The Falcons boasted a strong defense last season but the addition of new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could elevate the veteran squad to elite status.
Perhaps Nolan left his defensive coordinator position in Miami because the Falcons, who’ve been to the postseason in three of the past four years, offered an opportunity for more overall team success. Whatever the reason, Nolan’s creativity is expected to lead to a more aggressive defense.
“[Nolan] brings more than 25 years of NFL experience to our team and has been a coordinator at this level for 14 years,” head coach Mike Smith said. “Mike has a history of developing physically intimidating units and we are fortunate to have him join our staff.”
Nolan’s defense in Miami held opponents to just 95.6 ypg, the third lowest total in the NFL last season. He also devised a scheme that created 41 sacks, the 10th best total in the league.
The Falcons were the league’s sixth best team at limiting the run as opponents earned just 97 yards on the ground, but their 33 sacks were tied for just the 19th most. Nolan will rely on a combination of Atlanta’s traditional 4-3 base with his preferred four-linebacker style to increase the pressure in the pocket.
“I think we’re doing more different things than we did last year to get to the quarterback,” John Abraham told Daniel Cox of AtlantaFalcons.com. “I don’t think we’ll be as vanilla. It’s just a little bit more diverse with more people coming in the D-ends and the linebackers.”
The Falcons, who allowed nearly 22 ppg last season (18th in NFL), arguably have a better roster of personnel and more experienced defensive pawns for Nolan to utilize. One of whom is Abraham, who re-signed with Atlanta this offseason and returns as the league’s active leader in sacks with 112.
The biggest challenge for Nolan will be replacing LB Curtis Lofton’s 167 tackles from last season. Lofton left in free agency to NFC South rival New Orleans and special teams ace Akeem Dent is expected to take his spot. Dent, a second-year player out of Georgia, led the special teams with 19 tackles, including 12 individual tackles.
It’s a lot to ask of Dent but the Falcons lost some of their LB depth when veteran free-agent signee Lofa Tatupu tore his pectoral muscle earlier this month. But emerging LB star Sean Weatherspoon, who was second on the team with 125 tackles, returns and should be better with another year's experience.
“We are rowdy,” Weatherspoon said to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution in June. “All of these guys are having fun out there. We’ve kind of taken the mentality that it’s our time.”
For more Falcons coverage, follow Mike Singer @CBSSportsNFLAtl.