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Defensive Scheme May Shape Falcons Offseason Plan

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The potential for a significant change in strategy seems likely to determine how the Atlanta Falcons approach the official start of free agency on Tuesday.

There have been whispers among Falcons players about a switch to a 3-4-defensive scheme. Such a move could be a wise one, if the Falcons can put together quality personnel to effectively execute such a defense.

At season's end, head coach Mike Smith said he would evaluate every aspect of the team, including scheme.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan brought in some 3-4 principles after joining the Falcons, but his base has been a 4-3 look. When he came over from the Miami Dolphins in 2012, many wondered if the Falcons would immediately switch to a 3-4.

"It's my philosophy that you build your scheme around the players, not the other way around," Nolan said back in January of ‘12. "What has been built (in Atlanta), I think is a very solid foundation on a 4-3 defense."

That was then. This is now.

The Falcons are coming off an atrocious season in which they finished dead last in third-down defense, second-to-last in run defense, and tied for 27th in total defense. They allowed two unheralded running backs -- Tampa Bay's Bobby Rainey (163 rushing yards) and Arizona's Andre Ellington (154 yards) -- to bust loose for career-best rushing efforts. Stopping the run and eliminating big plays has to be the Falcons' defensive focus in ‘14.

Asking the current group of players to switch defenses on the fly would be a challenge but manageable. However, adding two or three guys with more 3-4 experience could make such a transition seamless.

If a change is indeed in the works, the Falcons would be smart to look into Miami's Paul Soliai, if they haven't made a call about the big nose tackle already. He was an integral part of the Dolphins' defense under Nolan in 2011, when Miami ranked third against the run, sixth in scoring, and seventh on third down.

At 6-foot-4 and 340-pounds, the 30-year-old Soliai would be the ideal guy to help plug the middle for a Falcons defense in dire need of run-stuffers. He takes on double teams with vengeance and has a knack for deflecting passes.

If not Soliai in the middle, maybe the Falcons could turn their attention to veteran nose tackle Ryan Pickett (6-2, 340) from Green Bay. Pickett, who turns 35 in October, has been disruptive in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. He could return to Green Bay, however.

In terms of the defensive ends to pair with the nose tackle, one player immediately makes sense: Tyson Jackson (6-4, 296). The former third-overall pick was drafted in Kansas City by Scott Pioli, currently the Falcons assistant general manager. Dallas' Jason Hatcher, who has experience in the 3-4, also has been linked to the Falcons this offseason. The Falcons also could look at recently re-signed Corey Peters as a defensive end in a 3-4 look, provided he recovers from an Achilles tear.

Any talk of a 3-4 might explain why the Falcons would have targeted outside linebacker Brian Orakpo as a pass-rusher had he not been franchised by Washington, why they're not in a rush to re-sign veteran defensive tackleJonathan Babineaux, and why defensive end Osi Umenyiora reportedly was asked to take a pay cut. Umenyiora essentially wouldn't have a role in such a scheme.

But a 3-4 would accommodate some of the young, athletic outside linebackers/pass-rushers coming out of college these days such as Buffalo's Khalil Mack and UCLA's Anthony Barr. Such a player could be paired with Kroy Biermann, who has experienced in a hybrid role, as the outside linebackers. Paul Worrilow and a healthy Sean Weatherspoon could comprise the inside tandem, if the Falcons decided to go in the 3-4 direction.

Of course, the Falcons also have some tweaking to do in the secondary, with free safetyThomas DeCoud likely to be released. Top free-agent safety Jairus Byrd from Buffalo is likely to be out of the Falcons' price range, but they still could look into Byrd, Indianapolis' Antoine Bethea, and Carolina's Mike Mitchell. The Falcons also could look at veteran defensive backChamp Bailey as a nickelback and mentor to young corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.

The Falcons are $18,649,379 under the cap right now with $7 million more set to be added once retiring tight end Tony Gonzalez comes off the books.

Free agency, as well as the possible shift to the 3-4, will determine which way the Falcons lean in the draft.

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Now if thats the plain... I understand keeping Kroy ... He would fit the 3-4 OLB .... I would still ask him to take a pay cut tho.

But yea i felt this change maybe coming ..... TD and coach smith wouldnt commit to a scheme when asked.... Smitty would always say we are a hybrid D but yes we are a 4-3 base D.... He wouldnt say that this year.

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soo heres what the D looks like according to the article

Tyson Jackson

Soliai or Pickell

Jason Hatcher and Peters

Mack or Barr





Byrd or Bethea or Mitchell



that's at least 5 changes on D

not much left over for the O

But it does look good

can they afford it? can they do it??

note I'm not pro 3-4 or pro 4-3 doesn't matter to me

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One guy ppl are missing is Malliciah Goodman ... TD hinted that he could bulk up and play the 5 tech ... The guy was solid vs the run last year...

