Mike Nolan has had a lot of success in 2012 using the amoeba defensive looks. This, essentially, is a defense that can change any kind of look to match up with what the offense is showing. As of right now, the Falcons operate in a 4-3 base defense (4 down linemen, three linebackers) the strength of a 4-3 is run stopping. It puts big defensive ends to set the edge and two defensive tackles to eat up the inside. This leaves the linebackers to come in and stop the run. Atlanta also uses a lot of 3-4 looks (3 down linemen with 4 linebackers) the strength of a 3-4 is the pass rush. You have one enormous defensive tackle to eat blocks in the middle, two ends to set the edge, and the outside linebackers can sometimes run free at the passer. Mike Nolan specializes in the 3-4 while Mike Smith specializes in the 4-3. Together, they devised an amoeba defense that runs both formations a large part of the time.
However, the strengths of the defense are starting lean more towards a 3-4 base. Players like Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Massaquoi, and Joplo Bartu are all very qualified to play an outside linebacker role. Players like Malliciah Goodman, Jonathan Babineaux, and Corey Peters are all very qualified to play defensive end roles in a 3-4 (Corey Peters would be a perfect scheme fit since Mike Nolan traditionally uses one of his defensive ends to play a 3-technique lined up on the guard). Guys like Sean Weatherspoon and Paul Worrilow would both make excellent inside linebackers.
Even the coaches they hired are very comfortable in a 3-4 scheme. Bryan Cox has worked with Nolan and was most successful as a defensive line coach under a 3-4 scheme.
In all reality, the Falcons are only a few minor players away from making a complete scheme shift to a 3-4 defense. Let’s take a look at the remaining pieces the Falcons need to make such a transition.