If there's one major defensive change we'll see in 2012, it's the increased rollout of nickel packages on defense. Bank on that.
Okay, it's not that major. It's not like Brian Van Gorder never rolled three deep at cornerback, or that he wouldn't occasionally get James Sanders on the field. It will happen more often under Mike Nolan, and it will typically involve trotting out Brent Grimes, Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel at the same time. That's pretty devastating.
It will mean some basic changes to how this defense functions compared to previous incarnations over the last four years. While none of these will be remarkably profound, we'll hopefully be left with a defense that's simply better than it used to be.
After the jump, my take on more nickel.
- Less effectiveness against the run, at least on paper. Teams favoring the nickel can stop the run and stop it well, of course. The Falcons have the personnel to do just that if anyone in the NFL does. But taking an athletic, hardy linebacker off the field in favor of a defensive back inevitably puts a little dent in the proceedings.
- A better presence against the pass. Given the team's relative weakness against opposing passing offenses, this is a huge boost. Putting three quality corners on the field in addition to two safeties gives the pass rush a little more time, avoids the abject fail that is putting a linebacker on a speedy wide receiver and gives quarterbacks a few more fits. We like that.
- More creative blitz packages. This should be a given regardless of how often the Falcons use the nickel, but the Falcons should be able to give teams some unique looks by sending a defensive back off the edge and creating problems for immobile blockers up front. I'm not saying it's going to increase the team's sacks tenfold, but I bet you at least a couple of poor quarterbacks will face the wrath of a defensive back this season.
There will, of course, be more changes. Suggest yours in the comments.