Yea I was thinking there were ways to get there without all tie changes

n particuar Massaquoi and Goodman

may not be as good but adequate

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If Falcons are EVER going to change to a 3-4 Defense - this is the year to do it. However, if we are going to do it - I would NOT bring Babineaux back and you can forget Aaron Donald as a draft pick.

This would be the plan for the switch to a 3-4:

  1. Sign NT - Paul Soliai (he is 30yrs old so probably just to a 3yr deal)
  2. Sign DE - Arthur Jones (he is 28yrs old and gets push in passrush and good run stopper)
  3. Draft - Khalil Mack (1st round) - 3-4 OLB (he would be key component to switchover - if he is gone, take Kyle Van Noy in 2nd)
  4. Move up - Draft either Ra'Shead Hageman or Stephon Tuitt (move into late 1st round)
  5. Draft Justin Ellis (4th round) - NT (takes over in 2-3 years when Soliai is done)
  6. Cut Osi Umenyiora (this would explain wanting Osi to take a paycut and/or pushing him out the door)

3-4 Lineup

DE - Arthur Jones/Malliciah Goodman (Goodman should be ready to emerge in 2-3 more years)

NT - Paul Soliai/ Justin Ellis

DE - Stephon Tuitt/Corey Peters

OLB - Khalil Mack/S. Maponga

ILB - Sean Weatherspoon/ J. Bartu

ILB - Paul Worrilow/ A. Dent

OLB - Kroy Bierrman/J. Massasquoi (Bierrman was made to play 3-4 OLB, he has been miscast his entire Falcons career)

Now that would be different - we would still need to build up the linebacking corps but that would be a down payment on a 2 year shift to the base 3-4.

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I would love to have knuckle-draggin' cavemen like Paul Soliai, Arthur Jones & Stephon Tuitt manning our D-Line - you talk about a bunch of guys that could whup azz on the line of scrimmage - man that would be sweet!!!! talk about changing a culture.


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Our LBers are a stronger group than our lineman currently, and with the addition of a serious NT, and Stephon Tuitt, this switch would make perfect sense.

New Orleans did it in 1 year, and the results were dramatic.

yeah, if our linebackers were running around behind a D-Line of Tuitt, Soliai and say Arthur Jones (or Randy Starks/Tyson Jackson) - all of a sudden those linebackers are going to look a lot better - who knows? maybe Weatherspoon even stays healthy for a change.

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I really hope we switch over to a 3-4 - its totally do-able. We may not have the "perfect" front 7 in year 1 - but we can get most of the key components - I think its time to declare once and for all what our main defense is and stick with it - all this "hybrid" stuff leads to not being good at either - KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid:


  1. Figure out what you wanna be when you grow up
  2. Get the proper personnel
  3. Execute, execute, execute

I know some will come on here and tell us how important it is to be multiple - I agree - but you can be multiple with one basic scheme. Its a joke that we run multiple schemes when we did not even have the personnel for our base scheme. Obviously the smoke-n-mirrors still led to the 26th rated defense and 31st against the run. We have almost no personnel for either the 4-3 or the 3-4 - we have the resources(money under cap and draft picks) to be what we want to be - if coaches/GM want to shift to a 3-4 we can absolutely do it.

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I know the 4-3 leo guys are going to flip over this, but we haven't even had a slightly dominant defense in forever.

Im willing to get excited about any change we can make to rememdy that problem

I want bigger/tougher guys in the front 7 and I believe that if you look at 3-4 defenses - they tend to have bigger/stronger guys in the front 7:

  1. The Nose Tackle in the 3-4 is bigger than the two defensive tackles in the 4-3
  2. The Defensive Ends in the 3-4 are bigger than the DEs in the 4-3
  3. The OLBs in the 3-4 are bigger than the OLBs in the 4-3
  4. The ILBs in the 3-4 are bigger than the ILBs in the 3-4

I know the above is rather simplistic and you can argue back that you should compare the 3-4 DEs to the 4-3 DTs an you should compare the 4-3 DEs to the 3-4 OLBs - regardless, I think you can get bigger/stronger overall with the 3-4 Defense.

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TD is supposedly going after Michael Johnson. Is he a fit for a 3-4 defense?

he could certainly play in a 3-4 defense but he is ideally suited for a 4-3. I have not heard definitively that we are going after Michael Johnson - would not surprise me though - where did you hear this?

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TD is supposedly going after Michael Johnson. Is he a fit for a 3-4 defense?

He def has the skills for it.

Im not sure hed be worth as much money in a 3-4.

Hes been moved all over the defense in cincy, but I believe when he spent fulltime at olb he didn't produce quite as well as 4-3 DE

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