Written Sunday before the game.http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/NFP ... -1363.html
The Falcons go into attack mode; most controversial calls and all the lastest NFL talk. Dan Pompei
September 30, 2012, 05:30 AM EST
Change has been invigorating for the Atlanta Falcons. It’s not wholesale change or even considerable change. It’s mostly subtle change, which was probably the perfect prescription for a team that won ten games but bowed out in the wildcard round of the playoffs last season.
The Falcons could have just sat back and counted on internal improvement. Instead, they decided to attack. They attacked by hiring offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, and then they have attacked by dictating to opponents on both sides of the ball.
The new mentality has brought out the best in maturing players such as Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Jacquizz Rodgers, Sam Baker, Thomas DeCoud, William Moore and Sean Weatherspoon.
This was all part of head coach Mike Smith’s plan. He hired two coordinators who were willing to work with the foundation the team had already put in place, as well as with the assistant coaches on staff. Smith knew what he was getting into with Koetter and Nolan because he had worked with both previously.
Koetter even has given Ryan a hand in designing the offense. The main difference in the Falcons’ offense is their gameplans are based more on identifying and exploiting opponents’ weaknesses. “Dirk has put together a really aggressive game plan,” Smith told me. “He wants to be attacking. That’s what he did as a college head coach. Now what we’re doing is more predicated on how people are trying to defend us.”
People are not defending the Falcons very well. They have scored touchdowns on each of their three opening drives and are averaging 31.3 points per game—third highest in the NFL.
Of course none of that would be possible if Ryan wasn’t being protected so well. Protection was an issue a year ago, but he has been sacked only four times this year. Smith attributes this to better play from the returning offensive linemen and to Ryan improving both his pocket awareness and his strength so he is able to step into throws better.
Ryan has taken care of the football exceptionally well, throwing only one interception. He is a big reason why the Falcons are plus-10 in the takeaway department.
Mike NolanMike Nolan and Mike Smith plot their next move.
Another big reason is Nolan’s scheming. Nolan has coached 3-4 fronts for seven years, and he has coached 4-3 fronts for seven years. He has combined both principles in his most recent defenses. The Falcons often have four down linemen in base, but become very unpredictable in nickel, coming at quarterbacks from all angles.
“When I hired Mike, I knew Mike wants to get opponents in third down,” Smith said. “Mike always has one of the best third down teams in the league, year in, year out. He is very creative, especially on third down. And that’s the money down.”
The other thing Nolan has done is let players play. “He’s done a very good job of identifying what are players are capable of doing and putting them in position to do what they do best,” Smith said. “He’s been a new set of eyes for us. That’s refreshing. You can become where you don’t see the trees because of the forest.”
Weatherspoon is a perfect example of a player who seems to be moving faster this year, playing to his full athleticism. “We’ve been very encouraged with how Mike has worked with the defense, Smitty and the other coaches to create a defense that is appropriate for the talent we have,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “He has taken fast, athletic players and created a defense that plays with confidence and an edge.”
The season is young and things are likely to keeping changing. But so far, the change has been all good in Atlanta.