The Falcons took the first step, last week to building a dominant defense with the hire of former Broncos and Dolphins DC Mike Nolan to be the Falcons new defensive coordinator. Already a week in and some heads have already started to roll on the defensive side with news that defensive backs assistant coach Alvin Reynolds has been let go.
Whilst not giving too much away in his first few interviews, Nolan did show a commitment to having more DBs on the field to combat the modern passing attack in the NFL. Check out the State of the Franchise – The Cornerbacks for more information on the Falcons current corner situation. With more DBs on the field the play of that group as a whole becomes of paramount importance, which in turn means the coaching standard of that group must be elite. Look for Nolan to try and get one of “his guys” to come in and fill that role. The coaching staff is not all that will be shaken up in Atlanta, as the potential shift in scheme comes into focus.
As Mike Smith is a dedicated 4-3 defensive minded head coach, it was unlikely that he would turn over the keys entirely to Mike Nolan. This is why I’m not surprised that Atlanta (at least saying they are) will not switch completely to a 3-4. A sentiment that has been backed up by all parties is that the Falcons will stick to a base 4-3 instead of switching to the Nolan preferred 3-4.
Despite this pretty solid backing for a 4-3, I think at this stage you have to take it with a pinch of salt. Even if the Falcons were going to switch to a 3-4, why would they say in January that they were going to? It makes no sense to do so as your effectively laying down your hand before the game has even started.
Think of it this way if the Falcons were to target a NT in the draft say, why tell the opposing teams in the draft that you need a NT (which you are effectively saying if you announce a switch to a 3-4), you lose all of your leverage to make a value selection.
Let me clear I’m not saying the Falcons will play a base 3-4 next year as I’m not sure the Falcons have all the personnel in place yet on defense. Check out my look at how the Falcons current personnel could fit in a 3-4 (bare in mind that was written prior to the Nolan hiring). I am expecting the Falcons to run a hybrid scheme in 2012, if nothing else as a trial run in on run downs primarily (Nolan’s Dolphins were ranked 3rd against the run in 2011) and experiment in pass rush situations in an attempt to improve a Falcons pass rush ranked 19th in the NFL in terms of sacking the QB.
If 2012 shows some signs that the Falcons core defensive players can adapt to the 3-4 scheme, the Falcons will at least consider using it going forward in 2013, and with a full compliment of picks (currently!) in the 2013 draft, will allow the Falcons to make a full investment in Nolan’s specialist scheme.