more distribution this year. ''We just got to get used to the new system to where we can go out and not think about things,'' said defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. ''I think the sky's the limit for this D-line.'' The same goes for linebackers, safeties, and even cornerbacks. Everybody will be a candidate to get a sack for the Falcons. Nolan's not ready to predict who'll get them, or how often he'll use the 4-3 vs. the 3-4, and he's not sure who'll end up at middle linebacker between emerging second-year man Akeem Dent and recently re-signed Mike Peterson. Yet he seems to have a good feeling about the big picture. ''It's too early to know what we'll use because some of the stuff we're learning and we're trying to learn what tools the players have, but there is less transition here than in some places,'' he said. ''There are a lot of guys who have been here. Asante is new and then you have the rookies. Outside of that, it's pretty much the same group. Maybe half this is stuff they did, and maybe half is new. There's less learning for the players who were here.'' NOTES: The Falcons released guard Vince Manuwai, who was signed as a free agent in March after sitting out last season. He was originally drafted by Jacksonville in the third round in 2003, and started 105 games for the Jaguars through 2010. ... Defensive tackle Corey Peters, who suffered an undisclosed injury prior to the start of training camp, remains sidelined. ... The play of the day Saturday came when quarterback Matt Ryan completed a long pass down the right sideline to Julio Jones, who leaped high above cornerback Brent Grimes to make the catch.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Bright future for Minnesota Timberwolves

Eli and Archie Manning say Peyton won’t likely leave Denver if he plays in 2016

NCAA mulls changes to graduate transfer and targeting rules

Cavs active in NBA trade market, covet Jared Dudley

Roger Goodell expectedly dodges Patriots-related questions at Super Bowl

Baltimore Orioles acquire starting pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

USC athletic director Pat Haden to retire in June

Report: Browns owner ‘frustrated, emotional’ about Johnny Manziel

Raiders and Texans to play MNF game in Mexico City in 2016

Goodell wants to keep Raiders, Chargers in home markets

Deadly shooting breaks out at Dublin boxing weigh-in

Mike Shula vs. Wade Phillips: The best story of Super Bowl 50

QUIZ: Name every NFL regular season MVP

WATCH: Avery Bradley nails buzzer beater to beat Cavs

WATCH: Jimmy Butler taken to locker room in wheel chair

Klay Thompson's first five years in historical context

WATCH: Cubs' Kris Bryant went swimming with sharks

Sports Authority taking steps to file for bankruptcy

Major League Baseball threatens to disassociate from DraftKings

NFL considering moving Pro Bowl to Australia

Joe Montana warns NFL players about potential long-term damage after retirement

Report: Two people fired for leaking Jason Pierre-Paul information

‘Crying Jordan’ photographer had no idea it existed until this week

NHL nightmare: No Canadian teams in the NHL playoff hunt

Seven unheralded players set to make major impacts in SB 50

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

The 14 biggest plays in Super Bowl history

Five outrageous predictions for Super Bowl 50

QUIZ: Name the winning starting quarterback from every Super Bowl

The top six matchups that could decide Super Bowl 50

Seven unheralded players set to make major impacts in SB 50

10 underrated performances in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

X-factors in Super Bowl 50

NHL nightmare: No Canadian teams in playoff hunt

QUIZ: Name the Super Bowl halftime performers since 1991

Manziel's father fears for QB's life

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker