Jump to content

Nolan's Defense Could Signal Personnel Changes


74ice
 Share

Recommended Posts

With the start of NFL free agency less than two months away and the Atlanta Falcons in the midst of a coaching staff overhaul, the defensive side of the ball is the one that should occupy the front office the most.

The Falcons have nine potential free agents on defense, and five of them are starters, as head coach Mike Smith considers the nickel back a starter. The most pressing are defensive end John Abraham, the NFL’s active leader in sacks; middle linebacker Curtis Lofton; and cornerback Brent Grimes, a Pro Bowl pick in 2010.

Two of the team’s top three safeties, Thomas DeCoud and James Sanders, also can be free agents. Nickel back Kelvin Hayden, who was injury prone and played only 223 snaps, is the other starter.

So what will general manager Thomas Dimitroff do, specifically in regard to Abraham? Some clues might have been provided by new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan in an introductory conference call with Atlanta media members last week.

One of the more intriguing quotes from Nolan was about the pass rush. The Falcons ranked 19th in the NFL in sacks in 2011; Nolan’s defense in Miami ranked 10th.

“I would rather have 10 guys get four sacks than only four guys get 10 sacks each," Nolan said, "because it’s a lot more difficult for an offense to look at your entire defense and say, ‘We’ve got to block them all guys. That guy might come, that guy might come.' That’s a real stress for a quarterback.”

With that in mind, the Falcons already have invested $7 million in one of their oldest players on the offensive side of the ball, tight end Tony Gonzalez, a player who is a paragon of health. Abraham made $8 million last season. What are the chances they will do the same with Abraham, who will be 34 next season and has a history of groin issues — issues that he said held him back at times in 2011?

Now, let’s take a look at something else that Nolan said in that conference call.

“People always talk about having four starting DBs," Nolan said, "but I think the future is there are really five starting DBs, if these quarterbacks keep doing what they are doing.”

Under Smith, The Falcons have not finished better than 20th in the NFL in pass defense. Nolan echoed comments Smith has often made in the past about pass defense being an 11-man effort. One thing the Falcons have rarely gotten under Smith and former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder are so-called “coverage” sacks, sacks the defense gets when none of the opposing receivers are open.

As a result of Nolan’s comments, it sounds like the Falcons are going to start playing a lot more nickel defense under Nolan. Taking a look at the free-agent market, one of the best nickel backs in the league is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan, who was an All-Pro in 2008.

On Friday, Finnegan told The Tennessean newspaper that he was pessimistic the Titans would re-sign him. If the team chose to tag him as their franchise player, he would earn $10.3 million.

Now, it’s possible that Finnegan would want to sign with Detroit, where his former defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is the Lions’ head coach.

So if the Falcons are, relatively speaking, going to invest the same amount of money, would it be in an aging defensive end or a 28-year-old defensive back? If you’re looking for durability, ProFootballFocus.com says that Finnegan played 1,142 snaps last season which was almost double Abraham’s 628. Which provides greater value to a team?

Now, consider what Nolan said and that the Falcons have to find a way to defend against New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees twice a season.

Finnegan isn’t the only top defensive back who could be on the free-agent market. Baltimore’s Lardarius Webb also could be a free agent, but considering his team was just a couple of plays away from a Super Bowl berth, it would make sense if he decided to stay with the Ravens.

Even if the Falcons don’t get a big-name defensive back in the free-agent market, it might be surprising if Abraham is back, unless he’s willing to play for a substantial discount.

It’s a move that could create a lot of teeth-gnashing among fans, but, ultimately, it will be judged by whether the Falcons can finally make that big, long-awaited improvement in their pass defense.

By John manasso

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Surely though Grimes should be a must-keep player? Our backfield can't suffer anymore, surely?

I think Lofton would be the biggest loss due to his age....

Grimes will want a big contract and we need to fix our lines, so he may be playing for another team next year.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Plus, depending on the scheme that Nolan wants to run, I think Grimes becomes somewhat expendable.

Bump and run yes, Grimes can run. But not bump

I still think Robinson franks owens and walls can make do and spend some money on the lines

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I could see us letting Grimes go if we are going to get more physical with the wide outs, Franks is coming around and i think Dunta will be more effective under a press/bump and run scheme. I would love for Grimes to stay here at nickel back but he is not gonna want the "demotion" If we could bring is cortland as our nickel and keep hayden and sanders i think we can be okay, decoud needs to go and if at all possible pick up a decent safety to replace him

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So do people on this forum not think we're getting grimes back?

I think the Nolan hire would hint that direction. While he has said that he fits the scheme to the players, it's just not possible with our starting CB's. I'm surprised nothing was done about it sooner. Dunta Robinson is a great man coverage CB while Brent Grimes is a great zone coverage CB. The problem is that BVG (and maybe Smith) kept trying to fit Dunta into a zone coverage role. From what I understand, Nolan prefers more man coverage than zone. I think that also fits the rest of our defensive personnel anyway. I just don't see them bringing back Grimes. I have a feeling that those "sore spots" in our CB roster players were because they were trying to play in a scheme that didn't fit their abilities. I'd like to see how Franks and Owens do in man coverage versus zone coverage.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dunta Robinson is a great man coverage CB while Brent Grimes is a great zone coverage CB. The problem is that BVG (and maybe Smith) kept trying to fit Dunta into a zone coverage role.

I completely disagree with this statement. There was no evidence of footage that should make you believe Dunta is a great man coverage corner. He can barely keep up with an average speed corners! Grimes on the other hand has shown great man coverage skills. The defense has a coverage set where Grimes plays his man 1on1 while Dunta is in a zone with the safety playing on top. Dunta could never keep up if we played man the whole game. He just doesnt have the legs, feet, hips or knees to handle it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the Nolan hire would hint that direction. While he has said that he fits the scheme to the players, it's just not possible with our starting CB's. I'm surprised nothing was done about it sooner. Dunta Robinson is a great man coverage CB while Brent Grimes is a great zone coverage CB. The problem is that BVG (and maybe Smith) kept trying to fit Dunta into a zone coverage role. From what I understand, Nolan prefers more man coverage than zone. I think that also fits the rest of our defensive personnel anyway. I just don't see them bringing back Grimes. I have a feeling that those "sore spots" in our CB roster players were because they were trying to play in a scheme that didn't fit their abilities. I'd like to see how Franks and Owens do in man coverage versus zone coverage.

I do agree Grimes will probably be gone, but not because of scheme, it will be money. Im gonna hate to see him go but he deserves to get paid. He has out played his contract every year and he is due! Sucks that we cant afford him.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Dunta Robinson is a great man coverage CB while Brent Grimes is a great zone coverage CB. The problem is that BVG (and maybe Smith) kept trying to fit Dunta into a zone coverage role."

I completely disagree with this statement. There was no evidence of footage that should make you believe Dunta is a great man coverage corner. He can barely keep up with an average speed corners! Grimes on the other hand has shown great man coverage skills. The defense has a coverage set where Grimes plays his man 1on1 while Dunta is in a zone with the safety playing on top. Dunta could never keep up if we played man the whole game. He just doesnt have the legs, feet, hips or knees to handle it.

You're right that Robinson doesn't really have any footage with the Falcons to show that he's a great man coverage corner. That's because he wasn't allowed to play that way. Go watch film from his time with the Houston Texans and you will see what I'm talking about.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You're right that Robinson doesn't really have any footage with the Falcons to show that he's a great man coverage corner. That's because he wasn't allowed to play that way. Go watch film from his time with the Houston Texans and you will see what I'm talking about.

Yeah, Robinson was a pretty good man corner with the Texans but the knee injury caused him to struggle a little at the end of his tenure there.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This offseason I can't even comment on...we have so many key FAs on our roster this year it's ridiculous. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few months.

We have alot of FA but not many "key guys"

IMO the only real "key" guys are Lofton and Grimes

We have some guys that it would be nice to bring back but almost everyone else is pretty easily replaced.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You're right that Robinson doesn't really have any footage with the Falcons to show that he's a great man coverage corner. That's because he wasn't allowed to play that way. Go watch film from his time with the Houston Texans and you will see what I'm talking about.

Thank you for making my point! He USED TO BE A GREAT MAN CORNER. He no longer is, thats why we dont play man. It has nothing to do with Grimes not being able to lock down his side, its Dunta. Why do you think we put Grimes on the right side? Surely you know the right side gets more attention than the left, right? So if he is so good, why did he go to the left side that see's less action?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...