http://blogs.ajc.com/jeff-schultz-blog/ ... vangorder/
Mike Nolan's scheme and the way he's coaching it is paying dividends. (Curtis Compton/AJC)
SAN DIEGO — When the Falcons ended last season with another early playoff meltdown, it didn’t matter if anybody else in the organization preached patience and threw daffodils about the franchise’s future, because owner Arthur Blank’s vote would trump them all. Self-made billionaires tend to be results-driven, particularly ones who type emails in a red font. If significant changes weren’t made in personnel, they certainly would be made in scheme and philosophy.
Which is why before you could say, “season-ticket sales,” Mike Mularkey and Brian VanGorder were gone.
It’s true that both coordinators left for other jobs. But both may have beaten the Falcons to the punch. Mularkey filled Jacksonville’s head coaching vacancy, but his exit probably was cemented when the Falcons’ offense shot blanks in the playoff loss to New York. VanGorder’s future was no better than tenuous when he left for Auburn because some defensive players had started to tune him out.
That’s certainly not an issue now. The Falcons won Monday’s game over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in large part because of Mike Nolan, their new defensive coordinator. His schemes, heavy on nickel and well-disguised coverages and blitzes, fooled one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Most important, the team’s defensive backs have taken to the quieter Nolan after having their ears singed for too many weeks by VanGorder, the screaming sort.
William Moore had an interception and a sack against Peyton Manning. (Jason Getz/AJC)
To quote safety Thomas DeCoud, who accounted for one of Manning’s interceptions, said: “It just got to the point where we had to pick and choose what to listen to and what not to. You learned to take some things with a grain of salt. Brian was a passionate coach. He wanted his guys to be out there playing tough, strong and perfect football. You can’t fault a man for that. But it was just one of those things where you had to learn how to take your coach for who he was.”
William Moore, who had an interception and a sack of Manning last week, echoed those sentiments, adding: “I was one of the guys he yelled at the most. He also pulled me to the side and would explain things, but he didn’t show that side of him on the field. That’s not a knock on VanGorder. It just the way he coaches. Coach Nolan doesn’t do that. Everybody’s a man. This is just a job. You’ve got a responsibility, and you have a job to do. If you’re not doing it, there’s no reason to yell at you. They’ll just replace you.”
The defense’s performance against Denver (four turnovers, seven points allowed in the first three-plus quarters) would have been impressive even in normal circumstances. But it came against Manning, and after losing cornerback Brent Grimes for the season the week before, and Asante Samuel and Christopher Owens for stretches of the Broncos game. Reserves Robert McClain, inactive in Week 1, and Dominique Franks, both were pressed into full-time duty. McClain had an interception.
DeCoud described Nolan’s scheme as “an offensive approach to defense. Changing the math and making sure the offense is adjusting to us. We’re dictating the pace and tempo, rather than vice versa.”
What’s clear is the confidence they are playing with and how they’ve taken to Nolan. He has them believing in his system, regardless of the circumstances. They also enjoy not being yelled at. VanGorder was revered at Georgia. He didn’t achieve the same level of success as an NFL coordinator, but there hasn’t been an abundance of talent on the Falcons’ defense either, and there also was some question about how much freedom he was given from coach Mike Smith.
Nolan, for what it’s worth, said he used to be more of a screamer.
“I think everybody has to coach in their own style,” he said. “There was a time when I screamed more. I think as we all get older it’s no different than raising your kids and you get frustrated by everything. Then after a while you get … I think when you know how to parent is when you become a grandparent. So, I think coaching is a little bit the same way. As you get older, you say less and let them play more.”
Whatever his methods, they are paying early dividends.
By Jeff Schultz